Following a long period of discussions between F1 teams and the FIA, regarding engine homologation/approval, Renault and Ferrari pointed out a loophole in the 2015 engine rules.
Since the regulations do not specifically stimulate when the 2015 engines have to be homologated, the FIA said last week that Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault would be allowed to make changes to their engines over the course of the season. The framework for engine changes specifies that only a total of 48 per cent of the engine can be changed, allowing for upgrades to be drip fed into the cars throughout the season.
While this was fantastic news for the current F1 engine manufactures, it added to one of the biggest problems that exists in the series, the huge differences in car performance. Season after season we see a top 10 shootout, while the bottom half are left behind. This issue was exaggerated in 2014 with Mercedes running away with the championship with only Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo able to beat the Silver Arrow drivers. Add to this the huge financial instabilities of some of the smaller teams and F1 as a whole, proving too much for the promising Marussia team, and we have a problem.
Beyond taking a serious look the ownership, running and ethics of the sport (both financially and environmentally), F1 needs to become more competitive between the teams. While it’s a team game and the car design/setup is the biggest factor in determining the championship outcome, every team needs to be on a level playing field.
When Honda and Mclaren announced that they would be revisiting their successful partnership for the 2015 season and beyond, the community welcomed a fresh, yet experienced, player into the sport. However, because Honda is classed as a new engine manufacturer, they were exempt from the engine rule loophole and needed to submit their engine for homologation on February 28th. What? Not only would Honda not have the benefit of a season’s testing with the 1.6 turbo hybrid engines, but now every other team would have the opportunity to further add to their advantage throughout the season, with power unit upgrades.
Understandably Honda was left upset. Thankfully the FIA has seen reason and after a meeting between the Japanese car manufacturer and F1 race director Charlie Whiting last Monday, the FIA agreed to consider tweaking the engine rules.
Following the meeting, the FIA has reconsidered its position and agreed that Honda can have some room to introduce developments, so it is treated as equally as possible to the current car makers. In a document sent to teams by Whiting on Friday, the governing body clarified how new entrants would be treated. It has been agreed that during the year of their entry, new manufacturers like Honda will be allowed as many improvements as other engine makers are planning to introduce.
Whiting stated: “As each of the four 2015 manufacturers will have an homologated power unit at the start of the season, we believe it would be fair to ensure that each of them enjoys equal opportunities for upgrades during the season.
“We will therefore allow the new manufacturer to use the same number of tokens that the other three manufacturers have available to them, taken as an average of the three.
“For example, if the three 2014 manufacturers have eight, seven and five unused tokens respectively at the start of the season, then the new manufacturer will be allowed to use six during the season (the average rounded down to the nearest whole number).”
The current manufacturers have a total of 32 tokens that can be used to improve their engines for this year, although it is likely the upgrades will be split between the winter and later in the campaign.
As each year goes on, the number of tokens available decreases.
While F1 teams are still far from being on a level playing field, this represents an important step in the right direction.