As we mentioned in our most recent podcast, the notion of three engines for an entire Formula 1 (F1) season is a tall order and it does make you wonder if teams will simply take a penalty in the first race of the season and add a fourth engine to their inventory.
We said well over a year ago that the 4-engine rule would play havoc with the 2017 season and so it did and not in a good way. Trying to understand grid penalties became ridiculous. With three engines, 2018 could become even more silly if team don’t find more reliability.
Honda’s former F1 man, Yusuke Hasegawa, says the 3-engine rule is not reasonable, telling Autosport:
“It’s very tough,” said Hasegawa.
“It’s not just for us. Renault had difficulties. I don’t think it’s reasonable. From a technical point of view, it’s difficult.
“If we save the engine performance, it’s easy to achieve. If we use 2000rpm lower, of course we can finish, but there’s no point.”
As we’ve discussed, if you are Mercedes or Ferrari and reliability is your friend as well as performance, then this 3-engine rule is an advantage and could automatically remove Honda and Renault-powered cars as serious competitors given their history of reliability issues.
“As a consequence, yes. We have discussed many times.
“With three engines, it means we only have two chances to introduce a new [upgraded] engine.
“We need to introduce a good engine at the start, but if we don’t, we only have two chances to introduce a new engine.”
When you think of it in those terms, you can start to see how silly this concept is if you only have two chances to get the reliability and performance you hope for with your design. This isn’t controlling costs because the engines are already astronomically higher than previous formulas so what you’re left with is a baked-in advantage with little opportunity for other makers to catch up.
Yet, like clockwork, Hasegawa parrots one of, what I call, three trump cards in F1: Cost, Safety, Sustainability.
“At this moment, we need to concentrate on reliability, to get an engine to do seven races,” said Hasegawa. “But we need to improve performance too.”
He added that he understood the reasoning behind the push for longer-life components.
“Reducing cost is important, so I support cost reduction,” Hasegawa said.
If cost was that important, the series would never have changed to the current hybrid. They would have continued on with the V8 they had as those engines were well developed and relatively inexpensive for customer teams to purchase. This isn’t about cost but saying it is sounds good. Fact is, Renault and Mercedes wanted a hybrid to justify their investment in F1 as a road-relevant R&D lab that could translate to their road cars.
That’s not a bad reason, mind you, but it’s not about cost. In fact, I may be wrong but I would argue that the three-engine rule is actually more expensive in the long run given the R&D that went into making a 7-race engine.
Several years ago, FIA president Max Mosley was keen to find a global engine that could be used in multiple racing series and at the time, he was discussing F1 and World Rally. Now, current FIA president Jean Todt has re-heated the conversation and offered the World Endurance Championship (WEC/Le Mans) as a likely bedfellow of F1’s current hybrid engine formula.
“Probably what we should say, which is not easy as well, is could we use this [F1] engine in other categories of motorsport?” he said.
“At the moment each category of motorsport has its own single regulations, so probably we should try to see if we can have some synergies.”
This didn’t fly back in 2009 and while one could argue that the current F1 hybrid engine is more reliable than previous F1 formulas, it may not be bespoke enough for the unique needs of WEC or Rally but Todt feels it could be:
“We have the endurance championship with LMP1,” said Todt.
“We have completely different engines, so would it make sense to anticipate a future for the endurance championship using this synergy – which incidentally is covering the same kind of mileage.”
I’m no engineer but I have to think chassis weight, torque curves and other performance issues would be a massive challenge to convert the F1 engine to WEC. There is also a part of me that is, perhaps wrongly, trying to read into his comments and the timing of these statements.
We know F1 is heading for a massive discussion on the 2021 engine formula regulations and while FOM technical brain, Ross Brawn, is trying to find something less expensive and more enticing for new engine makers to enter the sport, Ferrari has threatened to leave if he does so.
The FIA are the regulatory body and perhaps somewhat caught in the middle of this arm-wrestling match. It seems to me that Todt is trying to define a way to keep the hybrids—achieving two of the three F1 trump cars in the form of sustainable and cost—by suggesting a global engine. A happy medium that keeps Mercedes and Ferrari interested in their current baked-in performance advantage and boardroom-appeasing marketing and R&D investment while offering other engine makers a larger market with a global engine and not just and F1 engine.
Just a hunch but I still think there is room for fireworks here in regards to the 2021 engine regulations. The fact is, if F1 stays with the hybrids, it will be odd to stay with an engine format for two multi-year formula cycles. They will also run the risk of doubling down on a large part of their fan base that isn’t pleased with the hybrid formula.