Journey into the intricate jungle of acronyms that define the components of an F1 power unit: power, operation and future of hybrid engines capable of unleashing 1000 horsepower
In Formula 1, speaking of an “engine” risks becoming a trivialization of reality. In the last decade, technological development has made enormous strides and, since 2014, it is more correct to speak of a “power unit”. The old thermal engines have shrunk to become 1600cc V6 turbo capable of unleashing insane power, and have been joined by a series of components with super advanced technology, in turn controlled by software worthy of NASA computers. Unprecedented innovations for the automotive industry (also in terms of costs), which have led F1 cars to increasingly resemble small spaceships from science fiction films. But, in the jungle of coded acronyms with which the parts that make up the new hybrid engines are labeled, from ICE to EX, passing through MGU-H and MGU-K, how does a power unit really work?
THE F1 POWER UNIT IN SEVEN PARTS
The technical revolution of 2014, which in fact kicked off the era of Mercedes domination, interrupted only by Verstappen in 2021, as mentioned considerably complicated the structure of what we once simply called the engine. Today’s power units are a complex set of components – whose size, over the years, has increasingly reduced to facilitate the work of the aerodynamicists – which work in perfect synchrony to unleash over 1000 horsepower. The most powerful and efficient engines ever are made up of many parts but, simplifying, there are seven components monitored by the FIA, which allows a maximum shift of only three units per season in order not to run into painful penalties on the grid. The nerve center is obviously the ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) which is none other than the thermal engine, flanked by turbo (identified as TC, Turbo Charger) and exhausts (EX, Exhaust). The so-called ERS, the sophisticated electrical system that will be subject to substantial changes in the next regulatory cycle, is added to the structure attributable to the “old” engine.
F1, THE HYBRID SOUL OF THE ENGINE
If ICE, TC and EX are the traditional ingredients of the power unit, the ERS (acronym for Energy Recovery System) is the part that catapulted into the future the Formula 1 engines and the entire industry. sector. Introduced in 2014, the irbid soul is in turn made up of four components: the two different electric motors MGU-K and MGU-H, the battery pack called ES (Energy Store) and the CE, the electronic brain that regulates operation of the whole system. As you can imagine, the two energy generators are the beating heart of the hybrid because they are able, alone, to release 160 extra horsepower for about half a minute every lap. And if, in the previous generation, it was directly the driver who operated the system with a button – the so-called KERS that could help in overtaking and that today we find in many supercars and some production cars – now the use of the extra boost of power is controlled by the ECU on the basis of a meticulous programming, different from track to track, carried out by the engineers in the pits.
PRESENT AND FUTURE OF MGU-K AND MGU-H
But how do MGU-H and MGU-K recover energy and give off extra horsepower? The MGU-K, acronym for Motor Generator Unit Kinetic, is a sort of super dynamo, a motor that recharges the batteries during braking and then transfers the power to the rear wheels during acceleration. The operation of the MGU-H is different, the Motor Generator Unit Heat, which does not capture energy from the movement of the wheels, but from the heat of the exhausts and the rotation of the turbine, producing an extra power that is released during acceleration to help the turbocharger. to reduce the phenomenon of turbo-lag, that is the characteristic response delay of the engines with this particular architecture. In short, if not a space shuttle technology, we are close to it. Also in terms of research and development costs, which is why the discussions on the power units of the future – which will debut in 2026 with the entry of Audi and Porsche – have been driven by the need for simplification and cost cuts: the MGU-H will be definitively abandoned, in favor of an upgrade of the MGU-K, which will be able to produce 350kW against the current 120. That is 475 horsepower against the current 163.
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