Engine rules and the F1 monopoly

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Over at F1 Insight Clive is concerned about possible future F1 engine regulations:

The FIA seem to want every engine involved to produce the same amount of power. Where is the logic in that unless what they really want is a spec formula?

There are rumours the FIA wants to extend its control over F1 engines to ensure they are all producing similar levels of power.

This is nonsense and completely the wrong direction for Formula 1. What’s more, the FIA have tried managing performance levels in series such as the World Touring Car Championship and made a total hash of it.

The WTCC example

In the World Touring Car Championship teams run racing cars based on road going models: BMW use their petrol 3 Series (rear wheel drive), Seat have a squad of diesel Leons (front wheel drive) and Chevrolet run petrol Lacettis (front wheel drive).

In an attempt to balance the performance levels of these cars, each with different configuration of front/rear wheel drive and petrol/diesel engines, the FIA can set maximum rpm levels, add or remove ballast from cars, force manufacturers to make aerodynamic changes and more.

As a result the teams are constantly at each other’s throats over who’s got an unfair performance advantage and adjustments are made to the cars almost ever race weekend. BMW got a weight break in time for the last round at Pau and, surprise surprise, won both rounds. But they’re still threatening to bring in a diesel version of their 3 Series because they think Seat (who filled the top six in Mexico) still have a performance advantage.

Whichever driver wins a race seems to have more to do with whether his team got a performance boost from the FIA before an event than how good they are. If the FIA can’t make performance parity work between three manufacturers in the WTCC how on earth can they expect it to work between twice as many, in a championship with vastly greater international recognition?

A solution: build more engines?

I think the FIA have gone down entirely the wrong avenue by trying to freeze engine development within F1. What they need to do is the exact opposite: not only free up engine development within F1, but harmonise engine rules across a greater number of series, creating a greater market for ultra high-performance racing engines.

For example, this weekend sees the Le Mans 24 Hours, where Audi and Peugeot will take each other on using cars powered by 5.5-litre diesel V12 engines. So why not allow F1 cars to use the same engines? And why not allow sports cars to use the same 2.4-litre petrol V8s as in F1 cars?

The newly re-unified Indy Car series is holding a meeting this month to discuss future engine rules and try to attract other manufacturers to the championship. Granted, this is not an FIA-run series, but why can’t they too use similar specifications of engine design to F1 cars?

Honda currently supply all the engines for this series – would it not make sense if they and, say, Toyota (who used to supply IRL engines) could use roughly the same specification of engines they currently use in F1 for Indy Racing? Would this not be to the ultimate benefit of motorsport?

This could allow manufacturers to be represented in multiple series, whether by themselves or customer teams, without having to run R&D budget for different sizes and specifications of engines.

Granted, you couldn’t just drop a V8 from a BMW F1.08 into the back of a Lola chassis and join the Le Mans Series – the engine would need some modifications for long-distance competition.

But I don’t think the biggest obstacle to this plan is technology. I think it comes down to the FIA wanting to promote Formula 1 above all other kinds of motor sport. One of the key complaints the European Union brought against the FIA in 1997 was that it suppressed competition to F1 from other series by, for example, not letting circuits the held F1 races hold other major championships.

Although the FIA was forced to change some of its practices (allowing, for example, the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve to hold a Champ Car race) I still think the FIA is deeply hostile to anything it perceives as competition to Formula 1.

But the control freakery of trying to force each F1 team to produce exactly the same amount of power is unrealistic and not a worthwhile idea for Formula 1 or the rest of motor racing.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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26 comments on “Engine rules and the F1 monopoly”

  1. sChUmAcHeRtHeGrEaTeStEvEr
    13th June 2008, 12:45

    engines are 1 of the main reasons for the predictable races of the last couple of years. everybody is more or less the same so it means that its another possible advantage/disadvantage taken away from the driver.

    what we have at the moment is the cars about 90% dependant on aero efficency which then means most races are the near enought the same.

    from what i read on this site from articles by ketih and the comments is that formula 1 was better in the 1980’s when there was less rules. back then ferrari had the most powerful engine but it was so heavy it slowed the car down. things like that dont come into play anymore beause all that matters is how good your car is in a wind tunnel.

    formula 1 needs to go back to the basics that made it such a great sport in the 1st place

  2. ogami musashi
    13th June 2008, 12:56

    IMHO both you keith and F1insight has it wrong.

    This measure on ECU is only viable for the 2009-2013 time frame where KERS is to be developped.

    The purpose is clearly to make the competition on the KERS system.

    As you may know the KERS system is a challenge for the teams as the weight may offset the advantage of the additional power.

    the limit on ECU is then only there to push teams towards the KERS systems.

    In 2013 the freeze on engines will be abolished, so the measure makes sense.

    The actual engines still cost a lot while the future ones will be clearly different.

    So the “spec series” fear is not to be seen here imho but rather into the standard aerodynamics that were planned for 2011.

    teams are clearly opposed to the spec series, and in those time of breakaway menace i don’t think we’ll see that soon;

  3. I sometimes struggle to reconcile reality with myth. sChUmAcHeRtHeGrEaTeStEvEr is not the first person by any means to claim that F1 is an endless stream of predictable races. Was Montreal predictable? Was Monaco? Alright, they were held in ‘exceptional’ circumstances, but I don’t think there has been a dull race so far this season. Last season was pretty much a thriller from beginning to end. We’ve been very lucky in the last few years to see some close races, great overtaking manoeuvres and cars so close in performance that you could put a cigarette paper between them.

    Now, I’m not suggesting that F1 is without it’s problems or that we have the occasional race that is less thrilling than others – but that goes for every sport. You get dull football matches, dull tennis matches, etc. However, I do get a little tired of the constant misplaced rose-tinted nostalgia that harks back to the ‘good-old days’ when we had ‘real racing’.

    Look back to the 1980s and whilst there are many memorable moments and were many great races there were some real, long drawn out soporific processions. The lap-time differential between the front and back of the grid often covered only the first half-dozen cars in those days – the field spread was dramatic. The reality is that the racing wasn’t closer. The cars however, were amazing machines – Brundle’s piece in the Lotus 98T at the weekend brought that home to roost in a powerful way.

    The fact of the matter is that we were complaining that there wasn’t as much overtaking as there should be in the 1980s, and harked back to the 50s, 60s and 70s. Now we are still complaining and the 80s often becomes our mythical vision of F1’s ‘golden age’. I’m more inclined to agree with Ron Dennis’ belief, outlined in his speech to the Motorsport Business Forum in Bahrain, in which he notes that ‘people wax lyrical about the 1960s, about Wolfgang von Trips and Jim Clark and so on… was the racing really better then than it is today? I was there, and I can tell you that it was not. And, while we’re on the subject, it was a lot more dangerous, too. My first grand prix, the 1966 Mexican Grand Prix, was won by the team I was working for, Cooper-Maserati. Our winning driver, John Surtees, won from pole position. And was it great racing? Was it greater racing than racing today? Well, at the end of the 65-lap race, which took two hours and six minutes to complete, there was only one other car on the same lap as John Surtees. Was the 1966 Mexican Grand Prix an exception? No, it wasn’t. Most of the grand prix that constituted the 1966 Formula 1 season were like that.’ (http://www.motorsportmagazine.co.uk/2008/04/02/ron-dennis-speech-for-the-motor-sport-business-forum-in-the-middle-east/)

    Mind you, I do think that the lack of innovation allowed in engine design is a great shame. I think the reintroduction of a small capacity turbo engine would be a nice idea, but another one that will never happen.

  4. @ogami – so between 2009 and 2013, the KERS engines will be developing the same power? Possibly with a ‘Boost’ button?
    Yes, this allows for KERS technology development, but it will rather limit the futherence of more economical engines, and KERS will take F1 further away from ordinary road cars too, which are mostly relying on ‘old’ technology.
    I know Max has started a drive for greener road cars, but car manufacturers have started that already!
    I agree with F1 Insight that the FIA should be looking at making racing engines applicable across many race series, especially since they want the manufacturers to cut costs.
    And I would certainly like to see more racing at supposedly ‘F1 only’ venues – to have tracks like Montreal and Hungaroring only raced on once a year is monstrosly appalling, and err, wouldn’t more races help keep their costs down?

  5. ogami musashi
    13th June 2008, 13:42

    @DG: the actual engines bear nothing in common with current road car ones.

    The economical side is not what will be hampered by the ECU and what do you hear by “old” technology in KERS?

    I think there’s a lot of misinformation on that. I’m not a KERS (nor engine) expert but AFAIK, there’s no KERS with the storage/weight ratio in any road car.

    So KERS is definitely a possible new technology for road cars. Just imagine that if F1 KERS technology is transfered you could do for the same weight more storable energy, and on a road car i may represent a larg part of the power.

    Additionnaly, what’s the point of developing V8 that rev at 19k while in 2013 totally new engines will come.

    of course if the idea of leveling engine was on longer term, i would be total opposite, but we have to take the context, FIA and teams are pushing towards hybrid energies, and given the current sytem a team with a less powerful engine has almost no means to recover the deficit.

    So to me the measure makes sense; I would rather see the new engines in 2011 but teams seem to be for 2013 so…

  6. KERS is a delayed marketing ploy.

    in 15 years time, the FIA will say they saved the world by forcing F1 teams to develope it.

  7. Biggest problem with F1 sharing engines with other series is that F1’s budget is a whole different ball game than any other series. I imagine you could supply engines to half the grid of the Indy 500 for the price of one F1 engine.

  8. If Sportscar and Formula 1 want to be both innovative and cost efficient, they both should adopt a Group C-like fuel formula. This will make manufactures develop road relevant technologies and able to keep the costs per engine relatively low.

  9. Pingguest – I couldn’t agree less! The fuel-consumption era of the mid- to late-80s is one to which I don’t think we want to return. Too many GPs in those days ended in farcical conditions as cars ground to a halt by the side of the circuit. You don’t need a formula based on fuel consumption to stimulate efficiency and innovation – if they banned refuelling it would be in the every teams best interest to improve fuel-efficiency on the basis that even with an unrestricted fuel load, the less you need the smaller your fuel tank and the lighter you can run.

  10. I don’t see the problem, George. As long as a manufacture hasn’t produced an engine that’s efficient enough, the driver should try his very best to finish and find out the best possible strategy. In the 1980’s we saw drivers having various speeds during the race and it certainly didn’t bore me.

  11. The problem with the KERS proposals is that the amount of energy the cars can store and use is relatively small – and the use of the ‘boost’ button is limited to once per lap.

    This is more about the appearance of ‘being green’ and an attempt to get more overtaking.

    I think that freeing up some of the ECU restrictions so the teams can play with the engines firing order so that they can get a more driveable car when the rear wheels spin would lead to more exciting racing as opposed to anything else.

  12. In Indycar, in theory, the Engine, Chasis, and Tires are all the same. There are limited aerodynamic ways for a team to change the car (with little chasis adjustments). This creates more parity in the sport and allows for more top drivers, which Americans want to see. Certain teams such as Penske and Ganassi will still have an advantage because they spend more time and money in the wind tunnel.

    Honda having a monopoly and Firestone haveing a monopoly have been great things for the series. No unsafe tire wars, Honda hasnt had an engine failure in years. They have re-upt thier deal with IRL through 2011 I believe. A driver like Thomas Schekter can race a partial schedule and be successful.

    I percieve all of these things to be great while I could see how F1 fans would think differently. There is no Constructors Championship in Indycar, and if there was, the fans dont care about it. It is all about the driver and his or her skills. Using very similar equipment allows us to see who the most talented are.

    1. Bottom line here is if the FIA mandates equal power units, then why even bother with the IRL. This is why there is IRL and FIA. The REAL problem, as I see it, is the rich teams, i.e. Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull, McLaren (at one time), by definition will always have a leg up, on everyone else. What’s worse, is, even if the FIA can limit spending even more than it does now, the damage is done. What can they do, make Mercedes build their cars worse. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t manufacturer points determine how much a team can spend, and if so, once that team is on a roll than it’s kind of an uphill battle for any other team to catch up.

  13. Although I love the idea of the IRL and F1 being able to share engines, I don’t think it will happen. IRL’s current engine (there is only one) is a Honda 3.5L V8, normally aspirated. There is a wide perception that IndyCars should be turbos, and the complaints from former ChampCar teams (who had a turbo Cosworth) has only amplified it. Similarly, the outright costs for an F1 engine are undoubtedly higher than for the IndyV8 (Honda would know this first hand), and the last thing that IRL needs is a more expensive chassis+engine package.

  14. The best way to ensure engines have the same horsepower, is not to force manufacturers to modify their engines to come down to an equivalent level, but rather, the FIA should just go ahead and design a spec engine, then leave the manufacturers to replicate that design. It may sound far fetched but we are close to that, we already have that the bore/stroke of the engines should be almost equal to 1.

    Sad as it may sound, we should take consolation in the fact that Max cant live forever.

  15. I think the IRL comparison is accidentally bad.

    Indy motors are 1) leased, not owned by the teams and 2) sealed, so the teams may not alter them mechanically, or even repair them. If an Indy team breaks a motor, it is sent back to Honda Performance for repairs.

    Although IRL seem keen on getting more manufacturers involved in their sport so people don’t complain that it’s all Honda, Tony George is alergic to any rule change that would potentially cost teams more money, so he’s simply speaking with them to make a formula of similarly sealed engines to use for a few years until one of them becomes clearly dominant, and will coincide with the introduction of a new spec chassis.

    If there is a new player in IRL besides Honda, it will be General Motors through Chevrolet. There is also a possibility that Honda will drop out of the sport and be replaced by Chevy when their contract ends.

    Steve K is correct that the “Indy” sport hasn’t been thought of as an engineering championship since it became dominated by non-manufacturer based teams.

  16. Pingguest – I’ll simply cite the 1985 San Marino Grand Prix as a prime example of what I am talking about. A) Would we really want to watch that and B) Would major motor manufacturers really want us to see that…

  17. Keith, I agree with you! Harmonization is the way to go.

  18. George – that’s an interesting example. For those who may not know the 1985 San Marino Grand Prix was one of a couple of races in the ’80s where the turbo-powered cars started to run out of fuel in the closing stages. Alain Prost just made it to the finishing line but lost his win because his car was underweight because it had so little fuel left in it.

    However I think the reason we saw races ending with drivers running out of fuel was not just because the fuel rules were challenging, but because the technology required to measure fuel use during a race was not sophisticated enough. The fuel use of a turbo powered car would vary massively depending on how high the boost was turned up.

    By the end of the turbo era in 1988 these problems were largely sorted, at least by the leading teams. I think today even if the rules were changed to a maximum fuel allowance overnight the teams would have no problem coping.

  19. The KERS system is seriously restrictive, with a maximum power output and weight (among other things) stipulated. There is a clear limit as to how much development will be permitted, so it just becomes something that separates the rich teams from the not-so-rich teams. The rich teams will master it and still manage to cover all the bases in the increasingly-restrictive formula. The not-so-rich teams won’t. This will be aggravated by the three-step process the FIA want to impose. And it’s not going to develop much of anything because Toyota have already said that the KERS permitted in F1 will be primitive compared to what they already use on the roads.

    This is an exercise in the FIA trying to get more power in F1 by increasing its predictability through artificial equality. It’s spec engines through the back door.

  20. The FIA are so stupid when it comes to making rules about engines.

    I’m really surprised the FIA hasn’t scrapped that rule and just said why doesn’t everyone run the same car on the grid?

    But I do agree Keith’s point that the engine rules should be opened up a bit. When designers had the freedom to choose between a V6, V8, V10 or even a V12, there was more competition as each engine had its merits and flaws. There was a greter discrepency in power, making it more competetive – rather than similar levels in performance.

    Plus, surely the proposed rule would entail changes to some engines which would go against the, obviously sensible, rule to homogenise engines?

  21. Robert McKay
    14th June 2008, 12:30

    A very interesting article.

    It would be easier, cheaper and more sensible for all the F1 teams to use the same engine, put their own manufacturers badge on it, and tell noone they’d done it. It would make little difference to what we have now.

    The FIA (read Max) does seem to have some ploy to “spec” at least some areas. Which, to be honest, is not neccessarily a bad thing (I’m sure people will disagree, please feel free to) but at least be obvious and come out and say it. You see, the FIA wants to have it’s cake and eat it. It wants all these powerful manufacturers, but it wants them all more or less as competitive as each other, so that the slowest ones don’t pull out becaus they spend a lot of money to get humped by their rival. So it freezes engine development after homologating them all to roughly the same level, so it’s a spec engine formule where everyone has a different engine, which makes preciesly no sense other than the aforementioned keeping of manufacturers onboard. Stupid.

    The WTCC is just the extension of this engine specifying to the whole package of the car. Unfortunately, in order to maintain the carefully preserved status quo between the teams, you have to continually adjust the rules every other weekend, which is (a) pretty blatant that you’re manipulating things and (b) doesn’t actually produce very even races: what it tends to do is give a Seat whitewash one weekend, so they are penalised, then a BMW whitewash next weekend, so they get penalised, and then Chevrolet are fastest…and the cycle continues. It evens out come the end of the championship, but a lot of the races don’t feel like that (plus the reverse grid second race means slower cars can still easily win). It’s fine to an extent, if you blatantly come out and say “we’re going to continually strive to even things out”, as the FIA do in the WTCC.

    It’s the underhanded, subtle, subterfugal way F1 does the same things I find difficult to swallow.

  22. Robert McKay
    14th June 2008, 12:52

    And I’ll just add to that post the following comment: it’s pretty clear that trying to shoehorn the best things of both (a series where everyone builds their own chassis/engine and one where everyone runs spec machinery) is pretty difficult to do. If you let everyone build their own stuff you always run the risk someone will do it much better and be a second a lap faster than the field. But if you want the manufacturers all to be in it’s hard to have a spec series.

    My message is: stop the tampering, and trying to force the best of both into one. Either pick one thing or the other. Or, and I’m sorry to keep banging my drum on this, do both. Have the WTCC where BMW/Chevrolet/Seat et al. build a touring car that conforms with the basic regs and let them race, and also have a spec WTCC-like series where everyone runs the same car. Do the same for F1 with a GP1-type series. Just quit trying to force the two aspects of building your own with spec-machinery together, because the sum is definitely lss than the parts when you do it that way.

  23. George,

    I’ve watched the 1985 San Marino Grand Prix again a couple of weeks ago. And I really liked it. The race was entertaining and the last laps were completely unpredictable. What’s the problem with that?

    We’ve seen more unpredictability in the past. I’ve seen Mika Hakkingen blowing up his engine the last lap of the 2001 Spanish GP and Kimi Raikkonen having a broken suspension during the 2005 European GP. Very entertaining and fun to watch. What’s wrong with that?

    If manufactures don’t want their drivers to run out of fuel, they should make their engines more fuel efficient. If they can’t to that properly, it’s up to the drivers to cope with it and change their driving.

  24. Pingguest – the problem with it, for me, is that while it is indeed unpredictable and entertaining to watch, it’s an element of randomness in the result that has nothing to do with racing. However, I do very much agree with Keith’s point about the technological difference between now and then – I must admit I hadn’t really thought of that. I’m still not convinced it is the answer – although, if it’s the only way that the FIA would consider a ban on refuelling, then I’m all for it!

  25. hmmm, but tell me more patrick

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