With just 12 days before the F1 2023 challengers hit the circuit in Bahrain whispers from Mercedes, Ferrari and Honda suggest they have found power gains over the winter.
The FIA has frozen the architecture of the V6 hybrid turbo PU’s and the only modifications allowed are to improve reliability or safety.
Red Bull reliability looked poor
Given the tight nature of the FIA regulations, how then can the teams gain the BHP numbers claimed in recent months whilst merely making components in the PU more reliable?
After the first three races it was Red Bull Racing who were in despair with 3 DNF’s and Verstappen 46 points behind his Ferrari rival Charles LeClerc.
Fuel turning to vapour before the point of combustion (vapour lock) saw both the Red Bull cars retire from the season opener, then Verstappen retired from round three due to a fuel leak.
With 20 rounds to go Verstappen commented ironically, “Well, yeah, it’s a long season. At this stage I think we need 45 races!”
Ferrari’s problems were more deep rooted
Yet from the next time out in Imola Red Bull appeared ton have got on top of their unrelated reliability issues and it was the turn of Ferrari to be blighted with DNF’s
LeClerc’s retirement from the lead in Barcelona was due to a turbo problem which reared its ahead again 2 rounds later in Azerbaijan. From thereon the Ferrari team ran their PU at reduced power until the end of the season.
The significant problems with the turbo charger along with the MGU-H. The latter was caused by an improper functioning of the TJI (turbo jet ignition).
Winter fixes for the ‘frozen’ F1 power units
F1 analysts have posited that these problems could result in a loss of around 30BHP alone and with a winter fix this is a real world gain they should have compared to the performance of their PU’s post Baku.
Total gains of around a second a lap have been rumoured in the Italian media though recently Ferrari boss Fred Vassuer sought to crush the speculation as a “fantasy”.
Whilst Mercedes and Honda’s power units did not display reliability issues comparable to Ferrari, they too have made modifications over the winter period.
Mercedes find 10-16Bhp
Mercedes rumoured improvements are centred around reducing the internal mechanical friction. The introduction of new machining processes on the bearings and the crankshaft together with the connecting rods, Brixworth will argue this improves reliability.
Of course an improvement in lubricants together with fuel would assist this gain further, though fuel and oil is frozen by the FIA from March 2022.
That said the freeze on lubricants would not prevent Mercedes from making the case the switch is required to best serve the newly machined components.
The horse power gain from internal mechanical efficiency has been estimated at around 10BHP but rises another 6 horse power if lubricant improvement is allowed.
Honda reduce energy ‘waste’
According to Racing365 Honda have followed a different path. Their focus has been around the MGU-H and MGU-K and by improving reliability there is a resulting energy wastage reduction.
Additional improvements have been made to the auxiliary pumps of the internal combustion engine and the combined effect of the modifications is around 10BHP.
When a manufacturer applies to the FIA to midday any component in the power unit, the others are informed and can provide input. So these improvements to reliability and indirectly in performance are known amongst all the F1 participants.
Alpine concerned over supposed ‘reliability’ fixes
However, Alpine have voiced their concern over the activities of their manufacturer competitors.
Bruno Famin who heads up Alpine’s engine base in Very-Chatillon recently questioned, “what is a pure, genuine reliability issue?”
“Behind the reliability issue you often have a potential performance gain, of course. The limit is not exactly always super clear,” he explained to The Race.
“If you have a water pump issue, as we had in ‘22, it’s quite clear it’s a pure reliability issue, there is nothing to gain in having a better or different water pump.”
“If need to change the material of the piston rings, OK, you will be able to have something stronger to have more performance, then where is the limit? It’s not obvious.
Alpine boss calls for ‘stronger FIA’
Famin reveals Alpine have seen up to “70 requests” from the other 3 manufacturers to the FIA to make ‘reliability’ modifications.
“I am expecting the FIA to be a bit stronger in the future, but I have no new information.”
Alpine’s Bruno Famin does not reveal whether they have objected to any of their competitors requests o the FIA or whether there are ongoing ‘reliability improvements’ in the pipeline.
Though if the power gains rumoured come to fruition Alpine will no doubt protest the matter to the FIA. Though it must be said, given the volume of upgrades requested, Alpine to date have been relatively sanguine.