Two tier F1 engines for 2017


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.

27 responses to “Two tier F1 engines for 2017

  1. But surely this conflicts with what Toto said, how with limited testing, it’s awkward for real developments to be brought to the track, only for them to fail in a customers car.

    Take what happened to Nico’s unit in Monza. If that had happened in a Williams, Mercedes would be asked ‘why did you bring it if it was likely to fail’, even if it was an unrelated issue.

    Really, any ruling should say ‘the factory team must make every effort possible to provide the unit to customers, with solid explanations and justification for ‘if not, why not”.

    • “Every effort possible”, “solid explanations and justification” is just incredibly bad contract speak. I agree with you on the opinion however.

      In my opinion, the engine manufacturer must offer the experimental upgrades to all recipients of their power units, when they want to introduce them for their own works team. Then it should be up to each customer team if it wants to continue using an existing used unit, a new homologated unit or the brand-spanking-new evolution. Some teams may want to take the risk in one situation and play it safe in another.

      If the manufacturer isn’t capable of following these requests from their customers, they’re not allowed to run the upgrades themselves.

  2. “any PU upgrades can only be deployed on track when they are available to all the teams running that brand of F1 PU.” well said. That should also include all power modes, rpm and torque limits as well. All customer teams MUST have the same spec PU as manufacturers. Otherwise a customer will never get higher than 5th in constructors championship.

      • I was referring to Constructors Championship and Manufacturers teams (works status teams). So, not necessarily in this order, Merc, Ferrari, Renault, Honda, then customer teams 5th downwards.

    • Unfortunately these PU’s are so complex now that they can be controlled completely by the manufacturers via their software. We saw several times last season the Williams team asking Mercedes if they could ‘turn the engine up’ so that they could overtake the car in front. Therefore even if the manufacturers supply the same spec PU there will still be a two tier system. Big Ron saw this coming and was brave enough to take a chance with Honda.

  3. The big problem will be timing. An early-season failure can easily put one driver out of sync meaning they still won’t necessarily all be upgraded at the same time. For a manufacturer supplying 3 or 4 teams having all drivers on the same cycle will be very unlikely, especially the further you get in to the season.

    An alternative could be that the works team must offer any upgrades at the same time they take them and for customer teams these upgrades are penalty-free. Even that, however, can cause issues – for example, a customer could be used to take points off another team and of course all engine manufacturers would have to nominate a ‘works’ team.

    • Your first point is of course accepted and I like the notion behind your idea of giving the smaller/customer teams an advantage…. but I suspect this would then succumb to other kind of manufacturer trickery…

      The simple principle of ensuring when an upgrade is delivered there are enough PU’s for each car supported by a manufacturer isn’t difficult for the FIA (and de facto everyone) to understand .. much as we all laud Toto’s magnanimous offer to use the Mercedes AMG F1 team as the test mule for each of its customers….

      • I suggest introduction dates for engine upgrades. The manufacturer can test the engine prior to that date but not race it. When the engine is introduced, the manufacturer must be ready to supply all the clients – who can chose to use the engine or not, but the supplied engine is part of the yearly allocation.

        • When will this testing take place?

          If a manufacturer can only test at race weekends and filming days (as in the current formula), why should they then be disadvantaged by forcing them to sacrifice this running time?

          Under the current rules, the idea above would penalize manufacturer / works teams. To make your simplistic idea work – manufacturer teams would have to be allowed to do the extra testing they are required to, if they are to supply both works drivers and customer teams equal equipment at the same time.

          Furthermore this idea fails to account for situations when customer teams are out of sync due to accidents etc. If this rule was enacted, customer teams might end up having strategic crashes, or it may lead to drivers trying to cause maximum damage during crashes with obvious negative ramifications.

          There’s usually good reason why rules are not written in the plain simplistic terminology that armchair experts espouse. In this case I can’t see the rules getting changed any time soon. The manufacturers have just agreed to cut engine supply prices dramatically. Now they are forced to give up their deserved advantage for the extra work and resources they’ve deployed? That seems unfair.

          As pointed out further up – Ron Dennis saw this situation and did the right thing. Taking a chance of that nature deserves the potentially increased rewards!

          If the current engine rules are allowed to mature, manufacturer / works teams’ advantages will diminish. This will not happen with constant whining about irrelevant trivia such as (lack of) engine noise. If the anonymous internet hordes continue to run down the sport, we’ll lose the natural parity that comes with mature regulations, as some knee-jerk change will take us straight back to 2014, 2009 etc. At which point folks will find other ephemeral nonsense to bitch about…

  4. it is precisely this situation that warrants having one or even two independent engine manufacturers. until this happens mercedes/ferrari will be able to call the shots.

    • And this is only likely to happen if the FIA work with both WEC and F1 to move towards harmonising – if not completely – their PU specifications…. so from 2020 onwards maybe….

    • How do you define an “independent” engine manufacturer? By the simplest definition (a manufacturer not running their own team) 2015 had two independent engine manufacturers.

  5. The only way you’ll ever get a single-tier engine in F1 in this hybrid era, is for the FIA to “blind” allocate the engine hardware on a grand prix by grand prix basis, and issue a standard set of control electronics, allowing for individual team customisation here and there.

    But there’s more chance of me eating a brussel sprout out of Jabba the Hutt’s belly button.

  6. ts, ts, ts, such negativity all the time, c’mon, this is good news, out with the tokens, and now Renault and Honda have a chance PLUS some more manufacturers might be enticed to come in

  7. This might actually delay engine upgrades. If you are a manufacturer and the works team is only slightly faster than a team supplied with the same engine, and the customer team has a good aero package and/or chassis upgrade, would you give them the newer engine? Better for the works team that everyone continues to use the older version.

  8. ‘Two tier’
    The first time I heard that term, was when Mosley was around. In his proposal their were limits when you wanted to spend unlimited and no limits if you agreed to a budget cap, if I recall correctly.

    However in this article the situation from ‘always’ is described. A works team always had the upper hand, mechachromes, asiatechs, acers and pertronas’ engines were never on par with their factory equivalent.

    Privateers were always second tier – unless they had a works deal. Benetton Renault vs Williams Renault is maybe the exception.

    • I seem to recall a time when Sauber was running Costworth V10’s and Minardi was still running the old V8’s and they were both customers of an independent supplier!

      I don’t see what the big fuss is about customers not getting the same spec as the works team. Its never been like that in the past, why does it have to be like that now?

      • Very true, it has never been like that in the past. The problem now is every team are so sophisticated in their design and build departments that with the current regulations leaves very minimal differences between chassis performance. i.e. In years gone by if you had the best chassis and the worst engine (providing reliable) you could win races. Now chassis’s are so close in performance terms due to very restrictive regs, the only way to gain an advantage is to have a works PU. So without a works PU a driver will be luck to finish above 9th. F1 should not be about luck. It should be about engineering skills.

  9. I agree Mr Tubby. I don’t care if we 20 iterations of the same engine on the grid. For years teams would have differing versions of the cosworth and Ferrari would only put the experimental engine in one car whilst having an older one in the sister car. I want to see the engines take centre stage as technological masterpieces, ..exploding as they push them to the limits.
    But whilst the driver is engineering a finish with his playstation controller instead of pushing it to the limit with a conventional steering wheel it makes no difference. I’m bored of hearing about it to be honest.

  10. Maybe customer teams should be permitted a certain freedom as a trade-off for receiving inferior software? Something around the tyres may do the trick?

    For example, with Pirelli’s extremely convoluted tyre allocation system this year, teams will have a “medium” and “hard” tyre reserved for the race, but they need only use one.

    Maybe the works teams should be forced to use both, whilst the customers need only use one? Which would most likely lead to the customer teams using 2 mediums, and the works teams 1 medium 1 hard.

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