The V6 hybrid turbos have achieved incredible results since they were introduced in 2014. Peak power output is now in the 1,000bhp region – levels that haven’t been seen since the last years of the normally aspirated V10 engine era, when cars used almost twice as much fuel.
A little over a year ago the FIA and Formula 1 management announced plans to overhaul the sport’s engine format in 2021 to address these and other criticisms.
The plan was to remove a key component of the hybrid drive train – the MGU-H – which generates energy from heat. The MGU-K was to be made more powerful and drivers given greater control over its operation, to counter criticism that the racing has become governed by the pit wall. And the rev limit would rise to 18,000rpm to create a more dramatic sound.
But after further negotiations between FIA, FOM and the teams, the MGU-H is now set to stay. Why the U-turn?
Ferrari and other manufacturers lobbied hard for the MGU-H to be kept, having spent nine-figure sums on its development. Manufacturers were especially wary of the potential ‘double whammy’ of needing to develop the current engines until the end of 2020 while building completely new units for 2021.
When hopes were dashed that a new engine format would attract new manufacturers to the sport, the key reason for changing the formula was lost.
According to FOM CEO Chase Carey, discussions between F1, the FIA and the teams led to the conclusion that criticisms of the current power units through other areas of the rule book without making fundamental changes to engine specifications which lead to costly new developments.
“From early days our goals on the engine were: simpler, cheaper, louder, more power,” said Carey during a call to investors. “Let the drivers drive.”
“A year ago we were probably heading towards a towards a more significantly rebuilt engine,” he added. “As we got into discussions we, with all the teams, came to an agreement that the right path was more stabilising the existing engine and marrying it to a series of sporting and technical regulations that improved competition and helped improve address the economic issues around that.”
The fine details of the rules is still being worked on, said Carey. “I’m sure there’ll continue to be regulations that evolve with that. But I think the engine path we’re on is pretty well agreed to and continuing to be refined through the regulatory process.”
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But the concern remains that as F1’s engines are so sophisticated and specialised, and the current manufacturers have been racing them for almost five seasons, that any new manufacturer coming in would be at an enormous disadvantage. By allowing the current competitors to keep the same format, has F1 guaranteed no new manufacturers will appear any time soon?
Carey believes the focus on keeping costs down, which the new rules are intended to achieve, will apply to existing and new manufacturers equally.
“That’s why the regulations are important. I think what we what we really came to an agreement with [is] everybody got persuaded by the stabilising.
“When you have a new engine, everybody starts over and there are always unintended consequences out of a new engine. A factor for example that came out of this is dyno time, which is probably one of the more expensive consequences because it lets you test open-ended or just throw stuff against the wall and test it.
“The degree you want to address how much how much time and money can be spent testing an endless list of theoretical enhancements is probably an example of as important as anything to try to make the engines, both from a competition perspective and a business perspective, viable and attractive for existing and new players.
“The intent of this was not just to improve the path for existing [manufacturers] but actually to develop a path that we think is enticing and interesting for new [manufacturers].”
Another factor in the decision to keep the current engine format was a desire to ensure F1 remains at the cutting edge.
“The technology in this sport is incredibly important,” said Carey. “We have technology that is miles beyond any anything else out there at any level on the efficiency these engines.
“One of the stories that has been told well enough is this new hybrid engine that came out a few years ago, the incredible performance it gets today with a much more fuel-efficient basis than prior engines.
“We wanted to make sure we continue to have the hybrid engine that was road relevant today but at the top of the pyramid in terms of technology that in many ways is at the forefront of what’s going on in the world. So I think it’s achieving all the things that I think that part of that is what attracts the right new engine manufacturers into it as well.”
Carey described the discussions between the parties as an example of the kind of consensus-led solution Liberty Media want to govern F1 by. We’ll have to wait until 2021 to discover whether the light touch on the 2021 engine rules meets their goals or turns out to be a compromise too far.
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2018 F1 season
- McLaren staff told us we were “totally crazy” to take Honda engines in 2018 – Tost
- ‘It doesn’t matter if we start last’: How Red Bull’s junior team aided Honda’s leap forward
- Honda’s jet division helped F1 engineers solve power unit problem
- McLaren Racing losses rise after Honda split
- Ricciardo: Baku “s***show” was Red Bull’s fault