Porsche 919 engine shown with MGU-H

Formula 1 has announced a raft of changes to its engine regulations formula for the 2021 season. The new formula is expected to reduce costs- both development costs and running costs- and, in so doing, attract new manufacturer and “privateer” teams to the sport. At the same time, the new formula has to balance the needs of the sport, which include a “high tech” image and relevance to road-going machinery for carmakers and close racing action for the fans.

That’s a tall order. So, how do Liberty Media– Formula 1’s new owners- plan to get there from here? To understand that, we need to talk about how the 2021 hybrid engine formula compares to today’s, which has been in effect since 2014. To do that, we need to speak the same language, so I’m including a glossary of terms, below, with a bit of inspiration from iAtty at r/formula1.


Formula 1 Terminology



Power Unit

The power unit refers to everything from the gasoline engine to the turbocharger to the batteries. Everything, basically, that powers the race car forward. If it makes it go, it’s part of the power unit.


Internal Combustion Engine

This is the part of the power unit that is probably the most familiar to long time Formula 1 fans and gear heads who didn’t grow up with Tesla sedans smacking around exotic cars on a daily basis. In F1, this is a 1.6 liter V6.

Some speculate that Honda is trying- and, arguably, failing- to make a revolutionary HCCI technology work in its V6, but this part of the power unit is understood by most to be of the conventional suck squeeze bang blow variety of internal combustion engine.


Motor Generator Unit – Kinetic (Energy Recovery System)

A high-speed twist on the regenerative braking technology used by many road-going hybrid cars, the MGU-K is an old friend of F1. It was introduced in 2009 as part of the KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System), and is relatively simple in concept. Basically, a motor generator unit (MGU) is attached to the rear axle to recover that would otherwise be “lost” as heat under braking. The stored energy can then be deployed as a “power boost” by the driver to gain a strategic advantage when passing or defending.


Motor Generator Unit – Heat

The MGU-H converts heat energy from the exhaust system into electrical energy to charge the race car’s ERS batteries (see KERS, above). Porsche used something similar in its 919 racer, but has been much more forthcoming in terms of details and explanations than, say, Mercedes-Benz. As such, I strongly recommend checking out this post from 2014 that explores the Porsche MGU-H with pictures.


Engine or Electronic Control Unit

This is the “main brain” of the race car, and it manages things like the fuel flow and spark timing to get the most power and efficiency out of the hardware under its control. Getting the ECU’s calibration and tuning right is a critical step towards winning a race.


Did you catch all that? Good! Now that we’re speaking the same language, we can get into the process of charting the changes between the 2014-2020 hybrid era and the upcoming 2021 era engine formula.

One of the biggest conceptual changes to the Formula 1 PU will be a sort of uniform “outer dimension”. Basically, every 2021 PU will have outside dimensions that are similar to every other 2021 PU- whether it’s a Renault, Mercedes, Ferrari, or even TAG Heuer. This move, it’s believed, will make it easier for teams to switch engine suppliers, as they won’t have to radically re-think the shape of their cars’ chassis or cooling pods or what have you in order to bail on Honda make that switch. That standardized packaging, along with a number of standardized components, should lift several of the barriers of entry into the sport that Haas F1 and others have faced in preparation for their debut seasons.

The first specific element of the PU to consider, then, is the ICE. For 2021, the ICE will remain a 1.6 liter V6, but there will be some prescriptive internal design parameters to restrict development costs and discourage extreme running conditions. The 2021 ICEs will also be allowed 120 kg/hr of fuel (compared to 105 for 2017) and rev nearly 3,000 RPM higher than today’s engines. The increased RPM are part of a plan by Liberty to make the hybrid cars louder- something that many fans believe is critical to the sport’s fanbase. “We’ve carefully listened to what the fans think about the current PU and what they would like to see in the near future,” said Ross Brawn, Formula 1 managing director and legendary F1 car designer.

Next on the list is the MGU-K, or KERS. For 2021, the MGU-K will become more powerful than its currently capped 2MJ harvesting and 4Mj deployment modes allow. The emphasis will be on manual, rather than electronically calculated power deployment, as well, giving drivers the chance to deploy the extra power when they see fit and even giving them the option to store power over several laps for a larger power boost later in the race. It’s hoped that giving control of this power boost back to the drivers will improve the show, and allow the driver in the car to make a bigger difference in the car’s overall performance than s/he can under the current formula.

Finally, there’s the ECU. The teams have been using standardized ECUs for a while now, and that trend will continue with even more standardized electronics pieces. Bits that will simplify development and cut costs, sure, but which will do so away from the notice of most of the sport’s returning and (hopefully) new fans.

You might have noticed, there, that I skipped the part about the MGU-H. Despite that system’s potential in converting heat to electricity, road cars have moved away from long exhaust headers and towards more integrated water-cooled exhaust manifolds that are built into the cylinder head. As a result, the MGU-H isn’t considered relevant to the commercial world of internal combustion, anymore, so the expensive technology will be dropped after 2020.

“The 2021 power unit is an example of the future way the FIA as regulators, F1 as commercial right holders, the teams and the manufacturers as stakeholders will work together for the common good of the sport,” said Brawn, as part of the official FIA announcement of the new Formula 1 engine rules. “The proposal presented today was the outcome of a series of meeting which took place during 2017 with the current teams participating in the FIA Formula 1 World Championship and the manufacturers who showed their interest to be part of the pinnacle of motor sport. Also, we’ve carefully listened to what the fans think about the current PU and what they would like to see in the near future with the objective to define a set of regulations which will provide a power train that is simpler, cheaper and noisier and will create the conditions to facilitate new manufacturers to enter Formula 1 as power train suppliers and to reach a more leveled field in the sport. The new F1 has the target to be the world’s leading global sports competition married to state of the art technology. To excite, engage, and awe fans of all ages but to do so in a sustainable manner. We believe that the future power unit will achieve this.”

Whether or not Brawn’s new formula will help F1 achieve those loft goals- and attract Aston Martin and Audi into the sport, for real this time– remains to be seen. You can let us know what you think will happen, though, in the comments. I’ll give 2 internet points for the first person to say “ICE is obsolete”, too. Enjoy!


Original content from Gas 2.