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F1's engine freeze: What is it and how will it affect teams?

Formula 1’s power unit freeze comes into force this season, which means the engine specification used in the 2022 Bahrain GP will be raced for four full seasons.

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB18, passes Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari F1-75

Some elements of the power unit can still be changed up until September this year, but after that, the manufacturers can’t make further changes, at least as far as performance is concerned.
The overall effect is that the relative performance of the four power units used in F1 will remain unchanged for the duration of the freeze.

What is an engine freeze?

In essence the freeze represents a complete block on development by the four current Formula 1 power unit manufacturers: Mercedes, Ferrari, Renault and Honda (rebranded as Red Bull Powertrains).
The specifications of each power unit has to be lodged with the FIA in a process that is known as homologation, which means to produce a component that is verified as legal and can be replicated in manufacturing to use in races but thereafter cannot be changed.

The FIA F1 sporting regulations explain: “The only power unit that may be used at an event during the 2022-2025 championship seasons is a power unit which is constituted only of elements that were in conformity, at the date they were introduced in the race pool, with the latest submitted and approved homologation dossier as defined in Appendix 4 of the technical regulations.”

That appendix explains how and when any changes can be made, as outlined below.

Mercedes W13 engine

Mercedes W13 engine

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

When does it last until?

The freeze starts this season and runs through the 2023, 2024 and 2025 seasons, before new rules come in 2026.
The 2026 power units will not be a huge departure from the current V6 turbos, but they will be different, and a huge amount of work will be required to develop them.
There are two homologation deadlines. The first was 1st March 2022, by which time the manufacturers had to freeze the ICE (the V6 engine), the turbo, the MGU-H (motor generator unit – heat), the exhaust system, the fuel specification, and the engine oil specification.
However, they still have some leeway to work on other power unit elements within this season as there is a second deadline of 1st September 2022 for a specification upgrade to the control electronics, the energy store (battery) and the MGU-K (motor generator unit – kinetic).
After that and from 2023 to 2025, there can be no further upgrades.

Why does F1 have an engine freeze?

The freeze has been introduced to allow the four current manufacturers to switch their development focus away from its current power units to the new 2026 regulations.

That’s because even major manufacturers have finite R&D resources, and it makes little sense in terms of development gains or financial standings for them to be working on two parallel projects.

The current rules have already been in play for nine seasons, and while the 2022 power units are far removed from the originals of 2014, there is relatively little development potential left in them, and getting that last little bit of performance will be expensive.

In addition, continuing development of the current power units would hand an advantage to any new manufacturers who are targeting 2026. They could spend 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025 focused solely on its 2026 projects as it wouldn’t have the distraction of a current project.

Ferrari F1-75 engine

Ferrari F1-75 engine

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Red Bull Powertrains is already confirmed as one of those new manufacturers, having taken on the Honda project from this season, and the VW Group is looks set to join F1, potentially with either the Porsche and Audi brands.

Red Bull also pushed hard for the freeze because it was deemed an essential part of convincing Honda to continue to supply its current power units until 2025, but without official works support.

From the start of the 2022 F1 season, Honda’s power units will be run as branded as Red Bull Powertrains, or RBPT, following the Japanese manufacturer’s withdrawal from F1 as an official engine manufacturer.

Rather than switch engine supplies, Red Bull has taken the running of Honda’s power units in-house by creating its own power unit facilities.

Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault remain unchanged, with Mercedes AMG High Performance Powertrains supplying its factory team plus McLaren, Williams and Aston Martin.

Ferrari has similar set up by manufacturing its own power unit and supplying it to customer teams Alfa Romeo and Haas. Renault only supplies to Alpine with the two brands controlled under the Renault group.

Can teams change anything?

The rules make it clear that some changes will be permitted, but not anything which might increase performance.

They state that “a manufacturer may apply to the FIA during the course of the homologation period to conduct modifications to the homologated power unit elements for the sole purposes of reliability, safety, cost saving, or minimal incidental changes permitted in [Article] 5.4.”

Alpine A521 exhaust detail

Alpine A521 exhaust detail

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

That article specifically refers to changes that might need to be made in relation to power unit installation in cars – something that might be necessary, since the cars themselves will inevitably be developed over the next three seasons.

Items that fall into this category are defined by the rules as “wirings, exhaust system, provided the key defining parameters of the system (diameters and lengths) remain fundamentally unchanged, turbo-compressor position (within 20mm from the original position in relation to the ICE), turbo clocking, turbo supports, position of the wastegates with housings and pipes” and finally the “position of the pop-off valves with housings and pipes.”

Although the power unit technical rules are not expected to change in 2022-25, in the unlikely event that they do the manufacturers can make any necessary changes to meet them: “An amendment to the published regulations that occurs after the start of the homologation may be used to modify components concerned by that amendment.”

A team can switch to a different fuel and oil supplier, but only as a direct result of a sponsorship deal, as the rules make clear: “Changes of fuel and oil suppliers will be accepted, provided such changes are intended for commercial and not for performance reasons.”

What happens if a major flaw is found?

If a manufacturer has a specific reliability issue it has to follow a complicated process in order to be allowed to modify the part with the full permission of the FIA.

As part of the process the three other manufacturers will be told about any request and allowed to offer an opinion. That transparency makes it less likely that anyone will use a reliability fix to improve performance.
The rules note that “applications must be made in writing to the FIA technical department and must provide all necessary supporting information including, where appropriate, clear evidence of failures.

“The FIA will circulate the correspondence to all power unit manufacturers for comment. If the FIA is satisfied, in its absolute discretion, that these changes are acceptable, they will confirm to the power unit manufacturer concerned that they may be carried out.

“Wherever practical, such requests must be submitted at least 14 days before the requested date of homologation.”

Haas F1 car, fuel in sign

Haas F1 car, fuel in sign

What is the new fuel and what is its impact?

From 2022 F1 has switched to E10 fuel, which has a 10% ethanol content. The manufacturers had to adapt the power units over the winter, and while there was a minor loss of performance, the consensus is the overall effect was neutral.

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