Despite the reduction in number of available elements for this season, teams have already started to change some of the components on their Power Units. As a reminder, each Power Unit comprises six different elements:
ICE – Internal Combustion Engine;
TC – Turbo Charger;
MGU-H – Motor Genereator Unit – Heat;
MGU-K – Motor Generator Unit – Kinetic;
ES – Energy Store;
CE – Control Electronics.
Whereas last season each ddriver was allowed to use four complete Power Units before any grid penalties applied, in the 2018 season the number of Power Unit elelments has reduced. In the case of the ICE, TC and MGU-H three of each are allowed. While for the MGU-K, ES and CE only two of each can be used before grid penalties are applied. As in previous seasons, the first time an additional element is used a ten place penalty applies, and for the second and subsequent additional elements from that Power Unit, a five place grid penalty applies. What is different from previous seasons, is that if a driver gets more than a fifteen place grid penalty, then the driver will start at the back of the grid (if more than one driver has to start from the back of the grid, they will be arranged in the order the offences applied).
On the Thursday of each race weekend (Wednesday in Monaco), the FIA issues a document stating the number of Power Unit elements that drivers have used so far during the season. The report issued today is reproduced here:
As you can see, a quarter of the grid has already needed to use elements from their second Power Unit even though we are only two race in to a twenty one race season.
Valtteri Bottas replaced his ES and CE following his qualifying accident in Australia, to reduce the risk of failure in the race. The first elements would have been tested back in the factory and can be re-used provided they are undamaged.
Sebastian Vettel changed his CE after qualifying in Bahrain, the element that was removed would have been tested in the factory and may possibly be re-used later in the year. However some fault must have prompted the change as Vettel didn’t have the accident damage that caused the Mercedes change of components.
Both Toro Rosso’s had new TC and MGU-H fitted for the start of the weekend in Bahrain. These were a different specification to improve performance and increase reliability, prompted following Pierre Gasly’s retirement in Australia where a failing TC and MGU-H caused the ICE to fail. It looks like Honda are already planning to take tactical grid penalties in order to continue to catch up on performance and reliability.
Kevin Magnussen had his second ES and CE fitted before the Bahrain race, so perhaps there is a potential issue with the Ferrari reliability in this area?
Honda have definitely indicated their intention to keep developing their Power Unit as fast as they can to catch up with the rest. Both Mercedes and Ferrari have had to change ES and CE on some of their cars. As these are some of the elements with the fewest number allowed, this could potentially signal an unwanted facet of the championship fight. However, historically these have been the most reliable elements within the whole Power Unit, so it is entirely possible that a single item could last the entire season if required to.