For those who regularly complain about headlines, the reality is that Formula One now has a two tier engine system given that Toro Rosso will be running a 2015 Ferrari power unit this year and the other Ferrari customers and the Scuderia will be powered by an upgraded 2016 version. Further, when Mercedes AMG F1 introduced their power unit upgrade in Monza last season but did not make it available for their customers, a two tier approach to even current-year F1 engines was clearly established. For many fans of the sport, it was the latter which was the more depressing development in that the strength of the manufacturer ‘works’ teams is further underpinned.
During the battle with Bernie over the much maligned V6 Turbo hybrid power units, the manufacturers appear to have made concessions on the issue of power unit cost to the customer teams. This was a cause championed by Jean Todt though the manufacturers also gave Bernie a nod by agreeing to increase ‘engine noise’.
So far so good.
However, at the launch of the fake Renault E24 (with its fake race livery) Cyril Abiteboul revealed that for 2017, power unit development restrictions will be abolished. “The token system is being removed,” he said explaining; “One of the reasons we have all agreed to do this is that we all need the performance of the engine to converge.
“An F1 that is dictated by the performance of the engine is not good for anyone”.
The manufacturers want PU development to be completely opened up which would allow them to introduce upgraded power units during the season. This looks an attractive proposition in that a manufacturer behind the curve at the start of a year doesn’t have to wait another year before they can catch up.
Further, if a manufacturer wishes to blow the equivalent of the national debt of a small nation on power unit R&D, their customers won’t be affected as their PU prices are now capped. And given the testing restrictions and the regulation restricting the number of power units each driver can use in a season, the potential for a power unit spending war is mitigated to some degree.
Yet the devil really is in the detail of what has not yet been agreed for 2017.
The unfortunate circumstance Mercedes found themselves in during the 2015 season, where they only had the manpower/machine time/components to introduce an upgraded PU for the ‘works’ team is clearly open to deliberate abuse and this loophole must be closed.
It isn’t difficult to envisage a scenario where the ‘works’ team and a customer team using the same power unit are close in the constructors championship. Then surprise, surprise, for some reason or another the manufacturer is unable to offer the customer an equal upgraded power unit to coincide with a power unit expiring due to mileage. The customer is then stuck with the older iteration of the power unit for another 4-5 races until the next time they must replace the PU.
At present TJ13 has learned there is no binding agreement to prevent this scenario which will obviously lead to a two tier power unit regime in Formula One. To avoid this unfair advantage for ‘works’ teams, the FIA must regulate, whether the manufacturers like it or not. Simply put, any and all PU upgrades can only be deployed on track when they are available to all the teams running that brand of F1 PU.