Horner backs F1 engine equalization talks

LE CASTELLET, FRANCE - JULY 22: Red Bull Racing Team Principal Christian Horner looks on from the pitwall during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of France at Circuit Paul Ricard on July 22, 2022 in Le Castellet, France. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool // SI202207220600 // Usage for editorial use only //

An article by Jonathan Noble over at Autosport says that Red Bull boss Christian Horner has backed a discussion on engine equalization efforts that the FIA will hold this week. The reason is based on the disparity between engine performance and Renault/Alpine being as much as 30hp down on its rivals.

Horner said: “It is about seeing what are the deficits. The FIA has all of the data and they should present exactly what the differences are.

“I think that would be fascinating for everybody to see, and I think that if there is a deficit under homologation, then it’s something that we should be sensible about – otherwise, you’re locked in for two years. I wouldn’t be averse to a sensible discussion.”

It’s an interesting issue when you consider the engines are frozen for development until the new engine rules come into effect in 2026. This reminds me of the heady days of the hybrid and the old engine token system of development.

Back in those days, Honda was new to the sport as a supplier so they were behind the evolution a bit and as the engines were frozen, they were given a few tokens to try and develop so they would be near the competition in performance.

The token system was very confusing and the new hybrids were very expensive. As you can imagine, trying to find some level of harmony in engine performance was quite hard and this left Mercedes with a clear advantage over the life of the new hybrid power unit regulations.

As F1 heads toward a new engine format, the current models were frozen at the start of 2022 with allowances for reliability upgrades but I think most believe that these upgrades for reliability purposes also have performance gains associated with them as well.

Horner’s openness to discussions was a welcome sign for Alpine’s Otmar Szafnauer:

“I am glad Christian said that because, if you look back, the reason the engines were frozen was because Honda was pulling out at that time and Red Bull didn’t have an engine department to continue developing,” he explained.

“The reason we all agreed was for the benefit of Red Bull, so it is nice that Christian recognizes that.

“And, at the time of the arrangement, there was also an agreement among the engine manufacturers that if anybody fell out by 1% then there would be good faith discussions to bring that parity back.”

He’s right in that there was concession made for Honda in the early days—the aforementioned token allotment the teams agreed to give them—and if there are two more seasons with the current engines with no development, then getting Renault/Alpine up to speed would be a good thing.

This also happened in the past when the engines were frozen and a few were down on power and then the rash of “reliability” upgrades may also have left Alpine behind. Otmar said:

“I remember in 2007 when we froze the V8s, I was the one who received every request from other teams for Honda. They came to me first, and all the requests back then were for cost-saving and reliability.

“I’d pass them on to the correct engineers. But there is a lot of stuff that can be disguised as reliability and then you increase the power.”

Finding the right balance has also garnered the ire of some fans who say that this isn’t NASCAR or WEC where we need a Balance of Performance or BoP standard. A team’s engine advantage should be allowed.

Two sides of a coin but I do think the teams err on the side of all engines being there or thereabouts and perhaps that’s more of a defensive move should they ever find themselves way off the mark and seriously down on power.

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Paul Kiefer

….and yet, some time ago, this came out of Horner’s mouth: “What? We’re a spec series now?”