Formula 1 has always been the world leader of advancements when it comes to engine technology and this continues with the modern F1 power unit. No longer are F1 cars referred to as having ‘engines’ (although they still do) but a power unit which consists of combustion and electronic motors to power the car, along with a highly complex energy recovery system.
The power train consists of a number of components, including the combustion engine, an MGU-K, and MGU-H, the Energy Store (high-powered battery packs) and a turbo charger; all of which is controlled by a highly technical control electronics.
Let’s discuss all of this components in detail.
The combustion engine
The power plant features a 1.6 litre V6 internal combustion (IC) engine fitted with a turbo charger which is limited by the sport’s regulations to 15,000 revolutions a minute (revs). The combustion engine is responsible for supplying energy to the transmissions but, unlike previous F1 engines, it also helps to supply heat energy (which will be recycled by the MGU-H discussed further on in this article) and the MGU-K (also discussed later on).
Just like the turbo charger on a road car, the turbo is responsible for forcing more oxygen into the cylinder which allows more fuel to be burned creating a ‘bigger bang’ in the cylinder. The bigger the bang the more power is created. The turbo on a modern F1 car can spin up to 100,000 times a minute.
The Energy Store and high-powered batteries which are able to charge and discharge incredibly quickly.
The MGU-H (Motor Generator Unit – Heat) converts heat from exhaust gases into electricity to be stored in the Energy Store or to the MGU-K until required.
The MGU-K stands for ‘Motor Generator Unit – Kinetic’ is an incredibly cleaver piece of equipment fitted to the modern power train and serves two purposes. It is connected directly to the crankshaft of the combustion engine.
It’s first job is to collect energy converting as much of the kinetic energy generated under braking into electricity as possible (rather than it escaping as heat). It acts as a generator.
However, it can also switch ro a motor under acceleration, and when working correctly assists the internal combustion engine to accelerate faster and supplying up to 120kW (approximately 160bhp) power to the drivetrain from the Energy Store. Without the MGU-K, Formula 1 cars will lack acceleration and will be easily overtaken by competitors on track which was a huge problem for Mclaren-Honda in 2015.
The control electronics of a F1 power unit control all of the items above. They are programmed to decide when certain functions will occur and when. For example, they may switch the MGU-K from generator to motor. They can also be adjusted by the driver selecting different ‘modes’ during a race such as fuel saving mode or extra power.