Ecclestone F1 engine regualtions dismissed out of hand

bernie

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.

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16 responses to “Ecclestone F1 engine regualtions dismissed out of hand

  1. So Now Red Bull holds all the cards, if Ferrari want to develop their engine they need RBR and STR to vote in favor of in season development, RBR can ask for 2016 Ferrari engines in exchange for those votes.

  2. could be I am wrong, but this article sounds like it is against the latest developments.
    RBR is as good as standing on the outside step of the formula one out door blocking that door being in two minds if it continuous its way out or go back in and eat some more Renault engine pie.

  3. Oh boy, what fun will that be to watch…. Mercedes half a minute clear of Ferrari, who are half a minute clear of Williams with a Mercedes -2 engine who will be a minute clear of the next one with a Ferrari -1 engine etc….

    Why did Mercedes allow this? Surely not only because they can screw their customers with old versions. They are the only team ready to race in 2016 with a fully updated engine. While the others are busy developing and running stuff on the dyno, Mercedes will dominate 2016 and work fully focussed on the 2017 engine. By the time Ferrari comes close, Mercedes is ready to run away again.

    And what is the point of Sauber, Williams, Manor, whomever to run circles with older spec engines? They have been fully degraded to grid fillers.

    I wonder what the EU thinks of this kind of rulemaking. It is a complete abuse of power by the big boys.

    • Ferrari has promised its customers 2016 engines, just like Mercedes did (including Manor). The only one getting a 2015 engine will probably STR as Red Bull looks like staying with Renault (although maybe rebadged as Mecachrome engines).

      But in-season development will mean customers will get the top notch engine one or more races later (as this year Mercedes uses the latest spec and their customers the one before).

  4. AMuS are reporting that Ferrari were strongly against any engine cost cap and would use its veto power to derail any such plans.

    • Both FERRARI and Mercedes were the only two against and the only two that voted against, after the meeting the Marlboro man said “we don’t sell things at less than cost” and the totonator said “this may result in legal action”.

  5. “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.”

    Is there actually any hard info to back that assertion up? If you were just buying a n/a V8 or a hybrid turbo V6 surely you would always assume the latter would be more expensive as there’s a lot more actually going into the engine in terms of components, management systems, etc.?

    Obviously things would be different had there been a cost cut, but to imply that the price of the engines is purely because of the teams allegedly having “no regard to cost” when it came to R&D seems a little flimsy…

    • The engine manufacturers decided on the V6 Turbo hybrid engine specification – which as you say is highly complex. The quote does not just refer to the R&D post the ratified specification or suggest they are mining and manufacturing with Kryptonite 😉

  6. It seems the rules come closer and closer to MotoGP regarding customer engine and chassis. In MotoGP only factory riders can realistically win, but the grid is full, customer engines are affordable and there is some sort of spectacle. Imho we shouldn’t cry that privateers don’t get the latest engines as they wouldn’t have challenged for the top spot anyway; when they were challenging they were either factory-supported private teams like RedBull and McLaren or gained a huge aero advantage thru loopholes Brawn-like. Smaller teams should yell about income distribution, not PU prices

  7. Just been reading auto und motorsport and what I have said and felt before seems to be confirmed:
    – The 2015 Renault engine used in Montreal was worse than the 2014 version (combo of power and fuel usage)
    – The Austin engine update was supposed to use 4 tokens, but the engine proved to be unreliable on the testbench and it underperfomed, so no update
    – There will be a 2 token Brasil update (that leaves 10 tokens unused)

    So, Renault will be happy with whatever tokens they get. But I wonder where they wasted their tokens on in the winter of 14/15 if it brought nothing in terms of speed. And what have they been doing ever since if they can only come up with a 2 token update in Brazil? And if they are so slow with their updates, what the hell will the bring to the first race of 2016 and what do they think to achieve in 2016 itself. Because at this point, whatever they do, fails. So there is something fundamentally flawed in the whole design. The question is, do they know how to fix that, how much tokens will it cost and for Ghosn more importantly, how much does he have to invest in a total rebuild of the Renault engine.

    Have a nice weekend.

    • Renault Has a problem: they thought they got rid of Red Bull and get Lotus without having to cough up the dough. They saved their tokens for this winter and they have this Ferrari-and-maybe-even-Mercedes-killer on the test bench.

      Oh fuck. Nobody wants to provide those complaining Austrians with an engine! Now what?

  8. Excuse me, I had trouble translating “Motorplatzer”. It means that the 4 token Austin update blew up on the dyno.
    And Renault want good PR from RBR right? Muhahaha I say.

    • There’s a difference between good PR and simply keeping the heavy and inflamed criticism behind closed doors. I guess for now Renault would simply like Red Bull to handle issues away from the press.

      In the meantime, Red Bull’s attitude hasn’t helped them find other manufacturers.

      I wonder how competitive they would be if they already had Ferrari this year.

    • afaik it’s not exactly as written in that article, but let’s go with it. It seemed this year that everybody’s problem except for Mercedes is to actually spend their tokens, not how many they can get extra. All except Mercedes have tokens to spare today, seems maybe they don’t have (viable) ideas to implement?

      If next year Renault enters a factory team and RedBull goes with whoever, what is the point in Renault investing anything in RB’s engine this season? To prove them wrong, that R can do good motors? That’s childish particularly because the connaisseurs knew RB’s chassis before the summer break was poor (look at Monaco vs Singapore and think Sin is harder on the PU than Mon). Better option would be to keep the (potential) awesome engine for the factory team, if such a thing exists and not let loose any secrets with RB.

      • If I understand various commentaries correctly Honda’s problem is indeed in spending their tokens but only because what they need to do is completely redesign the turbo to be much larger, with knock-on consequences for everything else. And since they don’t have enough tokens for that, there’s not actually a huge amount of point in messing around the edges.

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