Undercut: Three, Three, Three… THREE???

Yes the number three. This is what I want to discuss in the newest installment of Undercut. I’m not that into numbers per se, they are just another way to measure amounts, quantities, and distance. Of course when it comes to records, or podiums, poles, fast laps, race wins, and championships, numbers take on a whole new meaning. However, that is not where I’m going with this today. Nope, what has got me all riled up in regards to the number three is all about the governing number which all drivers and teams will have to abide by this season with their engine allotment – PU’s for all you that have taken to the newfangled jargon.

For all of F1’s brilliance and genius as the worlds most celebrated formula, commonly referred to as the pinnacle of motorsport, how in the hell did it let itself get bamboozled into reducing the amount of engines [PU’s] it could use over the course of a season? I still can’t really wrap my mind around this.

Did not F1 give in when it agreed to go along with V-8’s instead of V-10’s – go back a bit further to when they lost the glorious V-12?? Did F1 and F1’s fan base not again agree, reluctantly I might add, to allow the sport to change the engine formula to V-6 turbos at the expense of one of the true tenants of F1 – the sound.

Along with V-6 turbos came a goofy system whereby the advantage was “baked-in” (to use a Negative Camber expression) thus almost ensuring Mercedes would be the best team out there no matter what the other engine manufacturers could bring to bear?

Didn’t F1 also by default agree to some lame token system that quite frankly was just another exercise in Mercedes-will-always-be-ahead because they have tokens to spend as well (maybe a few less but when you’re minutes up the road from your closest rival how many tokens do you really need??).

Didn’t F1 bend over backwards (I must sound like a broken record or a very annoying child by now) for Jean Todt and the manufacturers to get even greener with the addition of batteries, and hybrid recovery systems and by the way less engines a year already (was it seven or something like that – which I thought was reasonable) so we could save the planet? And oh yeah make F1 more relevant to road going cars? – I’m actually fine with that.

And on top of all that didn’t we just let the FIA shaft the teams and the drivers and the fans with their decision to restrict the amount of fuel for each car per race??? Correct me if I’m wrong here, but how is it racing if one can only use 100 kilos of petrol – which basically means you’re driving to a number and that number ain’t RPM’s folks…

I mean wasn’t all that stuff enough, the smaller engine, sorry PU? The batteries, the turbo, the MGU whatever it is and other MGU thing-a-majigger and all that green stuff, stuff…. STUFF???? Did I happen to mention the green stuff???

Fine. fine, and FINE…

But seriously now we have to go through all that again with the limitation of three engines? [PU’s] and in the case of some components it is less I believe. Anyone here remember what it feels like to get sucker punched? Anyone? Anyone???

All this, even with Honda’s continuous failures over the last three years, which by the way despite their pre-season testing form have had to replace, guess what, an engine for this Sunday’s Bahrain GP? Add all the issues that Renault still had last year and with just about everyone agreeing that some sort of engine parity is vital for F1 to survive, was it really a prudent decision to move to the three engine [PU] rule???

Rewind to the season opener in Melbourne, so there I am watching in disbelief how Sebastian Vettel comes out of the pits not only to pip his teammate that was ahead of him (go Kimi) but to also have re-joined the race in front of the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton. Ok fine, not too sure how the hell that magic trick was performed by the guys in red, but no worries the Merc is on point and fast and Hamilton should be able to take the fight to Vettel and we will get to see a great duel until the end of the race. Let me repeat those words for you, “and we will get to see a great duel until the end of the race.”

Except that is not how it went down, did it? How it went down was that Hamilton got very close and made one error, as it is always hard to follow another car, then before he could execute a pass or at the very least attempt one, he decided that instead of having another go at the Ferrari, he would back off, back way off and settle for second best. Let me repeat those words for you, “instead of having another go at the Ferrari, he would back off, back way off and settle for second best.”

Ayrton, if your looking down and watched the opening round of the 2018 F1 season you must have been very disappointed. I’m so sorry you had to witness one of the sport’s best drivers, who was recently honored with one of your prized helmets, decide that for the final handful of laps he was going to put it on auto pilot.

Would Senna, or Schumacher, or Prost, or Piquet or Villeneuve, or any of the greats ever have just settled for second best? Never, never and never – they raced to the last lap, the last turn, the last meter. Does anyone remember Mansell pushing his car to the finish line and then collapsing just for a sixth place when he finally made it across and collecting one, just one championship point???

I want to be very clear, I am not in any way holding Hamilton responsible for not racing to the finish line two weeks ago. On the contrary we all know what is to blame.

Here is Hamilton speaking post race: “The engine was overheating, and I’ve got to do seven races with this engine, preferably more if I can, I was on the limiter, and I was too hot, but I was pushing. So I was nervous of damaging the engine at the same time.”

“I just thought I couldn’t get him in those other laps, my tyres are going to be worse than now, I’m driving right now at 110 percent, I’m risking everything just for that seven points: I should probably sit back, save my engine, and use the life of it for the next ones.”

He [Hamilton] further goes on to say, and this is in a carbon fiber nutshell the point: “That goes against my spirit of racing, because I want to race right down to the last line. [I am] fit enough, I felt good, but the way this sport is set up with fuel saving and all these different things, three engines, you have to think about that and back off. So, it’s probably not exciting for the fans to have seen, because they probably wanted to have seen it to the end.”

Yes Lewis that is exactly what we wanted to see and you are 110% correct – it was not that exciting for the fans, in fact it sucked.

Maybe this is a one-off, maybe it was due to the track configuration, even if Ham had an unlimited amount of engines at his disposal and a drum of petrol in the trunk, he more than likely still would not have been able to pass the very quick and very in control Ferrari. But whatever happened to applying pressure, the game of cat and mouse? Maybe Vettel would have made a mistake due to the pressure; maybe Ferrari’s engine would have overheated. We will never know because five or so laps before the race was over, the race was already over.

Maybe there will be races that Vettel or Verstappen will have to back off and it will all equal out as far as race wins or final results.

However, that is not really the point that I am trying to illustrate. Think about that, at some point in the season all the top drivers might elect to, or be forced to, back off due to the THREE-engine rule this year. I don’t know about you, but that is #notmyF1…

So lets recap shall we, no earth shattering, jet-engine sound as the cars fly by you, artificial passing, some obtuse metal bar that obstructs the drivers from the fans and takes away the open cockpit that Enzo Ferrari said defines true car racing, not enough petrol to go balls-out and now not enough engines to go ball-balls out. F1 you’re killing me…

I don’t know about you but with Vettel, Hamilton, Daniel Ricciardo, Max Verstappen and Fernando Alonso all in cars that given the right circumstances will be able to race each other hard (the Verstappen vs. Alonso battle in Melbourne was great and Danny’s charge at the end on Raikkonen was also fun to watch), the specter of a repeat in Melbourne does not bode well for this year.

I made several predictions prior to the start of the season and I stand by all of them or rather I was standing by all of them right up to lap, “whatever it was” when Hamilton took the pressure off the gas pedal, changed the dial on his steering wheel and then settled for something other than what all Formula One drivers live for: the top step and being a race winner…

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F1 is the pinnacle of motorsport and that includes cutting edge technology. I have zero issue with the engines, they are pushing 50% efficiency which is unheard of for an internal combustion engine. They are the best in the world as they should be. Efficiency and durability go hand in hand, requiring the teams to innovate and stretch the life of their engines is right in line with the spirit of living on the edge of what is technically possible, aka the spirit of F1. I don’t understand the concept of the “baked in advantage”, all that means is that… Read more »

Martin Hills (@singletrackhols)

You are blaming “F1” for a set of decisions that were entirely driven by the teams and manufacturers in the first place. If you want to climb onto a high horse, try the one marked “Teams shouldn’t be in charge of decisions that affect the sport”. That’s the underlying, formative issue here… Personally, at this stage I’d be more than happy if Ferrari left the sport, as imho it is they who are responsible for leading us (and assisting the empowerment of Merc to be in a similarly intransigent position) down the current path – and then even more damagingly,… Read more »


Singletrack 74, thanks for the comments – yes you are absolutely right, the teams and the manufactures and the governing body are responsible and that was the point I was trying to convey (not very well obviously). Although I think my deeper point is: how did we get here? I think this is a case of no one really completely understood what the longer term issue would be. that by changing the engine formula F1 would be basically a one team show for several years. now for the crazed – out fanatic fan like my self, I’ll watch F1 cars… Read more »


@Andrea for some reason there is no reply bottom at the end of your post so I am replying in this separate post. All your points are well taken. First of all I like new technology and have written several posts for this site describing as such – just take a look at my archive. Secondly this particular post was a bit tongue and check to be honest, however I felt as did Lewis that he was not allowed to drive as fast as he possible could have – there is a fine balance between being able to push your… Read more »


Glad to see you support Andreas comment. It really isn’t clear that your article is tongue in cheek.
On the fuel mass limitation, it really doesn’t look like that is constraining the teams much for the past two seasons. I’ve seen reports and comments that the teams aren’t using the full allocation for most races, and are still cranking out more power, and torque, than any F1 engine at any time in its past.
They’re also currently more reliable than at any time in F1 history, if you consider the percentage of race starters to finishers.


The ‘baked in advantage’ was really just a head start in the development race.
They got a lap on the field in 2014, and because they have the biggest budget, its taken four seasons for the others to get to the edge the DRS zone (sometimes Ferrari are inside it, and pull off a pass)


Hi Andrea, its a pity your post is locked as I’d like to reply directly to say that I fully agree with your comment.
Well said, please keep saying it in this and other TBC posts.


For some insight on how F1 duped itself into the hybrid spec and constraints, checkout some of the podcast interviews with Pat Symonds on the Motorsport website.
When the spec was being developed, there was a massive optimism (arrogance) amongst the manufacturers that they could overcome those challenges, and that budgets didn’t matter because this was pre-GFC and there was heaps of money about.
Oops! Whodathunk engineers could underestimate a challenge or a budget ;-)