Figuring out F1 engines 🏎

Published on Thu Sep 24 2020

It has been a puzzle for me for some time now – ever since I re-started watching the Formula 1 championship. Why are the cars and the era referred to as turbo hybrid and what does this mean?!

I think the largest problem is that I don’t know much about engines in general – I am an engineer but that is in software development. I still have the craving to learn about this stuff! This is further amplified by the fact that I play the F1 2020 game… A lot. And before that I played the 2019-version and the 2018-version before that. Formula 1 is clearly a sport all about engineering and it always has been, so it’s right up my alley.

I have been trying to figure out Formula 1 engines for a while now and I might’ve finally reached a brakethrough.

There has been a lot of talk about MGU-K and MGU-H which lead to someone familiar with the Honda power unit explaining that power recovery was not only from braking but also from the exhaust!

This led me down the rabbit hole!

First of all: How can energy be recovered from the exhaust?
Secondly: What are the two parts of the engine (the H and the K)?

This led me to this nice explanation and historical reference of the Formula 1 power units on Wikipedia. Especially the part on the current engines is interresting.

This article is also very informative along with this awesome detailed page from Mercedes!

From this is is clear – the power unit has two parts. They sit on top of the engine and drivetrain and can recover power as well as deploy it. One part works with the turbo, the other part works with the brake system and drivetrain directly.

By learning this I wondered how a turbo actually worked. This video explains it so clearly!

From this a rough model of the standard F1 power unit can be made. The MGU-H recovers excess energi from the turbo and deploys it to spin up the turbo when needed. The MGU-K recovers the kinetic energy from braking/drivetrain system, stores it and deploys it back to the drivetrain when needed.

The specs on the Mercedes page also explains a great headache I’ve had in the F1 2020 game! In this version I’ ve switched to manually deploying ERS (the electric energy recovered from both the MGU’s). One thing that I couldn’t understand is that even though there is a lot of energy left on the battery there apparently is a hard limit to deployment. The Merdeces document lists the maximum deployments of energy. Apparently the limits only applies to the MGU-K.