Unfreezing engine rules ‘could hurt competition’

2014 F1 season

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Toro Rosso, Silverstone, 2014Easing the restrictions on engine development could hurt the competitiveness of some teams as well as helping others, according to Mercedes’ executive director of motorsport Toto Wolff.

His Red Bull counterpart Christian Horner is eager to see restrictions on engine development eased so Renault can reduce the performance gap to Mercedes.

“We need competition, we need to catch up,” said Horner during today’s press conference. “I think as Marco [Mattiacci] said Formula One’s all about innovation and competition and I think that innovation and development is going on anyway, but there’s only certain junctures at which you can introduce new technology and upgrades.”

Although engine manufacturers can change a significant amount of their designs during the off-season, more elements of their power units will be ‘frozen’ over the coming seasons to keep costs down. Horner wants to see that relaxed.

“With the chassis you’re allowed to develop every race, you’re allowed to – if you start off poorly – you can develop your way out of it,” he said. “And I think that with the engine what we need to consider, without hopefully having a significant effect on costs, is next year we’ll be allowed to have eight power units, perhaps more freedom to allow manufacturers to develop in order for that competition to be there, to compete at the front.”

Horner joked that Wolff would “want to freeze the engine for the next 25 years” to preserve their position at the front of the field. Wolff acknowledged “obviously we have a competitive advantage, it’s pretty clear at the moment” but said they were prepared to “take the challenge on” if the freeze was relaxed.

However he cautioned that freeing up the engine development rules would increase costs.

“I think it’s about defining what we want to do,” he said. “[If] we are five races into the season and we’ve had that advantage, is it the time and the moment now to change the rules, to change something? Maybe.”

“I think the discussions we’ve had so far were pretty open and there are various concepts on the table. If we decide to go completely in the opposite direction, to open it up completely, it’s like Christian said with four power units per driver this will increase the costs quite dramatically.”

And he pointed out that while allowing teams to upgrade their engines more often would give some front-runners teams an opportunity to narrow the margin to their rivals, others were likely to fall further behind.

“I’m not sure whether we could deliver all the same engines, all the same specifications of engines to everybody. Logistically it’s not feasible. So the devil lies in the detail.”

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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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20 comments on “Unfreezing engine rules ‘could hurt competition’”

  1. It will hurt the competitiveness of the teams that get a good engine, but it will promote overall competition and development. As long as it is done within reason (not far too much) it can only be an overall good thing really.

    1. @strontium It’s comical that they spent so long planning a staged freezing for the new power unit specification, and before it’s even been put to the test there’s talk of throwing it out of the window because Ferrari and Renault are bellyaching that Mercedes built a better engine. Though of course it was entirely predictable that one of them would have a better design and the rest would be complaining.

      It’s time for Jean Todt to show some leadership and tell the whingers to get stuffed. They’ve already failed miserably to get costs under control, this would be another leap backwards.

      1. @keithcollantine While they have made a hash of their engines it is only fair that they get a chance to catch up properly, otherwise F1 ends up with rules which effectively say that Mercedes (or whoever has the best engine when the freeze really gets going) is the best engine and competition for that is banned.

        It’s not really much different from having an aerodynamics, downforce, or chassis freeze over the seasons. F1 would end up with one winner all the time.

        1. @strontium

          it is only fair that they get a chance to catch up properly

          And they have that chance under the present rules, which they all agreed to, which allow them to make a lot of changes to their engines next year.

          Whether or not the current rules allow them to change enough we cannot possibly judge at the moment, unless we take the complaints of those who have vested interests at face value, which I think would be naive.

          1. @keithcollantine if it is indeed a big enough chance then that is fair enough, but if not then I do not believe that the rules are correct.

            Like you say though, time will tell :)

          2. @keithcollantine F1 should always be constantly developing. The money is there, Bernie is robbing the teams.
            F1 pulls in so much money that manufacturers should be banging down the door wanting to be a part of it. Instead they leave the sport coz they don’t get enough to survive.

        2. The problem is that any time a team sees a performance advantage in another team, the easiest solution is to ask the FIA to remove the advantage. Renault has won the previous 2 Gran Prix so if anything they should not want more power:-)

          Ferrari is in a tough spot but that is the position they have put themselves in – they should have spent more resources building their power unit last season and done a better job – they are after all Ferrari and if anyone should be able to build a great engine it should be them!

          They will have another chance to improve it at the end of the season and they will have collected tons of data from the existing power unit.

        3. @strontium, McLaren are a top team with the top motor but it seems unlikely that they will only be beaten in the WCC by other teams with the MB engine, so it is not as bad as it seems that the MB engine is superior, imagine if MB had continued as an engine supplier only.

      2. @keithcollantine, I agree with you, I would prefer all out development but if there is a freeze then the best designed and built engine deserves its chance to win the championship, the next year it could all change. Having said that I would prefer the emphasis on cost savings to be shifted away from the PU and onto the aero-package.

        1. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
          6th September 2014, 6:14

          It’s very complicated. If the engine is allowed to be developed in-season the improvements would benefit every team using it – they might actually hurt some teams. I can’t see how Red Bull would feel comfortable with Lotus gaining the same advantage when Renault improves their engine.

          It would also swing the pendulum of focus away from the constructor to the engine manufacturer.

          The aero-package is specific to a constructor. Teams are allowed to develop it but even that development is seriously reduced by testing restrictions.

      3. @keithcollantine
        All the stuff going between team principles is just politics and that’s clear for me, Mercedes wants engine freeze because they’re having a competitive advantage, Ferrari and Renault are complaining because they want to catch up with the leaders… nothing has to do with the spirit of the sport.
        It’s amazing for me that you highlighted Mercedes brilliancy in building engines and the cost issue when you forgot to mention that Mercedes were using all their political power behind the scenes and threatening to leave F1 if the engine rules will not go the way they like (turbo and hybrid) because they simply know that their strong partisanship with IHI and the company’s experience in hybrid will do the job. Does the penalty escape from TestGate tells you something ?
        You should have also mentioned how Mercedes has been overspending in the last 4 years in restructuring their F1 division by recruiting tens of senior engineers and technical directors, a completely renovated headquarters, wind tunnel, simulator …..
        The cost issue is absolutely ridiculous in F1 because teams will always spend what they actually have, if a team has 50 Million it will spend all of them, if it has 400 million it will spend them all. Does testing ban contained costs, of course no !! The teams were spending what they have gained from the testing ban into investing in simulators and i can ensure to you (as a software engineer) that the costs of developing, maintaining software and hardware (simulator) is far more superior that renting race tracks.
        Same goes for engine freeze, the teams were spending all their money in chassis and aero development which is absolutely ridiculous because some people try to forget that this sport has been always about competition and killing competition in building engines (the most important part of a F1 car) is just killing the spirit of the sport.
        I’m not BTW in favor to change rules in the middle of the season or even at the start of a new era, but something has to be done to lift engine freeze, maybe in the future after the end of this era (2020)

  2. IMO, F1 went the wrong way. They should have focused on reducing costs on aero development and certain parts of the chassis and leave the engines unfrozen but limit the number of units per year to have a better balance of competition. In a few years when all the parts are frozen F1 will lose it’s appeal for manufacturers again.

    1. Indeed. The regs should allow a proper amount of development on both aero and engine but with restricted For example: only 4 front wings all the year so teams don’t spend too much resources on a certain area of development. (in fact, the front wing is very useful to the total air flow entering the car but has almost no impact on car’s technology)

    2. Agreed. Increased emphasis on Aero only makes F1 more irrelevant to road car development.
      Suspension, Braking, TIRES and Engine should be the focus of innovation

  3. I don’t think Fans would be too interested if F1 became a Spec series like Indycar or GP2 with identical cars for all of the teams. It cuts costs but makes it much less interesting. If the teams want to save costs they should use smaller Motor homes.

  4. They could have chosen to freeze only the cyl heads and block; and battery and regen units. It would have been helpful( hindsight i know, but really, they are brand new layouts, brand new tech) to have the freedom to change headers and cooling of the whole power unit.
    Preseason testing showed a big problem in reliability and cooling that was not going to be solved with changes to bodywork.

    1. Ahead of the 2015 season, almost all of the engine can be redesigned – the only elements which cannot be changed are the crankshaft (even then, it mainly only restricts the design of the bearings), the lower crankcase and part of the air pressure regulation system. Everything else, including aspects such as the cooling systems, the air intake systems and so forth, are still open to redesigns in the off season.

      There is a gradual tightening on the components which can be modified over the following few years, so by 2018 only 65% of the engine components can be redesigned – still not exactly insubstantial though. It’s only really in 2019 that the engine freeze kicks in quite aggressively, with only 5% of the engine then being open to development.

      It’s one of those cases where, if anything, the problem is of Renault’s and Ferrari’s making – they were the ones pushing the most heavily for restrictions on in season development as a way of cutting costs, so to a certain extent this situation is one of their own making. Furthermore, as Wolff hints at, relaxing the engine freeze wouldn’t necessarily close the gap if Mercedes are able to develop at a similar rate to Ferrari and Renault.

      1. Excellent, as long as we get a new PU formula for 2020 or allow a 100% re-design within the current formula.

  5. Why not freeze the engine with the most bhp at the beginning of the season and allow the others to develop their engines until they catch up.

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