I wrote an editorial last week about the reasons Fernando Alonso was leaving the sport. He left the door open for a possible return but unless Formula 1 gets itself sorted, I doubt he would come back. Later in the week, I read an interesting article about Haas F1’s Kevin Magnussen viewing the series as a class A and class B championship with Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari in the former and everyone else in the latter.
In an article today at Autosport, Sergio Perez reckons this is more indicting of F1 than something to be celebrated. With only five non-Mercedes, Red Bull or Ferrari cars on the podium since 2016, the discussion is centered around the disparity between the top three teams and everyone else.
“That is quite difficult,” he told Autosport.
“The difference in budget these days, going into a new generation of cars, is tremendous.
“You cannot compete. The last four or five years it was simply two categories in Formula 1.
“I’ve never heard before, that people were talking about ‘yeah, I won the race’, when you are best of the rest, or ‘I’m leading the championship’ if you are best of the rest.
“That shouldn’t be the way. That is damaging the sport a lot.”
The sport is no stranger to eras of team domination such as the early 2,000’s and Ferrari, late 90’s with McLaren, Mid-2,000’s with Red Bull etc. It has also had its eras of good competition between teams that experienced a more competitive field and developed over a season to become competitive and that, for me, is one of the bigger issues the series faces today.
The exorbitant cost of today’s hybrid engine makes full-time, rapid and repetitive development upgrades very expensive and, as it turns out, it isn’t allowed. With only three engines allowed this season, you have three chances. That means that the engine you show up with in Australia is going to be the one you trundle around in for several races until mid-season when you release your second iteration along with everyone else.
To be fair, the challenge is also the point of diminished returns. If you consider the last iteration of engine, the V8, that specification had just about been developed to its fullest extent. If the FIA had changed the spec’s for the V8 with regards to fuel flow rates, piston angles, overall size and engine mapping, the development war would have started again but perhaps it wouldn’t have been as expensive as the current hybrid?
There is also a consideration to be made about the parity of the engines. At the end of the V8 era, all of the engine development was effectively frozen and the teams had pushed the innovation as far as that spec would allow them to. What we had was multiple engine manufacturers with varying design differences of their own V8’s achieving near parity in performance output and competitive reliability. I recall reading hos this was a bad thing. Is it?
Multiple manufacturers making their own V8 engines and developing them to the point of diminished returns were all competitive with each other with slight variances that made some better on certain tracks than others. The differentiator was then the chassis, aerodynamics, driver, electronics, reliability, tire management and pit crew efficiency. Red Bull won four titles with an engine that was on par with all the others but did so with superior chassis and aero designs. Ross Brawn won a title with the same engine as everyone else but with a dual diffuser design.
The point here is that for racing’s sake, I don’t view a V8 developed to its final conclusion a bad thing. It retains the true constructor’s notion of F1 but then allows for cost effectiveness, reliability and competitive performance. The differentiators then become other elements of the car including the driver.
At the end of 2013, if the FIA had written the new engine formula regulations around a V8 with reduced fuel-flow rate, reduced oil loads, increased RPM and power output, I believe we would now be seeing Renault, Mercedes, Ferrari and Honda all competing on a relatively level playing field with the chassis, drivers, teams and reliability moved forward in the competition equation.
As It is, the current regulations saw Mercedes nail the hybrid, which then became a baked-in advantage since 2014, and with limited development (initially via the token system and now through a 3-engine rule), it is very difficult for anyone to catch up and this means we have a class B championship.
Hat Tip: Autosport