Why Do F1 Teams Use Different Engines?

Formula 1 is an extremely expensive sport, and each team is responsible for their own cars. The engine is the heart of the car, but not all F1 cars use the same engines. Many new fans may then wonder why it is that F1 teams use different engines.

F1 teams use different engines as having teams with different engines allows the sport to be more competitive. However, not all F1 teams are even capable of making their own engines, either as they don’t have a dedicated engine development department, or they’re not a car manufacturer.

Not all teams can afford to build their own engines and have to buy engines from other teams. While it’s not always ideal, these partnerships have long been a part of F1. Below, we consider why F1 teams use different engines in more detail.

Why Do F1 Cars Have Different Engines?

All Formula 1 teams use different engines. This is because each team is responsible for building or sourcing their own engines to put in their car for the season. In a spec series, each team would use the same engines with the same amount of power, settings and capabilities. This ensures that the engines are all identical and equal in performance. F1 is not a spec series.

Formula 1 is very much a team sport, and engine development plays a big role in the performance of the different teams. As teams compete against one another, they need to constantly develop their engines to make sure they can stay ahead of their competition. This creates an interesting off-track development race that is integral to F1 as a sport.

Engine Development

Aside from the competition aspect, one of the main reasons Formula 1 teams use different engines is the technological development aspect of the sport. Formula 1 is always at the forefront of technological development and constantly pushing the envelope to improve the automotive industry as a whole.

The V6 turbo hybrid engines were brought in at the start of the 2014 season in an attempt to create engines that are more efficient yet can generate the same amount of power as their predecessors. Without teams competing against one another, the levels of engine power and efficiency we see today would never have been reached.

Teams are constantly working on their engines to get the edge over their rivals, and this is what allows them to push the boundaries and develop their engine technology even further. Many teams transfer this technology into the automotive industry where we see the tech on their road cars. But not all teams build road cars, or can afford to.

Customer Teams

Not all Formula 1 teams are capable of building their own engines. Building Formula 1 engines is extremely expensive and requires state of the art facilities and factories. The smaller teams usually can’t afford to have these facilities and staff due to their smaller budgets. This is unlike the works teams – Mercedes, Ferrari, Alpine (Renault) and now Red Bull (Red Bull Powertrains).

However, some smaller teams, like Haas and Williams, don’t have an associated road car operation like Mercedes, Ferrari and Alpine (Renault). It would therefore be extremely costly to set up an engine development program that would not be able to pass any of its technology onto any production cars.

A big part of F1 as a whole is making it as relevant to the average road car as possible. From the fuels used in F1 to the hybrid technology that powers the cars, the general idea is to keep things relevant to the wider world. Having a team create an engine department for no reason other than to race around 3 engines per year in F1 wouldn’t make much financial sense.

However, some of the smaller teams just don’t have the budget for creating an F1 engine department, like Alfa Romeo, who make use of Ferrari engines. Then, at the other end of the spectrum, there are McLaren and Aston Martin. Both of these teams have production car businesses, but they don’t have dedicated F1 engine factories, and this means they buy their engines from Mercedes.

The smaller teams and those without the funds or desire to create their own engines have to make use of the engines that are built by other teams. They need to buy these engines from other teams, which is why they are called “customer teams.” While it’s not ideal for these teams, it’s a sacrifice that they need to make in order to get an engine for their car.

Benefits And Drawbacks

Having different engines across the grid with teams constantly battling to find new innovations is great for the automotive industry. This competition has resulted in the most powerful and efficient engines on the planet. And the plan is to only make this aspect even more prevalent.

The 2026 engine rule changes will introduce 100% environmentally friendly fuels, which will be developed for use in the average road car, with the goal of making the wider automotive industry more eco-friendly.

The problem is that these different engines cost money to develop. For a sport that is trying to keep the costs under control, a constant engine race is not really ideal. That’s why F1 can introduce engine freezes. This essentially stops all development on the engines, to cut costs and prepare for new engine formulas to arrive in the future.

Can F1 Drivers Share Engines?

F1 drivers cannot share their engines. Teams build their own engines specifically for their cars. This means that one engine will only be used for the car that it has been built for. Each engine is sealed by the FIA and has a unique code on it, which ensures that drivers use their specific engines.

Once a driver has used their engine beyond repair it is sent back to the factory and stripped down into its various parts. The parts can then be recycled and reused to make new engines or something entirely different if the parts can’t be used again. Some old engines may be used in demo cars.

With each driver having their own engines, the FIA can keep track of which driver uses which engine. This makes it easier for them to determine is a new engine is used by a driver, of which they can only have three throughout a season before they start incurring penalties.

Can F1 Teammates Swap Engines?

F1 teammates cannot swap their engines throughout the course of the season. Each driver is assigned their three engines and each one is sealed with a unique code that the FIA is able to keep track of.

This means that if two drivers were to swap engines during the season, the FIA would know about it and the team would be punished accordingly. Each driver must have their own set of engines that is assigned to their car for the season.

Why Do F1 Engines Fail?

F1 engines will fail over time as they are used too much or pushed too hard. This is natural, and the average Formula 1 engine will not last much more than 5-7 races. It’s rare for a car to have their engine last much longer than this, and some engines may fail before this if they’re damaged.

When Formula 1 engines are running, the parts inside the engine move extremely fast. This movement create a lot of friction and heat. As the engine heats up, the metallic elements inside of it begin to expand and change shape.

As the parts expand and change shape, they begin to rub and push against one another. This puts strain on the more fragile parts, for example the joints and the bolts, which will eventually cause some of them to break, resulting in an engine failure.

However, in some cases it can simply come down to one of the parts inside the engine giving in. Some parts might be poorly manufactured, or they might have faults. This is rare in modern Formula 1 as each part is made within fine tolerances, but unforced failures do happen. However, F1 engines usually fail due to excessive wear or damage if the driver is involved in a crash.

Why Do F1 Engines Lose Power?

F1 engines usually lose power as a result of wear. The more they are used and the harder they work, the more power they will lose. Sometimes F1 engines will lose power as a result of damage, or due to a fault with the engine during the race.

Formula 1 teams may alternate their engines between races, swapping them out for ones from their usable pool of 3 (without penalties), and they will try to keep their freshest engines available for the races that require a lot of power, for example Monza.

As the parts inside the engine expand when they are heated up, they tend to change shape. Even when they cool down again, they might not go back to their original shape and size. This causes the parts to become slightly misshapen, and even the slightest change in shape of the smallest part can mean the engine loses power and performance.

However, F1 engines are designed in such a way as to not lose much power over the course of their lifetime. Instead, they’re designed to run at what is effectively “maximum” power (or very close to it) for a minimum number of races, to ensure the driver is never at a major power disadvantage. They will lose some power over time, but they’re usually replaced before it’s too significant.

Can F1 Engines Be Repaired?                        

Formula 1 engines can be repaired to an extent. Some parts on the engines are accessible to the mechanics which will allow them to replace and repair certain parts on the engine, but not all of the different parts on the engine can be repaired, meaning the entire engine may need replaced.

This is because once an engine has been built, the FIA inspects it to ensure that it complies with their regulations and that the team is not cheating. The engine is then sealed and given a unique code. Each part on the engine also has a unique serial number. All of the serial numbers on parts of an engine are compiled into a document.

Before each race the FIA will inspect the engines to ensure that the engine is still sealed. Each part will also be checked to ensure that the same parts are still being used on the engine and they have not been replaced without the FIA’s knowledge. Some parts may be replaced as long as they are of the exact same spec and are not upgrades in any way.

How Many Engines Can F1 Teams Use Per Season?

F1 teams are only allowed to use three engines per season, and if a driver requires more than three, they start incurring grid penalties. This means that each engine needs to last an average of just under eight races in 2022, as there are 23 races.

If a team or driver uses more than three engines, they will usually need to take a 10-place grid penalty. Depending on the specific parts that are used outside of the allotted three, they may only need to take a 5-place grid penalty. For each new engine that is used over the three engine limit, a grid penalty is given to that particular driver for the race where they take a new engine.

This creates a unique challenge for Formula 1 teams where they need to carefully decide when they will change their engines throughout the season. They can use the three different engines as they please, meaning they can alternate between two engines for the first half of the season and keep a brand new engine ready for a specific race later in the season.

Why Only Three Engines?

The three engine limit rule was put in place to keep the costs of Formula 1 down. Teams were spending crazy amounts of money putting brand new engines into their cars for each race. Ultimately, the FIA began limiting the engines per season as bigger teams were spending too much money when smaller teams were unable to keep up.

This rule is frustrating for many teams as it is nearly impossible to make it through a modern, 20+ race Formula 1 season with just three engines. A lot of drivers will take a fourth or a fifth engine and have to take multiple grid penalties. Worse still, the rule applies even if the engine is damaged during a crash that wasn’t that driver’s fault.

However, the rule is here to stay, and teams simply have to live with it now. They are now using this rule in a more strategic way by taking their engine penalties on easy-to-overtake circuits such as Monza, where having a fresh engine will give them a performance boost, potentially allowing them to negate the grid penalty by being more likely to overtake and work their way through the pack.

Final Thoughts

Formula 1 teams use different engines as each team is responsible for either building or sourcing their own engines for the season. The bigger teams are able to use their staff and facilities to build their own engines, while the smaller teams instead have to buy their engines from the works teams.