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Why more Ferrari grid penalties are likely at the Belgian GP

The Belgian GP could see teams and drivers taking grid penalties for taking new power unit components, but what are the reasons for this?

Sainz fire Austria
To news overview © XPB Images

With the reliability of the Ferrari-powered cars being one of the subplots of the season, several drivers find themselves on the edge of taking more grid penalties.

Reliability issues earlier in the season for the likes of Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz and Valtteri Bottas mean that - with nine events still to go - there's a high chance Ferrari-powered drivers with require more power unit components before the end of the season.

Ferrari drivers Leclerc and Sainz, along with Ferrari-powered drivers Bottas (Alfa Romeo) and Kevin Magnussen (Haas) have all used more than their allowed quota of power unit components.

The only non-Ferrari-powered drivers to have exceeded their component limits are Fernando Alonso (Alpine) and Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri).

See the full overview of components used so far in the table below:

Engine components used per driver up to the Belgian GP

Driver ICE (3) TC (3) MGU-H (3) MGU-K (3) ES (2) CE (2) EX (8)
Russell 2 2 2 3 2 2 3
Hamilton 2 3 3 2 2 2 3
Verstappen 3 3 3 3 1 1 5
Perez 3 3 3 3 1 2 5
Leclerc 4 4 4 4 2 3 8
Sainz 4 4 4 4 2 3 5
Ricciardo 2 2 2 2 1 1 2
Norris 3 3 3 3 1 1 3
Alonso 5 5 5 4 4 4 5
Ocon 3 3 3 3 2 2 3
Gasly 3 3 3 3 2 2 5
Tsunoda 4 4 4 4 3 3 5
Stroll 2 2 2 2 2 2 2
Vettel 2 2 2 3 2 2 2
Albon 2 2 2 2 2 2 2
Latifi 2 2 2 2 2 2 2
Bottas 4 5 5 4 2 3 5
Zhou 3 3 3 3 2 2 4
Magnussen 4 4 4 4 2 2 5
Schumacher 3 3 3 3 2 2 5

Power unit development deadline looming

As part of Formula 1's decision to prioritise the development of the 2026 power units, the current generation power units will undergo a design 'freeze', and will remain in place for the 2023, 2024 and 2025 seasons.

The power unit design freeze is being done in two steps, with the majority of the power units components already being frozen on 1st March 2022.

In this first deadline were the internal combustion engine (ICE), turbocharger, motor generator unit – heat (MGU-H), exhaust, fuel and engine oil.

Ferrari have already announced that they will be bringing a reliability-orientated upgrades in the second half of the season - which are permitted under the design freeze rules.

A second deadline is set as 1st September 2022, which will see the final designs set for the motor generator unit – kinetic (MGU-K), energy store, and control electronics. This deadline takes place just after the Belgian GP.

How will this deadline affect Ferrari and others?

The designs for the upgraded components need to be submitted and 'registered' by the FIA by 1st September, but teams are not obligated to use their new designs straight away.

According to the Appendix 4, Article 4.3 of the Technical Regulations:

'In order to be registered, a specification upgrade must be used by at least one car powered by the Power Unit Manufacturer no later than:

• the first event following the 1st September deadline if at least one car would incur no grid penalty for taking additional power unit components.

• the fifth event following the 1st September deadline if all cars would incur a penalty for taking additional power unit components.'

In other words, because every single Ferrari-powered car would take a penalty for using too many power unit components, they would be given a five-race period to use any upgraded (MGU-K), energy store, or control electronics.

The same deadline applies to Red Bull Powertrains, because they are similarly on the edge of taking penalties.

The races at which Ferrari take their penalties will come down to several factors including; the overtaking opportunities at the specific track, the expected longevity of the parts, and unforeseen reliabilities issues.

Why take a grid penalty at Spa?

Looking at the upcoming Grands Prix, a grid penalty would likely be least damaging in Belgium, Italy or the United States, whose circuits have more overtaking opportunities than the twistier confines at the Netherlands and Singapore, for example. The United States Grand Prix is also the last of the five races after the September 1st deadline.

However, with Ferrari likely to want to install a new engine as soon as possible, Belgium or Italy look the most plausible possibilities, and with the Scuderia keen to put on a good show on home turf in Monza, a grid penalty at Spa seems the most likely outcome.

Another option would be to 'split' the cars, and have each driver take a grid penalty in Belgium and Italy respectively.

Red Bull could do likewise, as they will most likely also have to have both drivers take a penalty in the coming races.

"If you look at the upcoming races, we will definitely visit a track which we have chosen [to take a penalty]," said Red Bull special advisor Helmut Marko.

In theory, however, Red Bull could still wait until the race in the United States. By then, with only four races to go, and with a current points lead of 80, Verstappen may already be well on the way to securing his second World Championship title.

With the knowledge that Verstappen had a new engine in Hungary during the previous race weekend, the Dutchman should be able to make his current power unit last until the race in Texas.

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