The power unit freeze is another facet of a championship going into lockdown in order to rein in costs and give engine makers plenty of time to prepare for the arrival of a new power unit in 2026. However, they can still bring improvements before the homologation deadline and are therefore working hard to get the most out of them before the point of no return.
The internal combustion engine, turbo, MGU-H, exhaust system, and engine oil and fuel specifications take precedence in this regard. Any changes must be presented to the FIA before the March 1 deadline. As for the MGU-K, battery and electronics, they can be changed until September 1. Thereafter, no changes will be allowed unless an engine manufacturer is far behind its rivals. The hierarchy of power units will therefore be more or less set in stone until the end of 2025.
The Mercedes turbine and compressor
Drive unit development in the hybrid era has been intense, with new specifications every year. Mercedes set the benchmark early on, with a PU106A whose two-piece turbo allowed the MGU-H to be placed in the V of the internal combustion engine. This design had significant consequences for the layout of the other parts of the power unit and caused the MGU-H to be made more complex in order to handle the forces traveling a greater distance.
Honda followed that lead when it arrived a year later, attempting to design as compact a package as possible. While many changes have been made to the turbo and MGU-H since then, the two-piece turbo has remained a constant. On the other hand, Ferrari and Renault have resisted the temptation to do the same… but rumor has it that this may change for 2022, since it will be their last opportunity. It would then be necessary to be certain of a significant gain in performance without loss of reliability.
This is where the Scuderia was clever, testing its new energy recovery system at the end of 2021 by installing new parts on Charles Leclerc’s car in Russia and then on Carlos Sainz’s in Turkey. If problems had arisen, then it would have been possible to correct them or change course for 2022.
Honda power unit battery
Honda, which had already made many changes to the other elements of its power unit at the start of the season, also delayed the arrival of a new battery. Max Verstappen was the first of the drivers powered by the Japanese brand to take advantage of this development, installed in his RB16B at the Belgian Grand Prix.
It was the first time that Honda had launched an evolution of its battery since the beginning of the hybrid era, and it was necessary to anticipate the arrival of a project that had required several years of development and was supposed to be launched in 2022. The title race between Red Bull-Honda and Mercedes was enough motivation to pick up the pace, with improved efficiency and reduced weight as a result.