Explaining the slew of engine upgrades and penalties expected at Spa

SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium -- The Belgian Grand Prix is usually a good time for engine manufacturers to introduce a new upgrade. It is the first of two races, the second being Monza's Italian Grand Prix, consisting of long straights that rely on outright power and place less emphasis on clamping downforce to a car.

This weekend has seen all four of F1's manufacturers fit something new, although some of those changes have incurred penalties while others have not. F1's current regulations restrict each car to a certain number of each engine components -- once that maximum is exceeded, grid penalties come into play.

Confirmed penalties so far:

Alexander Albon (Red Bull) - Back of the grid

Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso) - Back of the grid

Lance Stroll (Racing Point) - Back of the grid

Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo) - Back of the grid

Carlos Sainz (McLaren) - Back of the grid

Daniel Ricciardo (Renault) - Five places

Nico Hulkenberg (Renault) - Five places

As Belgium is a logical place to bring new parts, it usually has a grid full of asterisks come Sunday afternoon. Here is what each of the four manufacturers has done ahead of the weekend and why the penalties above have come about.


Mercedes has introduced a new engine this weekend, its second of three upgrades allowed during a season. That will be shared with both customer teams, Racing Point and Williams. Despite its healthy lead in both championships Mercedes saw no reason to slow down the relentless level of development that has been a hallmark of this current era.

Team boss Toto Wolff said ahead of the weekend: "Our team members in Brixworth worked straight through the F1 summer break to improve the performance and reliability of our power unit.

"It's great to come back from the summer break knowing that part of the team was still pushing flat out, and we are grateful to our colleagues who kept the ball rolling while we were out of office."

There might have been a moment of panic in the Mercedes garage in the opening moments of first practice on Friday. On just his second lap with the upgraded unit, Lewis Hamilton complained of a loss of power and his car slowed to walking speed. He managed to get the car back to the garage, where it was detected to have been a throttle issue. After 30 minutes in the garage, he returned to the track, albeit behind schedule.

When asked if the new upgrade was accounting for only half a tenth in terms of outright pace, Hamilton said: "It might be even less than that. It's definitely not more than that as far as I'm aware.

"It's just reliability currently at the moment. We have a new engine here. It's always good when you come to a high-speed circuit when you have a fresh punch of a new engine, it's always a good thing."

Both Mercedes drivers can take the new upgrade without any penalty, but Racing Point's Lance Stroll is not so lucky. The Canadian driver suffered an engine failure at his home race in May, meaning he is one step further along on his allocation of certain parts than anyone else in a Mercedes-powered car.

Stroll's teammate, Sergio Perez, feared he could be due an engine penalty of his own after his car ground to a halt in a puff of smoke at the end of second practice. That signalled a failure to the new Mercedes unit in his Racing Point car.

"It doesn't look good," Perez said on Friday afternoon. "We'll see what's going to happen and what we have to do in order to get it back in qualifying, the car is performing well -- hopefully we can minimize the damage, if there is any. We'll find out later on."

It will be a bitter pill to swallow for Racing Point if Perez drops to the rear of the pack, given that the Silverstone-based team has always excelled at Spa.


Most people think Ferrari will be favourites this weekend given the team's advantage in outright engine power. The Italian manufacturer has introduced a third spec of engine like Mercedes, but only customer teams Alfa Romeo and Haas are running it this weekend. Everyone at those teams are within their allocations, meaning there will be no penalties incurred unless anyone encounters failures at any point on Saturday.

It is not uncommon for a customer team to get an engine upgrade first, to troubleshoot any potential problems which may arise, but there is another good reason for Ferrari deferring the upgrade by a week -- it has not won its home race, the Italian Grand Prix, since 2010. It is also still winless despite coming into the season after its strongest preseason in recent memory.

Introducing a new engine on a Monza circuit consisting of just eight corners would massively increase the likelihood of Ferrari being the team to beat on home soil, if it wouldn't have been already. The dominant pace Ferrari showed on Friday suggests it will fare just fine in Belgium on the old iteration of engine.

Ahead of the weekend, Sebastian Vettel spoke about the desire to put a positive spin on what has been a difficult season for Ferrari to digest.

"We have a very strong will to do well, especially in Monza, as it is a very important race for us," he said. "But that is what it is.

"I can see that obviously with the trend we had in some races we should be better off here and Monza but we don't know yet, there are still corners and it is not a drag race. There are a lot of things that need to fall in place during a grand prix weekend, so I think it would be silly to sit here and say it is ours.

"Since we are not leading the championship or constructors, we cannot be the favourites here."

Ferrari's Laurent Meckies also explained the rationale of deferring on the upgrade.

"[Monza] is the highest power effect of the year... what that means you gain 10hp on your engines and that is two tenths in your pocket," he said. "A lot of people, including ourselves, use it to bring their third and last power unit, although you may have seen a lot of our competitors have anticipated in doing that here.

"But there is a reason -- the engine's performance may drop with mileage, so you want the freshest engine with the higher power effect of the year."

Mercedes wasn't the only engine which showed some reliabilty issues. Antonio Giovinazzi's blew during qualifying, with the resulting change meaning he will also be sent to the back of the grid.


Much as it did last year, Honda has accepted that it will incur penalties this year as it pushes hard on the development front. The Japanese manufacturer has made clear progress now it has added Red Bull to its supply chain -- it powered only Toro Rosso in 2018 -- and for Belgium has the 'Spec 4' engine available for all of its cars.

Both Red Bull and Toro Rosso will take it for one car each, as Honda chief Toyoharu Tanabe explained ahead of the weekend.

"As usual, we have focused on improving both reliability and performance, in the hope of achieving even better results with both teams in this part of the season," he said. "Our plan is that only [Alexander] Albon and [Daniil] Kvyat will run it at Spa, for strategic reasons, looking at the rest of the season as a whole."

That means Albon will make his Red Bull debut from the back of the grid. The Thai driver was promoted in place of Pierre Gasly during the summer break -- Gasly will not get the upgrade, meaning he avoids a penalty on his return to his old team.

Albon sees benefits in being the one to take the upgrade on such an important weekend.

When asked if the penalty took the pressure off on his debut weekend, he said: "Yeah, you could say that, definitely.

"I still would have liked to have qualified properly and seen where I would have gone, but obviously the focus now is not on the short run pace, it's really trying to set up the car for Sunday.

"So there is a bit of a more chilled-out atmosphere but of course you still want to do a good job on Sunday."

Max Verstappen will not take the new engine, although he was complaining about a lack of power during Friday practice. The Dutchman later played down the prospect of further problems with the old specification later this weekend.

"Of course you lose a bit of lap time because of that, especially around here when the track is 7km long," he said. "But you don't want to risk anything on the engine.

"It was all precautionary, so I think tomorrow we'll be back on our normal modes we can use. I don't expect to beat Ferrari, but hopefully we can be a bit closer to Mercedes because it seems they were also a bit off compared to Ferrari. Still a bit of work to do, but in general I was quite happy with how the car was behaving.


Both Nico Hulkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo will drop five places from wherever they qualify on Saturday afternoon after Renault introduced a new internal combustion engine (ICE) to both cars. That took both drivers past their allowed allocation on that front -- Ricciardo's fifth, Hulkenberg's sixth.

Renault, which has struggled to match the progress of Honda this year, is under pressure to deliver a significant step forward over the coming months. Its season so far has been punctuated by a lack of performance and reliability problems.

The team says the new ICE aims at delivering a minor upgrade to both reliability and performance this weekend.

On a weekend when the team made the headline-grabbing announcement that it had signed Esteban Ocon for 2020, questions remain about whether the French manufacturer can get itself back onto the sort of trajectory it promised to find at the start of the year. With Honda pushing a big upgrade this weekend, Renault will be keeping a close eye on the pace of Red Bull and Toro Rosso, the team one place above it in the championship.

Customer team McLaren has opted to fit a new engine to Carlos Sainz's car, although as of Friday evening it had yet to decide the course of action for the Spaniard's teammate Lando Norris. On Sunday, it was confirmed Sainz's car had also been fitted with a new battery and MGU-K, meaning he will also drop to the back of the grid.