Formula 1 Car Power Units

Siddharth Gupta
December 17, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2017


Fig. 1: Honda Engine used by the McLaren team. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Formula 1 is considered the pinnacle of motor sport. The cars are some of the fastest machines able to go around a track and competitors train for decades to reach that skill level. Thousands of hours are spent perfecting different parts of the car: the aerodynamics, the weight, and, most importantly, the power unit.

Current Configuration

Up until 2013, Formula 1 cars were powered by V8 engines that focused on pure power output and creating the most bellowing noise. At the start of 2014, however, the sport was ordered to use more energy efficient V6 engines. This change was made to increase emphasis on preserving tires and fuel. Each engine is a 6-cylinder, 1.6 liter, turbocharged engine producing around 600 brake horsepower. Surprisingly, the cars are even faster on straights than the previous 8-cylinder cars with speeds reaching up to 230 miles an hour, all while being around a third less power hungry. [1]

On top of the primary engine, is the Energy Recovery System that harvests heat energy from the exhaust and brakes and deploys it for more power. The ERS adds an additional 160 brake horsepower. There are two parts to the system - the MGU-K, which is on the rear axle, and the MGU-H, which is on the turbo. [2] Fig. 1 shows the Honda engine with ERS system used by former World Champion Fernando Alonso. The ERS system is a continuation of the original Kinetic Energy Recovery system in the years prior, which only allowed drivers to use the extra power during limited portions of a race. [3]

Future Changes

As of 2021, Formula 1 engines will be slightly tweaked to please the fans and make it a more even playing field for the competitors. Cars will still use a 1.6 liter V6 Turbo Hybrid, but will run at 3000 rpm higher for a better noise. [4] The MGU-H, the part of the hybrid system that recovers energy from the turbo will also be removed, as this devices mutters the sound of the current engine. The regulations will also require all teams to use a single turbo of specific dimensions and a standard battery. There will also be tighter fuel regulations to make the engines more efficient. [5] The hope with all these changes is that less wealthy teams will be able to compete against the likes of Ferrari or Mercedes (who have hundreds of millions to spend on R&D) on the engine and design front. Down the road, F1 might even adopt electric engines and battery technology from Formula E to make cars even faster.

© Siddharth Gupta. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] B Spurgeon, "Formula One Turns the Corner on a Trouble Era," New York Times, 26 Nov 16.

[2] A Benson, "Formula 1: Have McLaren-Honda Found Answer to Engine Problems?, BBC Sport, 6 Nov 15.

[3] A Sarkar, "Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems in Formula 1," Physics 240, Stanford University, Fall 2015.

[4] "Formula One Set For Louder and More Affordable Engines in 2021," USA Today, 31 Oct 17.

[5] A Benson, "Formula 1: New Engine Formula From 2021 Annnounced, BBC Sport, 31 Oct 17.