The 2015 F1 season marks the second year with F1’s V6 hybrid turbo engines. But the rules around the new power units are still causing confusion and controversy.
The new year is less than three weeks old but the FIA has already advised the teams of two key developments in how the rules will be interpreted. This has partly been triggered by the arrival of a fourth engine manufacturer, Honda, alongside Mercedes, Renault and Ferrari.
The latest rule interpretations could have a major effect on the competitiveness of the teams this year.
The letter of the law
The wrangling over the rules began last year when Mercedes’ rivals lobbied the FIA to relax the rules on engine development to increase their chance of catching the cars which dominated the 2014 season.
The FIA intended to prevent teams introducing new parts after pre-season testing concluded. However the section of the sporting regulations which laid down the rules for homologation – the process by which the FIA approved each manufacturer’s power unit – only referred to how this would take place last year:
Other than any parts solely associated with power unit installation in different types of car (which have no performance benefit and which may be changed from time to time during the homologation period with the consent of the FIA), any such power unit is one which is identical in every respect to either:
a) A power unit delivered to the FIA no later than 28 February 2014.
b) A power unit delivered to the FIA after 28 February 2014 which has been modified in accordance with the Annual F1 Power Unit Homologation table […]
c) A power unit delivered to the FIA after 28 February 2014, or modified and re-delivered to the FIA after that date, which the FIA is satisfied, in its absolute discretion and after full consultation with all other suppliers of power units for the Championship, could fairly and equitably be allowed to compete with other homologated power units. […]
2015 FIA F1 Sporting Regulations, June 29th draft, Appendix 4, Article 1 (read the current rules in full – PDF link)
At the beginning of the year the FIA admitted, in a letter to teams, that the rules did not prevent them from introducing new power unit components after the 2015 season had begun. It advised the three manufacturers who competed in last year’s championship that their basic homologated unit would be the same as the one used in 2014, including any alterations made under clause (c) of the above rule.
However this would not apply to Honda who, as a new entrant to the championship, had not yet homologated an engine.
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The Honda exception
Crucially, this also meant Honda would not have the same right to introduce upgrades to their engine after this date – the dispensation which had just been granted to their three rival manufacturers. Unsurprisingly, the FIA was soon contacted by representatives from the engine manufacturer as well as McLaren.
The extent to which teams can modify their homologated power unit designs each year is specified in the rules in order to keep costs under control. Each year a team has a quota of items which they may modify – often referred to as their engine ‘tokens’.
The FIA’s stance meant the three original manufacturers could now use 32 of these tokens throughout the season. However Honda were expected to adhere to the same restrictions used last year and not make any alterations to their engine after the season had begun.
That changed last week when the FIA agreed a new compromise. Honda will now be granted an allocation of tokens to use after they have homologated their engine on February 28th. This will be based on how many tokens their rival manufacturers have used by the beginning of the season. An average will be taken of how many tokens each of the other three has left, and rounded down to the nearest whole number, to give Honda their allocation for 2015.
Fewer engines, fewer teams
A further complication to the freedom teams have to introduce new components on their power units comes from the fact they are only supposed to use a limited number of power units per car per season. Last year they had five for 19 races, this year that number will fall to four power units for the 20 rounds on the 2015 F1 calendar.
The obvious consequence of this is engines will now have to last for five races instead of four. But it also means teams will have fewer opportunities to introduce upgrades.
This also gives an insight into why allowing teams to develop their engines during the season is likely to increase waste and force costs up. Spare components may now be superseded by upgraded versions before they have been used.
Another key factor which will determine how quickly the manufacturers can advance their development programmes is the number of teams they are supplying (see chart below). This is a double-edged sword: while Mercedes can potentially accumulate twice as much testing data as their rivals as they are supplying more teams, they also have to build enough parts to provide for a larger number of competitors.
NB. Assuming Caterham and Marussia/Manor do not compete.
So what can they change?
For the purpose of the rules, a power unit is divided into 42 components, each of which is given a weighting from one to three in terms of the number of tokens which are spent when it is changed.
It would cost 66 tokens to change every item on the power unit once – which is more than twice as many tokens as the teams have. However for 2015 three items (with a total weighting of five tokens) are frozen in specification and cannot be modified. These are:
- Upper/lower crankcase: Cylinder bore spacing, deck height and bank stagger
- Crankshaft: Crank throw, main bearing journal diameter and rod bearing journal diameter
- Air valve system: Including the compressor and air pressure regulation devices
The number of frozen items will increase again next year, stay the same in 2017, increase again the following year and significantly increase for 2019 and beyond. Therefore teams may wish to prioritise development on items which will be frozen in specification sooner rather than later.
Here are how many tokens it will cost teams to develop each part of their power unit, and when that part is due to be frozen:
|3||Upper/lower crankcase: All dimensions including cylinder bore position relative to legality volume, water core||2016|
|3||Ancillaries drive: From ancillary to power source. Includes position of the ancillaries as far as drive is concerned||2016|
|3||Combustion: All parts of parts defining combustion. Included: ports, piston crown, combustion chamber, valves geometry, timing, lift, injector nozzle, coils, spark plug. Excluded: valves position||2019|
|2||Valve drive: Gear train down to crankshaft gear included. Position and geometry. Includes dampers||2016|
|2||Valves axis position: Includes angle but excludes axial displacement||2018|
|2||Valves drive: From valve to camshaft lobe. Position and geometry. Exhaust and inlet. Including valve return function inside the head||2018|
|2||Crankshaft: Except crank throw, main bearing journal diameter, rod bearing journal diameter. Includes crankshaft bearings||2018|
|2||Cylinder head: Except modifications linked to subsequent modifications||2019|
|2||Con rods: Including small and big end bearings||2019|
|2||Pistons: Including bearings and pin. Excluding crown||2019|
|2||Injection system: PU mounted fuel system components: (e.g. high pressure fuel hose, fuel rail, fuel injectors, accumulators). Excluding injector nozzle||2019|
|2||Pressure charging: From compressor inlet to compressor outlet||2019|
|2||Pressure charging: From turbine inlet to turbine outlet||2019|
|2||MGU-H: Complete. All internals including bearings, casing…||2019|
|2||MGU-H: Position, transmission||2019|
|2||MGU-K: Complete. All internals including bearings, casing…||2019|
|2||MGU-K: Position, transmission||2019|
|2||Energy store: Cells||2019|
|2||Energy store: BMS||2019|
|1||Valve drive – Camshafts: From camshaft lobe to gear train. Geometry except lift profile. Includes damping systems linked to camshaft. Exhaust and inlet||2016|
|1||Covers: Covers closing the areas in contact with engine oil cam covers, cam-timing covers…||2016|
|1||Oil pressure pumps: Including filter. Excluding internal if no impact on body||2018|
|1||Oil scavenge systems: Any scavenging system||2018|
|1||Oil recuperation: Oil/air separator, oil tank, catch tank||2019|
|1||Engine water pumps: Include power unit mounted water pipes||2019|
|1||Inlet system: Plenum and associated actuators. Excluding pressure charging, trumpets and throttle associated parts and actuators||2019|
|1||Inlet system: Trumpets and associated parts and actuators||2019|
|1||Inlet system: Throttles and associated parts and actuators||2019|
|1||Pressure charging: External actuators linked to pressure charging||2019|
|1||Ignition system: Ignition coils, driver box||2019|
|1||Lubrication: All parts in which circulates oil under pressure (oil pump gears, channels, piping, jets) and not mentioned elsewhere in the table||2019|
|1||Sliding or rotating seals||2019|
|1||MGU-H: Power electronics||2019|
|1||MGU-K: Power electronics||2019|
|1||ERS: Cooling/Lubrication systems (Including ES jackets, pipes, pumps, actuators)||2019|
|1||Pressure charging: From engine exhaust flanges to turbine inlet||n/a|
|1||Electrical system: Engine mounted electrical components (e.g. wiring loom within legality volume, sensors, alternator). Excluding actuators, ignition coils and spark plugs||n/a|
|1||ERS: Wiring loom||n/a|
Over to you
Will the relaxation of the engine rules make it easier for Mercedes’ rivals to catch up to them? Will Mercedes benefit or suffer from having to supply more teams?
Have your say in the comments.
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