Engine rules and the F1 monopoly

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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25 comments on Engine rules and the F1 monopoly

  1. George said on 13th June 2008, 23:36

    Pingguest – I’ll simply cite the 1985 San Marino Grand Prix as a prime example of what I am talking about. A) Would we really want to watch that and B) Would major motor manufacturers really want us to see that…

  2. Keith, I agree with you! Harmonization is the way to go.

  3. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 14th June 2008, 9:31

    George – that’s an interesting example. For those who may not know the 1985 San Marino Grand Prix was one of a couple of races in the ’80s where the turbo-powered cars started to run out of fuel in the closing stages. Alain Prost just made it to the finishing line but lost his win because his car was underweight because it had so little fuel left in it.

    However I think the reason we saw races ending with drivers running out of fuel was not just because the fuel rules were challenging, but because the technology required to measure fuel use during a race was not sophisticated enough. The fuel use of a turbo powered car would vary massively depending on how high the boost was turned up.

    By the end of the turbo era in 1988 these problems were largely sorted, at least by the leading teams. I think today even if the rules were changed to a maximum fuel allowance overnight the teams would have no problem coping.

  4. The KERS system is seriously restrictive, with a maximum power output and weight (among other things) stipulated. There is a clear limit as to how much development will be permitted, so it just becomes something that separates the rich teams from the not-so-rich teams. The rich teams will master it and still manage to cover all the bases in the increasingly-restrictive formula. The not-so-rich teams won’t. This will be aggravated by the three-step process the FIA want to impose. And it’s not going to develop much of anything because Toyota have already said that the KERS permitted in F1 will be primitive compared to what they already use on the roads.

    This is an exercise in the FIA trying to get more power in F1 by increasing its predictability through artificial equality. It’s spec engines through the back door.

  5. A Singh said on 14th June 2008, 11:54

    The FIA are so stupid when it comes to making rules about engines.

    I’m really surprised the FIA hasn’t scrapped that rule and just said why doesn’t everyone run the same car on the grid?

    But I do agree Keith’s point that the engine rules should be opened up a bit. When designers had the freedom to choose between a V6, V8, V10 or even a V12, there was more competition as each engine had its merits and flaws. There was a greter discrepency in power, making it more competetive – rather than similar levels in performance.

    Plus, surely the proposed rule would entail changes to some engines which would go against the, obviously sensible, rule to homogenise engines?

  6. Robert McKay said on 14th June 2008, 12:30

    A very interesting article.

    It would be easier, cheaper and more sensible for all the F1 teams to use the same engine, put their own manufacturers badge on it, and tell noone they’d done it. It would make little difference to what we have now.

    The FIA (read Max) does seem to have some ploy to “spec” at least some areas. Which, to be honest, is not neccessarily a bad thing (I’m sure people will disagree, please feel free to) but at least be obvious and come out and say it. You see, the FIA wants to have it’s cake and eat it. It wants all these powerful manufacturers, but it wants them all more or less as competitive as each other, so that the slowest ones don’t pull out becaus they spend a lot of money to get humped by their rival. So it freezes engine development after homologating them all to roughly the same level, so it’s a spec engine formule where everyone has a different engine, which makes preciesly no sense other than the aforementioned keeping of manufacturers onboard. Stupid.

    The WTCC is just the extension of this engine specifying to the whole package of the car. Unfortunately, in order to maintain the carefully preserved status quo between the teams, you have to continually adjust the rules every other weekend, which is (a) pretty blatant that you’re manipulating things and (b) doesn’t actually produce very even races: what it tends to do is give a Seat whitewash one weekend, so they are penalised, then a BMW whitewash next weekend, so they get penalised, and then Chevrolet are fastest…and the cycle continues. It evens out come the end of the championship, but a lot of the races don’t feel like that (plus the reverse grid second race means slower cars can still easily win). It’s fine to an extent, if you blatantly come out and say “we’re going to continually strive to even things out”, as the FIA do in the WTCC.

    It’s the underhanded, subtle, subterfugal way F1 does the same things I find difficult to swallow.

  7. Robert McKay said on 14th June 2008, 12:52

    And I’ll just add to that post the following comment: it’s pretty clear that trying to shoehorn the best things of both (a series where everyone builds their own chassis/engine and one where everyone runs spec machinery) is pretty difficult to do. If you let everyone build their own stuff you always run the risk someone will do it much better and be a second a lap faster than the field. But if you want the manufacturers all to be in it’s hard to have a spec series.

    My message is: stop the tampering, and trying to force the best of both into one. Either pick one thing or the other. Or, and I’m sorry to keep banging my drum on this, do both. Have the WTCC where BMW/Chevrolet/Seat et al. build a touring car that conforms with the basic regs and let them race, and also have a spec WTCC-like series where everyone runs the same car. Do the same for F1 with a GP1-type series. Just quit trying to force the two aspects of building your own with spec-machinery together, because the sum is definitely lss than the parts when you do it that way.

  8. Pingguest said on 14th June 2008, 16:47

    George,

    I’ve watched the 1985 San Marino Grand Prix again a couple of weeks ago. And I really liked it. The race was entertaining and the last laps were completely unpredictable. What’s the problem with that?

    We’ve seen more unpredictability in the past. I’ve seen Mika Hakkingen blowing up his engine the last lap of the 2001 Spanish GP and Kimi Raikkonen having a broken suspension during the 2005 European GP. Very entertaining and fun to watch. What’s wrong with that?

    If manufactures don’t want their drivers to run out of fuel, they should make their engines more fuel efficient. If they can’t to that properly, it’s up to the drivers to cope with it and change their driving.

  9. George said on 15th June 2008, 11:38

    Pingguest – the problem with it, for me, is that while it is indeed unpredictable and entertaining to watch, it’s an element of randomness in the result that has nothing to do with racing. However, I do very much agree with Keith’s point about the technological difference between now and then – I must admit I hadn’t really thought of that. I’m still not convinced it is the answer – although, if it’s the only way that the FIA would consider a ban on refuelling, then I’m all for it!

  10. hmmm, but tell me more patrick

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