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F1 engine penalty rules explained after Lewis Hamilton penalty in Brazil

Jake Nichol November 6, 2021
Photo by CARL DE SOUZA/AFP via Getty Images


Lewis Hamilton has been handed another engine penalty for the Sao Paulo Grand Prix in Brazil, but what are the F1 engine penalty rules and who else could be affected in 2021?

F1 engine rules explained after Hamilton penalty in Brazil

Under Article 23.2b of the Formula One sporting regulations, “each driver may use no more than 3 engines,” across the season.

In a bid for greater reliability to the turbo hybrids, the manufacturers – Mercedes, Ferrari, Renault and Honda have poured great resource into developing the technology.

It is not sustainable for them, or the customer teams to put in a new engine whenever they feel like – as happened in the past.

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Therefore, the limit is in place to reduce costs for both the engine supplier and customer teams, especially given F1 now operates under a budget cap.

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If a driver takes an extra element or whole unit that exceeds their allocation, he will drop to the rear, and start at the back for the grand prix only.

Mercedes gets spate of F1 engine penalties

Mercedes, as both team and engine supplier have struggled in the second-half of the 2021 season with engine reliability and have racked up the engine penalties.

Valtteri Bottas has taken new units at the Italian, Russian, and United States Grand Prix.

Teammate Lewis Hamilton took an engine penalty at the Turkish Grand Prix, as Mercedes battles problems with its Internal Combustion Engines.

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Hamilton’s F1 engine penalty

During first practice for the Sao Paulo Grand Prix, Hamilton was hit with a second engine penalty of the season.

The world champion was slapped with a five-place grid drop after taking a fifth ICE of the season.

This exceeds the allocation per driver of three.

The penalty will only be applied after the sprint qualifying session on Saturday.

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With the penalty, the highest Hamilton can realistically start is sixth place.

With four rounds remaining in the season, the Briton is 19 points behind title rival Max Verstappen.

Hamilton has been disqualified from qualifying for a DRS rules breach in parc ferme after qualifying.

After a lengthy investigation by the stewards, he was chucked out of qualifying, and must start the sprint race from the back.

He will still carry this engine penalty however.

The Mercedes will drop five places on the grid for the GP from wherever Hamilton finishes the sprint.

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Is anyone else in danger of an F1 engine penalty?

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said he believes most teams are “struggling on power units.”

“Maybe not only reliability, but also how much these power units work hard, and how much they are degrading,” he told Sky Sports F1.

Given Bottas has taken a sixth unit, the probability of Hamilton taking another unit is high.

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Teams are unable to run practice-only power units outside of the allocation.

Any time a car is on track during the grand prix weekend, it must be using one of the units within its pool.

Teams often put the most worn unit in for Friday practice, to save fresher ones for qualifying and the race.

Have there been any changes to the F1 engine penalty system?

In the initial years of the turbo hybrid era, each extra component taken in the power unit was worth a number of grid spot drops.

Teams could also introduce more than extra one unit into its pool to game the system.

It reached farcical levels at the 2015 Belgian Grand Prix.

McLaren pair Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso were slapped with a total of 50 and 55 place grid drops, respectively – on a 20 car grid.

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Monza has been a popular place to take grid penalties, but this also led to a ridiculous amount of penalties in 2017.

Due to various cars taking penalties, only one driver started in the grid position that he actually qualified – Hamilton on pole.

The rules now state that if a drivers incurs a penalty greater than 15 grid spots, he will start from the rear.

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Jake can usually be found writing about or watching anything to do with motorsport – from Formula 1 to NASCAR to British Truck Racing. His work as a motorsport journalist has been published by the likes of Autosport, and Motorsport News – all highly respected names. Away from racing he is a keen amateur astronomer, podcast listener and enjoys long walks in the park with his three dogs.