F1 Engine aren’t really frozen are they?

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As Renault Sport F1 head to Australia for this weekend’s season-opening Grand Prix, its engine has created somewhat of a anxiety amongst teams powered by the new V6 turbo. Manufacturers will submit their engines for homologation and that, as they say, is that for the rest of the season. You can imagine how nervous you would be if your 12 total days of testing were ripe with mechanical issues centering on your engine.

However, all is not set in stone when it comes to the homologation of the engine. Manufacturers can make “reliability” upgrades to their engines during the year and as Lotus F1 technical director, nick Chester, points out to AUTOSPORT’s Glen Freeman, that’s exactly what Renault Sport F1 will do starting within the first three races of the season:

“Homologation means we can’t upgrade for performance but we can bring in revisions for reliability,” said Chester.

“And that’ll happen with all manufacturers through the year.

“Even the manufacturers with more mileage than us are still going to be things that they have to fix for reliability.”

“I think the first couple of races will be difficult. Hopefully when we get to race three then we’ll be in a much better position.

“It depends really on the fixes Renault Sport are going to bring and how quickly that comes in.”

So we have this “reliability” upgrade rule that allows for upgrades but apparently it can’t increase performance. The performance metric is certainly measured by the governing body (FIA) and it will most likely scrutinize any reliability upgrades as well to ensure that no performance is gained. This rule is not new, it’s been in Formula 1 for some time now. The previous V8 engine specification we ended with last year is a completely different engine than when the first V8 was homologated back in 2006. Each piece and part will have been improved and changed for “reliability” reasons.

The key here will be Renault Sport F1’s baseline performance and if the engine has the right amount of shove, then the quest for replacing defective or faulty components for reliabilities sake will be something the company is keen to do. Red Bull, Lotus and Caterham will be keen for them to seek reliability as well.

This is one of those FIA rules that would be interesting to dig into to find how they measure upgrades, what criteria they use and what tolerances they accept as a reliability upgrade. By replacing a more sturdy piece with better performance to implement better reliability could actually make the engine perform better so what are the tolerances? Conceivably, making any changes that improve reliability is a performance gain, no? If you made an engine that can’t last 1,000km, then that is its performance window right?

I’m parsing words here but you get the point. At what point is a reliability upgrade an all-out performance improvement and what tolerances do the FIA allow for? A question I’m sure Renault Sport F1 will explore the parameters of this year. Renault Sport F1 can apply to the FIA to make some reliability changes and the remaining teams have to respond to the FIA in writing showing approval or disapproval. I surmise that all the teams will be doing this in the first few months of such a drastic regulation change as the 2014 season.

Wait…there are performance upgrades coming

If a manufacturer misses the mark completely, they can apply for a performance upgrade but as you can imagine, the other teams would not look to favorably at this situation. The FIA has allowed for this situation by letting the manufacturers make actual performance upgrades after the first year to a certain amount of the engine. Then in 2016, a smaller amount of components can be upgraded for performance.

So the engine Renault Sport F1 takes to Australia this week will not be the engine it starts the 2016 season with. Much will have changed by then and if it’s a big enough issue, much may have been changed by the time the teams get back to Europe this year.

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