The ill fated journey Max Moseley charted for the new Formula One engine era is clearly reaping the results of ill considered planning. Though, we can’t be too hard on bad max because the detail of his vision was enacted under Jean Todt’s leadership and became a flagship ideal of his FIA presidency.
The new V6 turbo hybrid era was intended to attract manufacturers to the sport, yet the reality was the same three who finished the V8 era, began the new dawn of the V6 powertrains.
The failures of the FIA to regulate this new engine Formula are well documented, and the lack of foresight by those who govern the sport is indefensible. Engine manufacturers went on a mission to explore the cutting edge of hybrid PU science with no regard to cost. The result, customer teams now see 20-25% of their annual budgets for competing in F1 spent on power units alone.
Jean Todt recently threatened to cap the cost of the new engines to customers at around 60% of the price they are currently being charged. Yet as with many of El Presidente’s pronouncements, this hope of relief was traded away today in Geneva.
Meanwhile in an alternative universe of motorsports from F1, the WEC has also introduced hybrid power units for their competition. However, the regulations were well considered with a progressive view of change for each of the coming years. This provides certainty for the manufacturers that wholesale changes are not going to be sprung upon them at the last minute so their big investments in technology don’t become obsolete overnight.
Formula One however is scrabbling around trying to fix its mistakes. And with just over four months before the cars hit the track in Melbourne next year, a high level meeting of F1 engine manufacturers was convened in Geneva yesterday. The goal? To level the power unit playing field.
Mercedes are sitting pretty because they have produced bar far and away the best interpretation of the new V6 turbo hybrid power units. And the regulations were locked in for 2016.
This meant all engine manufacturers must develop their current power units over the winter, declare them as ‘complete’ by February 28th 2016 – and then run for the whole season with the architecture locked in.
The result of this would invariably see another season where Mercedes would dominate qualifying and the races, with the predictable outcome being either Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg would be the 2016 F1 drivers’ champion – and Mercedes win their third consecutive constructors title.
The Geneva meeting was a re-run of one that took place in 2014 where Mercedes were asked to agree to in season engine development, and declined. Then, Ferrari discovered that Charlie Whiting – the FIA’s F1 technical delegate – had been incompetent in his framing of the 2015 regulations and failed to state the date on which the 2015 engines should be locked down from further development.
This of course allowed Mercedes rivals more time to develop their power units and catch up with Mercedes, something Ferrari have achieved to a degree.
However, yesterday’s Geneva meeting saw Mercedes accede to in season engine development for 2016. This proposal must now go to the F1 commission where all the teams, the FIA, FOM and sponsors are represented for ratification. Again given the lateness of the hour, the commission must give unanimous agreement for this proposal before the WMC rubberstamp it into law.
So why does the FIA have to convene these annual crisis meetings on the following years engine regulations each year? Well despite having cost control in the forefront of their minds they failed to realize the engine manufacturers may spend gazillions on R&D prior to 2014 and one would arrive in the new era light years ahead of the others.
The plan was to reduce engine development costs post introduction by delivering a cone shaped set of regulations that prevented engine suppliers being able to change their engines substantively year on year.
The power unit was divided up into a set of components, each awarded a weighting in value – called tokens, and year on year the number of tokens that could be modified decreased. The new F1 engine has 66 tokens awarded to its components, and after year one, just 32 were allowed to be modified. For 2016 this was to become just 25 tokens.
Further, as part of the FIA’s cost cutting plan, parts of the new power unit were be locked in each year and never be allowed to be developed as part of the token system. At the end of 2014 this meant the upper and lower crankcase, crankshaft and air valve system were off limits for modification until 2020.
For 2016 further parts were locked in to each manufacturers design. These include the ancillary drive, aspects of the crank case, cam shafts, cam gear drives and engine covers.
Clearly the less components available for modification, the costs should reduce.
Well the pow wow in Geneva decided today, that 2016 in season development will be allowed. Further, all aspects of the engine are now open for redesign and the original 25 token restriction will be increased to 32.
All this is possible only because Mercedes agreed to it. But in formula One nobody gives anything away unless they get something in return. And the price for these Mercedes concessions is as follows.
The threat from Jean Todt of capping engine costs to customers has gone. Further, engine manufacturers will be able to prioritize each in season engine development for their own works team. So as is now, Mercedes are running a 4th iteration of the 2015 engine, while their customers have only been offered version 3 (Due to production limitations).
Of course Honda and Renault particularly will be delighted about this development, given they are so far behind the Mercedes outfit. Ferrari too will be happy, as now they do not have just 2-3 months over the winter to try and develop a power unit to match the Mercs.
Whilst this is all fine and dandy for the catchup engine manufacturers, this process is exactly the reason other manufacturers are circumspect about joining Formula One. The rules of the game are changed after significant investment has been made.
Footnotes of significance include brief discussions of an Ecclestone proposal for an alternative 3.5-litre twin-turbo V6 or a pre-2014 V8. They were summarily dismissed and the meeting decided there would be no alternatives considered to the current 1.6l V6 hybrid turbo engines before 2020.
Neither Ecclestone or Red Bull were present. It appears the self styled F1 supremo is continually losing his influence.
Further, 2015 engines will be offered by manufacturers to customers in 2016, at a discount to those prepared to pay for the latest technology.
The Geneva meeting has been described as “highly positive and constructive,” which means it was a tortuous, bad tempered and sordid affair. Nothing new then.
These proposals will now pass to the F1 commission where all the teams have a vote, and must be passed unanimously before being sent to the WMC to be rubber stamped in December.