How new engine rules will affect strategy

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

F1 teams will be able to manage their engine use better this year
F1 teams will be able to manage their engine use better this year

Ferrari’s Stefano Domenicali has been talking about the changes to the F1 engine rules for 2009.

Gone are the days of teams using one engine for each two consecutive rounds. The 2009 system is more complex: it could face some teams with challenging questions – especially at the end of the season – and it could be a headache for us fans to follow too.

The new engine rules

The new engine rules can be summarised as follows:

  • Drivers get a total of eight engines for the 17-race season
  • If they have to use a ninth engine they get a ten-place grid penalty
  • They don’t have to use the same engine in consecutive races
  • As in 2008, the engines they use in Friday test sessions are not subject to these rules – just Saturday practice, qualifying and the race

If you want the full detail have a look at article 28.4 of the 2009 F1 Sporting Regulations which you can find on the F1 Fanatic account.

Teams will obviously want to manage the amount of work their engines do to reduce the risk of one failing. Almost every Grand Prix is run to the same distance, 300km, except Monaco which is 260km, so that will not play a great role in their thinking. A greater concern is what percentage of each lap is spent with the engine under maximum stress – i.e. at full throttle.

Engine demands at F1 circuits

Here’s a list of the tracks on the calendar ranked by the proportion of time a driver spends on full throttle during a typical lap. (I haven’t been able to find data for all of them – please fill in the gaps if you can).

Monza – 70% full throttle
Spa-Francorchamps – 70%
Melbourne – 65%
Sepang – 65%
Interlagos – 65%
Silverstone – 64%
Istanbul – 63%
Bahrain – 63%
Nurburgring – 58%
Hungaroring – 58%
Catalunya – 57%
Shanghai – 55%
Monte-Carlo – 42%
Suzuka – ?%
Abu Dhabi – ?%
Valencia – ?%
Singapore – ?%

Spreading out the number of races evenly between the engines means seven engines would do two races each and one would have to do three. Red Bull used one engine for three consecutive races last year.

Engine strategy

Not having to use the same engine in consecutive races frees the teams to mix and match their engines to minimise strain. For example, the same engine that does a high-strain race like Monza or Spa could also do Monte-Carlo – the lowest-strain event. Of course, this assumes their engines are happy to sit for four months in between.

There are other complications. In wet races engine strain is greatly reduced, so an engine that does at least one wet race may become a candidate for the unit that has to do three events.

Drivers are also not required to use the same engine all weekend – they could qualify with one engine and swap it for a different unit for the race.

This is generally good news in that we are much less likely to see a driver receive a grid penalty for a race. However at the end of the season drivers may find themselves having to make difficult decisions about which engine is the one to do three races.

Finally, it’s not clear whether the FIA intends to publish details of which driver used which engine in which session. Hopefully they will, and fans will be kept in the picture.

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