Engine rules and the F1 monopoly

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes, Istanbul, 2008, 470150

Over at F1 Insight Clive is concerned about possible future F1 engine regulations:

The FIA seem to want every engine involved to produce the same amount of power. Where is the logic in that unless what they really want is a spec formula?

There are rumours the FIA wants to extend its control over F1 engines to ensure they are all producing similar levels of power.

This is nonsense and completely the wrong direction for Formula 1. What’s more, the FIA have tried managing performance levels in series such as the World Touring Car Championship and made a total hash of it.

The WTCC example

Andy Priaulx, Nicola Larini, WTCC, Pau, 2008, 470313

In the World Touring Car Championship teams run racing cars based on road going models: BMW use their petrol 3 Series (rear wheel drive), Seat have a squad of diesel Leons (front wheel drive) and Chevrolet run petrol Lacettis (front wheel drive).

In an attempt to balance the performance levels of these cars, each with different configuration of front/rear wheel drive and petrol/diesel engines, the FIA can set maximum rpm levels, add or remove ballast from cars, force manufacturers to make aerodynamic changes and more.

As a result the teams are constantly at each other’s throats over who’s got an unfair performance advantage and adjustments are made to the cars almost ever race weekend. BMW got a weight break in time for the last round at Pau and, surprise surprise, won both rounds. But they’re still threatening to bring in a diesel version of their 3 Series because they think Seat (who filled the top six in Mexico) still have a performance advantage.

Whichever driver wins a race seems to have more to do with whether his team got a performance boost from the FIA before an event than how good they are. If the FIA can’t make performance parity work between three manufacturers in the WTCC how on earth can they expect it to work between twice as many, in a championship with vastly greater international recognition?

A solution: build more engines?

Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves, Indy Car, Texas Motor Speedway, 470313

I think the FIA have gone down entirely the wrong avenue by trying to freeze engine development within F1. What they need to do is the exact opposite: not only free up engine development within F1, but harmonise engine rules across a greater number of series, creating a greater market for ultra high-performance racing engines.

For example, this weekend sees the Le Mans 24 Hours, where Audi and Peugeot will take each other on using cars powered by 5.5-litre diesel V12 engines. So why not allow F1 cars to use the same engines? And why not allow sports cars to use the same 2.4-litre petrol V8s as in F1 cars?

The newly re-unified Indy Car series is holding a meeting this month to discuss future engine rules and try to attract other manufacturers to the championship. Granted, this is not an FIA-run series, but why can’t they too use similar specifications of engine design to F1 cars?

Honda currently supply all the engines for this series – would it not make sense if they and, say, Toyota (who used to supply IRL engines) could use roughly the same specification of engines they currently use in F1 for Indy Racing? Would this not be to the ultimate benefit of motorsport?

This could allow manufacturers to be represented in multiple series, whether by themselves or customer teams, without having to run R&D budget for different sizes and specifications of engines.

Granted, you couldn’t just drop a V8 from a BMW F1.08 into the back of a Lola chassis and join the Le Mans Series – the engine would need some modifications for long-distance competition.

But I don’t think the biggest obstacle to this plan is technology. I think it comes down to the FIA wanting to promote Formula 1 above all other kinds of motor sport. One of the key complaints the European Union brought against the FIA in 1997 was that it suppressed competition to F1 from other series by, for example, not letting circuits the held F1 races hold other major championships.

Although the FIA was forced to change some of its practices (allowing, for example, the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve to hold a Champ Car race) I still think the FIA is deeply hostile to anything it perceives as competition to Formula 1.

But the control freakery of trying to force each F1 team to produce exactly the same amount of power is unrealistic and not a worthwhile idea for Formula 1 or the rest of motor racing.

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