Should F1 teams take ‘tactical’ engine penalty early on?

With the three-engine limit in 2018, we’ve discussed the idea of teams taking a new engine in Australia and immediately moving their engine total to four for the season-just like they had last year. In fact, we thought it would be funny if all the teams agreed to take the new engine at Australia and giving everyone some breathing room for the 2018 engine penalty chaos that could ensue.

Having said that, I think Mercedes and Ferrari would be reticent to play along as they must feel their reliability is good and the engine penalty is a tactical advantage that can play out over the course of a season.

If you couple that with the thought that maybe Australia isn’t the place you would take the additional engine-perhaps it would be better to take that at Spa or mid-season after you’ve developed it more.

However, if you consider Toro Rosso and their mission to develop their Honda relationship this season and help the Japanese engine manufacturer create a more competitive engine, then this may be an intriguing thought. At least that’s what team boss Franz Tost is thinking as Autosport points out:

“There will come the period where we have to find out if is it better to start with a new power unit from the back instead of using an engine that will have 3000-4000 kilometres on it, and you start losing power after one or two hundred kilometres,” he told Autosport.

“So we will see. But I can tell you now that we will have this discussion. I don’t know when, but we will have it.”

Tost is no fan of the three-engine rule and now with more races on the calendar, it makes even less sense to him:

“Last year manufacturers tried with four engines and less races, and this year we have more races and less engines,” he said.

“I must only say they are totally crazy with this regulation.

“But Ferrari was against it [changing the rules], because others wanted to go with four.

“They [Ferrari] think they have an advantage with three. And it is within the regulations so we have to live with it.

“We have to accept it and how many power units at the end we will need I don’t know.”

You have to couch that statement as one made from a team that doesn’t make their engine, of course, and also consider that Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault would view this as part of their tactical advantage.

Clearly Autosport has been asking other folks about the concept of taking an additional engine and intriguingly enough, my assertion about Renault could be wrong. They may find it advantageous as well if the reduced power output of the engine toward the end of its working life is drastically down.

Renault F1 managing director Cyril Abiteboul said: “We want to establish the baseline, we want to know a bit more about ourselves, the performance of the engine as it is right now.

“If it’s better for everyone to use four power units or four V6s, rather than three, we may take that decision. But it’s really too early to talk about that.”

That’s an interesting thought and one that Tost says needs deliberate discussion within the team.

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For the dull end of the grid (as opposed to pointy) would there be an advantage in the championship to taking a new engine, and penalties, frequently (e.g. every 2nd or 3rd race). This could allow a team to forego de-tuning required if you were trying to get by on 3 engines.

sunny stivala

(FIA closes formula 1 engine penalty loophole):- “During any single event, if a driver introduces more than one of a power unit element that is subject to penalty, only the last element fitted may be used at subsequent events without further penalty”.


Its going to come down to money, the teams at the dull end of the grid don’t have the budget to be able to run an opportunistic strategy like that, apart from STR if Honda are providing p.u’s at no cost to them.
Its amazing how quickly F1 develops, I wouldn’t be surprised if we find most of the teams get through the season on the 3 p.u’s available, particularly those with a three pointed star on the cam covers.


3 Engines for the season is ridiculous anyway with an extra race another stupid rule


While I would sympathize with those that find going with just three engines on the year a disadvantage (and I’m sure there are many), there is an attitude among some that “gaming the system” (i.e., taking unfair advantage of the rules) is a big taboo. The PGA and NASCAR has this rule against it, and they have been enforced before. Teams really should think twice before going that route.


The problem is the FIA have been virtually silent in this regard. There were so many engine penalties last year for strategic advantage and nothing was said. I’d personally like to see a clamp down on the practice. If I recall correctly there was at one time a rule where you could only change the engine (or gearbox) if you failed to finish or the engine let go (say in practice). The teams (minus Mercedes and Ferrari) could come together and all take an extra engine at a particular race. They would then be looking at starting 5th on back…… Read more »


Hi Paul, F1 has a long tradition of ‘gaming the system’.
So I don’t think any of the teams would have a problem with it, apart from being annoyed if other teams find a way to game the system more effectively.


The difference in F1, in my opinion, is that when a loophole is found the FIA are very slow to react (double diffuser, J-Damper, oil burning, etc). They eventually do react but in other sports the regulatory bodies are much more effective in dictating what is allowed vs what is not allowed and subsequently enforcing it.


Cheers SubC, for me the fact the loophole is allowed to stand for the season is a good thing. A loophole isn’t illegal, it’s just a clever interpretation of the rules. Its a technical sport, innovation is good!
As we’ve seen when it comes to actually cheating the FIA act swiftly and in many cases mercilessly. The McLaren Spygate sanctions are the harshest example.

sunny stivala

Finding a loophole in the rules/regulations is not like breaking the said rules/regulations, depending on how good the interpretation of said rule/regulation is the governing body may or may not act to clarify the situation. But this here subject is about “taking a new engine in Australia” “taking a strategic grid penalty” also mentioned was “gaming the rules”. It honestly amazes me that everybody seems to be forgetting that for a team/driver to make such a move “take a new engine”/ “take a strategic grid penalty”/”game the rules” first the team/driver will have to make use of the number of… Read more »


Fully agree with you, I like to call it clever interpretation of the rules and I think this is always going to happen. Even the so called ‘spec’ series have loopholes or grey areas that the teams exploit until the governing body makes a decision. I would say in F1 it is a bit more political on the timing by removing things which were not intended. The other so called ‘spec’ series come down immediately as if they should not have violated the intent of the rule vs in F1 where they seem content to wait until a new season… Read more »

sunny stivala

When a “loophole” is found in the rules it means there is “an inadequacy in the rules”. In such (most) cases the rule makers can only “plug” that hole in the rules after the season is over. When a “grey area” is found in the rules it means there is something “unclear” in the rules or the rules are “not known”. In such (most) cases the rule makers can only “plug” their rules after the season is over. When someone interprets the rules differently from the rule makers in (almost most) cases he is made to comply with the rule… Read more »

sunny stivala

The first hints of taking a strategic fourth engine came out of Renault, reading what they were saying before and after was confusing to say the least. Here is some of what they were saying before and after they hinted at strategically taking a fourth engine. “Renault will have a fully functioning qualifying mode for this year”. “Renault have done the equivalent of 70k km on the dyno plus one engine doing a full life cycle (7 races) in preparation for this year”. “Renault will not unleash the full potential of its F1 engine for the start of season because… Read more »


This is where the fans really miss out……shouldn’t we be finding ways to keep a driver as competitive as possible so as to provide entertainment ie let him show his stuff…instead we penalize the guy for something thats not his fault…and send him to the back of the grid Maybe we should bring back the T car for eg…lets find ways of keeping all the drivers on the grid…instead of demoting them

sunny stivala

The FIA (GOVERNING BODY) has a set of rules and regulations in force as to what can be done and what cannot be done re power unite elements usage for 2018. A driver is allowed the use without penalty of:- 3 ICE, 3 TC, 3 MGUH, 2 MGUK, 2 ES, 2 CE for 2018. “Gaming” the system and or “Strategy” moves, there is nothing wrong with such moves by a team as long as they are within the rules/regulations. But those on this here page should remember that:- A driver can chose/take and make use without penalty any of the… Read more »