The FIA have deemed the limit of F1 engines allowable before penalties is 3 per season. The reason for this was when the new V6 hybrid engines were developed there was no cost cap on how much the manufacturers could spend on R&D. This resulted in eye watering costs to customer teams for each power unit they bought. By setting an engine limit target this focused the manufacturers development on building reliable engines rather than just fast power units that failed frequently.
This has reduced the cost for customer teams who are now subject to the budget cap on total car spend during a season.
However as we saw last season, Mercedes introduced tactical new engines into the pool at circuits where they felt they could overtake and come through from the back. Lewis Hamilton is the best example at the Brazilian GP. He bolted on a new power unit.
The penalty for exceeding the 3 power unit components is a 10 place grid drop from the qualifying position, but the FIA rules bizarrely state that for an additional engine after the ‘illegal’ 4th, the grid drop is just 5 places.
This rule is a nonsense as it encourages teams to use even more engines and TJ13 has previously suggested that the 5th power unit required should suffer in fact a 15 place grid drop from the driver’s qualifying position.
Brazil 2021 was a Sprint race weekend and Hamilton was thrown to the back of the grid for the Saturday competition. He managed a P5 finish so with his engine penalty Lewis started the GP in P10.
At altitude with a new engine Hamilton blew the field away winning the GP easily.
The point is team’s decide where and when to take their engine penalties based upon where they think it will be advantageous to them.
Max Verstappen is not currently in danger of having to take a 4th power unit and a penalty, but the engines degrade over time and loose power. Red Bull Racing have confirmed they will be giving Verstappen and engine over the 3 allowed to ensure his performance levels do not drop.
So where will they take the associated penalties for the 4th power unit?
Helmut Marko revealed the team will be giving both driver’s a new 4th engine in the near future, but starts it will be at a track where their car is less competitive.
Monza and Spa are power unit hungry circuits and the Austrian revealed, “We just have to choose a track where you can overtake relatively well.”
The low downforce Red Bull design is set to dominate the Belgium and Italian GP’s, but a tactical decision to take a 10 place grid drop at either of these events would see the team mitigate its penalties.
“If you look at the next races, then you will definitely come to a track that we have chosen,” hinted Helmut Marko.
Next up is Hungary and after the summer break F1 will be visiting both Spa and Monza.
Max Verstappens last grid Penalty was in Qatar last season when he failed to slow for yellow flags. He started P7 on the grid but thrust through the field to claim a P2 at the finish.
Ferrari’s Charles Lecrec is also set for at least one more engine penalty so for Red Bull a tactical introduction of a 4th engine is certain given Ferrari’s woes in the reliability stakes.
Helmut Marko revealed that a further package of upgrades is coming in the autumn, suggested they are winding down this season’s car development and focusing time and budget on the 2023 car.
“We are constantly developing,” Marko added. “That’s the DNA of Red Bull Racing. It won’t be as serious anymore, but there will be updates well into the second half of the season. We’ll have to wait and see the details.”