Honda may find its return to Formula One in 2015 is going to be more difficult than it expected.
A rules clarification by the FIA means Honda is the only engine manufacturer which is forbidden from introducing engine upgrades during the season. The manufacturer is now in discussion with the sport’s governing body over the situation which threatens to leave them at a disadvantage.
The situation arose after the FIA failed in its attempt to impose the same block on in-season development which was in place last year. Following lobbying by Renault and Ferrari, the FIA accepted its own rules did not enforce that point for 2015.
That means Ferrari and Renault along with Mercedes, all of which homologated their engines last year, may now introduce upgrades during the season. But the FIA has ruled Honda cannot do so after it homologates its first engine at the end of February.
While the existing manufacturers can alter up to 32 of their quota of engine items over the coming season, Honda cannot change their design after the first race gets underway. But should they have the same opportunity as their rivals?
The scale of the disadvantage this puts Honda at should not be underestimated – and it doesn’t just threaten their performance this year. The disadvantage may remain with them throughout the life of the current engines, which are set to remain in use until 2020.
Next year each engine manufacturer – including Honda – will only be able to alter 25 items. This number will continue to fall over the following seasons. By the end of 2020, Honda will have only been able to introduce around two-thirds as many new components as their rivals.
The current situation is a blow for the only new manufacturer to commit to Formula One since the 1.6-litre hybrid turbo engines were introduced. The FIA should not put their commitment at risk by forcing them to play to a different set of rules to their rivals.
As it was Honda’s choice not to enter Formula One until the second year of the new engine regulations, they will have been aware this would place them at a disadvantage compared to their rivals when it comes to developing their engines.
But while Honda did not gain the benefit of running their engine at races every other weekend last year, they have been able to start a clean-sheet engine design with some prior knowledge of how their rivals had addressed the problems posed by the new rules.
Honda even had the chance to run a test unit last November – over two months earlier than any of their rivals had their engine running last year. The playing field isn’t necessarily level to begin with, so it doesn’t matter if the rules distinguish between Honda and their rivals to some extent.
The FIA may have had no choice, but it is a shame it has felt it necessary to allow teams to push on with engine upgrade programmes after the season has begun. This was an important part of the original rules and will surely lead to an escalation in costs.
This is the most unsatisfactory aspect of the current engine regulations, as it comes at a time when engine costs should be encouraged to fall, not allowed to rise.
But now that some in-season development has been allowed, it’s hard to justify this being denied to the one team which has far less experience with the new units than their rivals. And it raises difficult questions over how the arrival of a new manufacturer could be accommodated in the future.
Do you think the current engine regulations are fair to Honda? How should the regulations be altered – if at all?
Cast your vote below and have your say in the comments.
Are the current engine rules fair to Honda?
- Strongly agree (5%)
- Agree (12%)
- Neither agree nor disagree (3%)
- Disagree (31%)
- Strongly disagree (50%)
Total Voters: 478
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