Flow Racers is a reader-supported site. Purchases made through links may earn a commission.

Are F1 Cars Hybrids? (Formula 1 Engines Explained)

With Formula 1 being the pinnacle of motorsport, you would expect the series to also be at the forefront of technology. That is definitely the case, as Formula 1 is always pioneering new technology and pushing the envelope of research and development. But new fans may wonder if F1 cars are hybrids.

F1 cars are hybrids, as they have hybrid ‘power units’ that consist of an internal combustion engine and an energy recovery system that converts heat and kinetic energy into extra horsepower. This gives drivers an extra horsepower boost, taking the total up to about 1000 HP. 

The modern power units used in Formula 1 are state-of-the-art pieces of equipment. They exceed 1000 horsepower and yet can drive 190 miles at full power on a 30-gallon fuel tank, which is incredibly impressive. Below, we cover these cars in detail, discussing precisely how they work.

Are F1 Cars Electric Or Gas Powered?

F1 cars use both gas and electric powerThis makes them hybrid cars. However, unlike the hybrid engine on your average road car, Formula 1 cars use both of these elements at the same time to generate incredible amounts of power and great efficiency from a 1.6 liter V6 combustion engine.

Formula 1 cars have “power units,” which are a combination of a standard gas-powered combustion engine, an electric energy recovery system, and two turbochargers. This is why you’ll mostly hear the ‘engines’ in Formula 1 cars being referred to as power units. The ‘engine’ only refers to one of six parts in the entire power unit that drives the car.

F1 engines are made up of the following 6 parts:

  • Internal combustion engine (ICE)
  • Turbocharger
  • Energy Store (ES)
  • MGU-K
  • MGU-H
  • Control Electronics (CE)

All of these different elements in the power unit work together to allow the car to generate over 1000 horsepower and go longer distances while driving at full pace for extended periods of time. Without the modern Formula 1 power unit, this would not be possible.

Hybrid power has been an important part of Formula 1. The hybrid engines were first introduced in 2014, as major engine regulation changes came into play and shook up the entire grid. Some teams struggled to adapt to the hybrid power, but technology has come a long way ever since.

What Fuel Is Used In F1 Cars?

F1 cars use a similar fuel to regular, everyday cars, having an octane level from 95 to 102. In 2022, the cars were altered to use E10 fuel, meaning the fuel needs to contain at least 10% ethanol. Before 2022, teams had 5.75% ethanol inside their fuel. This change is better for the environment.

In 2022, the sport moved to E10 fuel, which means that the fuel has to have at least 10% bioethanol within its blend. Ethanol is more sustainable, but it does not carry as much energy, and more of it is required to cover the same distance.

Before the 2022 season, teams were using fuel of about 5.75% ethanol. This means that with almost double the amount of ethanol in the fuel, teams have to adapt their power units and ensure that they can make the new blend of fuel work.

The fuel might be more difficult to work with, but it’s much more sustainable and better for the environment. E10 fuel has caused some obstacles for teams in 2022, but the majority of teams have now overcome these issues and found a way around it.

Why Is E10 Fuel Used In F1?

E10 fuel was brought into Formula 1 in 2022 as the sport moves further towards carbon neutrality. Formula 1 aims to become completely carbon neutral by the year 2030. Implementing E10 fuel is only one of the first steps in this long process.

While E10 fuel requires the engine to work harder and generate higher temperatures in order for it to properly combust, it’s also more sustainable. 10% of the fuel blend has to be from a sustainable fuel source, making it much more environmentally friendly than the previously used E5 fuel.

The goal is to eventually get to 100% sustainable fuels, which will reduce carbon emissions even further and create a completely sustainable combustion engine. This could open the door for Formula 1 to return to the bigger V10 or even V12 engines that many fans and drivers are begging to come back. But as of right now, this is not a part of the plan yet.

IndyCar is currently the closest to running fully sustainably sourced fuels with E85 fuel. IndyCar has been developing their fuels for several years, and for the most part, they have solved the problems that Formula 1 is now struggling with.

KEY POINTS

• F1 cars use a hybrid power unit composed of 6 main parts

• This hybrid engine is capable of producing about 1000 horsepower

• F1 engines run on E10 fuel, with the goal of running on 100% sustainable fuels in the future

How Does The F1 Hybrid System Work?

The F1 hybrid system works by using 2 components to capture the energy and disperse it back inside. The MGU-H collects waste heat energy from the exhaust of the car, helping spin the turbocharger. The MGU-K collects kinetic energy lost under braking, sending that energy to the battery.

The hybrid system on a Formula 1 car is part of the reason the cars are capable of producing so much horsepower from such a small combustion engine. It’s also the reason the car has become one of the most fuel-efficient on the planet.

In essence, the F1 hybrid system has two parts to it that capture energy – the MGU-H and the MGU-K. The energy that these two elements capture would otherwise have been lost and considered to be ‘wasted energy’ making the car less efficient.

This energy is then used to charge up a battery inside the car, known as the Energy Store. The battery can be deployed at the push of a button, and this sends extra power to the engine. The ERS (energy recovery system) battery can provide about 160 HP for the driver to use, making the car much faster.

What Is The MGU-H?

The MGU-H is the Motor Generator Unit (Heat) component of the power unit. Modern Formula 1 cars have a turbocharger attached to their 1.6-liter V6 combustion engine. These turbochargers help the engine generate more horsepower by spinning and feeding compressed air into the engine.

The MGU-H is a turbine that sits inside the exhaust of the car. The exhaust gases spin the turbine inside the exhaust, and the heat energy is then converted into electrical energy by the MGU-H. This energy can either be stored, or used immediately to spin the compressor part of the turbocharger, eliminating turbo lag.

NOTE: Turbo lag is common with turbochargers, and it’s when there is a delay between the driver pressing the accelerator pedal and the turbocharger compressing air and sending it into the engine. Eliminating turbo lag means F1 drivers get full engine power immediately when they press the gas pedal.

The main problem with the MGU-H is that it is extremely complex and expensive. This has led to decision to drop the MGU-H from the sport in the coming years.

What Is The MGU-K?

The MGU-K refers to the kinetic energy recovery system, or Motor Generator Unit (Kinetic). This is the first type of energy recovery system that was implemented in Formula 1. Unlike the MGU-H, the kinetic energy recovery system is used to recover energy under braking.

When the driver hits the brakes, the MGU-K will recover some of the energy lost under braking by acting as a generator. With no power being sent to the wheels, the rotation of the wheels starts spinning the motor inside the MGU-K, generating electricity while sapping some of the energy from the wheels to help slow the car down.

This energy is then sent to the Energy Store, and when the driver presses the overtake button, it deploys some of this energy back through the MGU-K, this time acting as a motor to help spin the wheels faster and help the car accelerate quicker and reach a higher top speed.

Have F1 Cars Always Been Hybrid?

F1 cars have not always made use of hybrid power. Officially, the hybrid era started in 2014 when the engine regulations were overhauled. Every team’s car had to consist of three elements that made up the entire power unit, namely the internal combustion engine, the MGU-K and the MGU-H.

The 1.6-liter V6 internal combustion engine was the smallest engine we had seen in the sport since the early 1980s. The second part of the power unit was the MGU-K, first introduced as KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) in 2009. The third and final part of the power unit is the MGU-H, which was a brand new part from 2014 onwards.

The MGU-K was used on some cars in 2009. By 2010 it was compulsory for all cars to run KERS on their cars after thorough testing. However, these cars were never considered hybrid cars, and the KERS simply gave the engine an electrical boost.

KERS was much less effective than it is today. KERS could only be used for 6 seconds per lap, and it only gave the car an 80 horsepower boost. The battery would recharge every lap through the recovery of wasted energy under braking.

How Powerful Are F1 Hybrid Systems?

The F1 hybrid systems alone produce upwards of 160 horsepower. The battery can deploy that quantity for up to 33 seconds per lap, but it does need recharged. The driver is able to control how the battery recharges, with varying modes allowing for more or less energy harvesting.

Modern Formula 1 hybrid systems have come a long way since the KERS days. The hybrid system, now equipped with two elements, generates much more power for a longer period of time than before. This is one of the reasons a Formula 1 car can produce over 1000 horsepower with a 1.6-liter V6 engine.

A Lot Of Power

The hybrid system alone can produce more than 160 horsepower (120 kW), and the battery can deploy that amount of power to the engine for about 33 seconds per lap. This is an incredible amount of power to come from a battery that is only charged using excess energy from the exhaust and braking systems.

The driver is in charge of how much the battery deploys. Drivers can choose to be more conservative, which will give the ERS time to recharge (meaning less power output), or they can be more aggressive (more power output) but will need to charge the system for longer, leading to less power while the battery charges.

This hybrid system has not only added much more power to the engine of a Formula 1 car but also a lot more efficiency. In order to make sure that teams use less fuel, the size of the fuel tank was nearly cut in half along with the overhaul in the engine regulations, while cars still had to complete the same race distance.

KEY POINTS

• F1 cars haven’t always been hybrids, and they only became hybrids in their current form in 2014

• The hybrid system is made up primarily of the MGU-K and MGU-H

• The hybrid system on an F1 car can output upwards of 160 horsepower

• F1 drivers have some degree of control over how their battery charges and uses energy

Advantages And Disadvantages Of Using Hybrid Power In F1

AdvantagesDisadvantages
More power and efficiencyVery expensive
More environmentally friendlyMore complex
Benefits for the wider automotive industryLess reliable

Advantages Of Using Hybrid Power Units

Ultimately, the FIA decided to bring the hybrid power unit into the sport because of the fact that it came with a ton of advantages. Hybrid technology has been a popular topic over the past decade, and there is a long way to go before it has been perfected.

While the hybrid engines were not necessarily welcomed with open arms by the Formula 1 community, there certainly have been some important advantages to having the technology in the sport. There’s no doubt that it’s made a big difference and that it’s going to make an even bigger difference in the future.

More Power 

The most obvious benefit that hybrid cars have is that they are more powerful than non-hybrid cars with similar engine sizes. The power units were not as impressive when they were first introduced in 2014, having only a minor power advantage over the previous generation of naturally aspirated V8 engines.

Between 2006 and 2013, the V8 era of Formula 1 engines reached an average of 750 horsepower. It might not sound much compared to what we have today, but considering how light the cars were in those days (about 650 kilograms / 1433 lbs), the power-to-weight ratio was still better than 1:1.

The hybrid era brought turbochargers and a stronger battery into the cars, giving their engine power a massive boost. It only took engine manufacturers a couple of years to surpass the 1000 horsepower mark, far more than the V8 era could ever reach.

More Fuel Efficient

Hybrid engines are much more fuel-efficient than any other engines too. In simple terms, this means that they use much less fuel than any other combustion engine in order to perform at the same level for the same amount of time.

F1 banned refueling in 2010, meaning teams now had to ensure that their cars could make it to the end of a race on one tank of fuel. Being unable to stop during a race to load the car up with more fuel presents a unique challenge to Formula 1 teams.

Teams carefully calculate how much fuel they need to put into the cars to make it to the end, as any extra will result in added weight. The V8 era was plagued with fuel-saving measures and drivers having to slow down to make it to the end of the race, with some even retiring by running out of fuel.

However, ever since the hybrid era has come about, the need to save fuel has dropped dramatically. In fact, we hardly see the need for drivers to save fuel at all. The cars drive the same distance with less fuel, and it’s all thanks to the efficiency of the hybrid system.

More Environmentally Friendly

The hybrid system has made cars much more environmentally friendly. This was perhaps the biggest push behind the major overhaul in the engine regulations that were brought in during the 2014 season. The FIA wants Formula 1 to move toward a greener future, and hybrid power is a good first step.

The first way that these power units are more environmentally friendly is that the combustion engine is much smaller. The 1.6 liter V6 engine has a tiny carbon footprint compared to the gas-guzzling V8s of the previous generation of cars.

The hybrid technology also uses wasted energy and converts it into power that can drive the engine. This means that the engine does not have to burn more fuel in order to work harder, but instead it can benefit from the electrical energy that helps power the compressor in the turbocharger via the MGU-H and the rear wheels via the MGU-K.

With the assistance of electrical power, hybrid cars use less fuel which results in fewer harmful gasses being sent into the atmosphere. Overall, it’s a great step for Formula 1 to take, and they have quickly become some of the most thermally efficient engines in the world.

Advances For The Wider Auto Industry

One of Formula 1’s goals has always been to remain relevant to the real world. That’s why we see so many teams made up of real-world manufacturers such as Mercedes, Ferrari, and Renault (Alpine). Formula 1 has always been the focal point of research and development for the automotive industry.

From traction control to ABS and even active suspension, we’ve seen it all in this sport. F1 engineers are always developing new technology and extracting the maximum possible performance out of their cars in the heat of competition, which is why it’s such a fantastic proving ground for new technologies.

When hybrid power was first brought into Formula 1, it seemed a somewhat distant reality. However, ever since teams have been in a development race with hybrid power units, we’ve seen the technology improving in leaps and bounds.

Disadvantages Of Using Hybrid Power Units

Expensive

The first problem that hybrid power units bring to the table is that they are more expensive. Much more expensive. The reason for the rise in expenses is because the engines have a lot more moving parts on them that need to be built and developed.

Each engine manufacturer is responsible for developing their own engine. Mercedes have got the better end of the stick when it comes to engines ever since the hybrid era was brought in, having won every constructors’ championship from 2014-2021.

KEY FACT: Mercedes has spent over $1.4 billion on development of their engines since 2014

Formula 1 engine manufacturers need to constantly develop their engines and technology if they want to stay ahead of their competition. There’s no slowing down in this sport, especially when it comes to the development race.

Formula 1’s solution to the expensive engines was to limit every driver to using a maximum of three power unit elements per season. If they exceed the limit, they will be given grid penalties. In addition, an engine freeze has been put in place from 2022 to 2025, which prevents any team from further developing their engine.

Complex

The hybrid power units bring a whole new level of complexity to Formula 1 cars as well. The naturally aspirated V8 engines were very simplistic in comparison, and maintaining or repairing the engines was much easier compared to the modern hybrid engines.

Once again, the three different elements combine to create a whole new maze of technical and mechanical knowledge that needs to be worked through. If something needs to be repaired on the power unit, engineers have to spend more time finding the fault and repairing it than ever before.

This new level of complexity in the engines also means that more specialized staff members need to be brought in. Formula 1 teams can no longer rely on a mechanic with knowledge of a standard combustion engine. There are new parts that need to be worked on, such as the MGU-H and the MGU-K.

This complexity even goes back to the costs involved in building the engines. Back at the factory, teams need to ensure that the engines are perfect before they are sent to the track and bolted onto the car. This means that engineers need to spend more hours and use more specialized tools.

Less Reliable

Another disadvantage that the hybrid power units have is that they are less reliable than the naturally aspirated V8 engines used in the previous generation of cars. From electrical failures to bursting into flames, there’s no doubt that these hybrid engines have their fair share of bugs.

The root of these reliability problems once again comes down to their complexity. There are many extra parts on these power units, all of which can fail at any time. The power unit cannot function if one of these elements fails, and the car will need to be retired from the race.

That said, the reliability of the power units has definitely improved over the years. The 2014 season, when they were first introduced, was by far the worst in terms of their reliability. It’s fair to say that these engines will keep on improving in their reliability in the future, but there will always be issues.

Will F1 Cars Still Be Hybrids In 2026?

F1 cars will still be hybrids in 2026, as the current direction that cars in the sport are going is towards carbon neutrality. They may, however, be modified somewhat to allow for more sustainable fuel usage – ideally 100% sustainable – and to get rid of the MGU-H while keeping the MGU-K.

The current hybrid power units are in an engine freeze until 2026. The engine freeze came into place just before preseason testing for the 2022 season. During an engine freeze, teams are not allowed to develop their engines and make any performance gains. Teams are only allowed to adjust their engines for better reliability under the supervision of the FIA.

Cutting Costs

What this means is that the current order of most powerful power units will remain the same until the end of the 2025 season. It’s an important rule that the FIA has brought in to help teams save money and prevent them from overspending with the stricter $135 million budget cap being brought in from 2023.

However, in 2026 there will be another overhaul in the engine regulations. There are some big changes coming in that will take the sport closer to total carbon neutrality in 2030. F1 cars will remain hybrid, with some tweaks.

Fuel Changes

The first major change is the fuel that the cars will be using. The current E10 fuel will be replaced by 100% sustainable fuel. This means that the engines will be running on completely sustainable fuels, drastically reducing their carbon emissions and making the combustion engine much cleaner and greener.

This will likely be the biggest challenge for the teams to grapple with. Some engine manufacturers already had trouble with E10 fuel (which is just 10% sustainable fuels), so using fully sustainable fuels will present an entirely new challenge that teams need to wrap their heads around.

It might sound like a long way away, but with the engine freeze in place, Formula 1 teams won’t have much time to figure out how they are going to adjust their car design and make their engines comply with the brand-new fuel mixture before the 2026 season starts.

Hybrid Changes

While the hybrid system will remain in place, the MGU-H will fall away in 2026. This comes after the FIA and many of the teams admit that the element is too expensive to develop, manufacture and maintain. That’s especially true in an incredibly demanding, high-performance sport such as Formula 1.

Instead of producing just 160 horsepower (120 kW) as they do now, the hybrid system will be producing energy for a battery that delivers about 470 horsepower (350 kW) in 2026. This is almost triple the amount of power that is delivered from the current battery.

Final Thoughts

Formula 1 cars are hybrid-powered vehicles consisting of a power unit with 6 different elements, with the main components being the ICE, the turbo, MGU-K, MGU-H, the energy store and control electronics. They currently use E10 fuel, although this will shift to 100% sustainable fuels in 2026.