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Photo by: www.kymilman.com/f1

When Formula 1 ushered in high degradation tires, hybrid V6 power units with ERS, MGU-H and MGU-K, fuel-flow rate reductions and per-season power unit limitations (2017 had four engines for the entire 20-race season). The thought was a radical change that was hopefully going to really shake things up and put the cat amongst the pigeons. It did no such thing.

In fact, the author of much of this direction—Mercedes—under the leadership of Ross Brawn, had loaded the deck so comprehensively that we are still suffocating from their punishingly dominating baked-in performance advantage. It bankrupted three teams and put the rest on life support.

As we head into the 2018 season, we are faced with one more grand prix for a total of 21 races and yet the FIA have reduced the number of power units to three (3) for the entire season. As we said way back in January, the engine penalties would wreak havoc on the 2017 season and most folks ignored our warning, already knew it or just laughed at our attempt to once again criticize the sport. That wasn’t our intent, we were genuinely concerned and as it turns out, we were right as the penalties became laughable this season.

We’ll offer this warning right now—the 2018 season will be plagued with more penalties that will impact the championship table in a negative way and be a plague on the sport once again. We will not be able to see a guy like Lewis Hamilton ply his skills because he’ll be taking a 10-place grid penalty or Alonso starting from the back of the grid with 35 grid-place penalties. We may even see teams start taking multiple engine changes early in the season to amass an inventory of engines to complete the season.

This rule has run its course and is painfully unwanted in F1. Fans hate it, teams hate it and its unclear why Mercedes or Renault would still want it. Thinking about that, they would want it if this was an engineering championship and the competition was really down to the propeller-heads in the garage and not the drivers on track. Mercedes, hoping for a Ferrari falter or Renault blow up, would be elated and it would be great fun for an engineer but it does nothing for fans.

I agree with Lewis Hamilton on the three-engine rule for 2018:

“This is the first time I’ve pushed an engine like that,” he said when asked about his Interlagos settings by Autosport.

“It was nice, normally you’re managing it.

“Ultimately they test these engines to a certain limit, and then they set a limit below it as the limit, and they tell you this is how much mileage you have in the race, but I always come in way, way under. I always look after it more than I need to.

“I often turn the engine down and they keep telling me to turn the engine up, and I’m [saying] no, no, no, I prefer it to stay down, and I’ll figure out a way to catch up in another way.

“I guess that’s just through fear of pushing it a little bit too much, like the engine blowing up in Malaysia last year.

“To be able to push the engine [in Brazil] makes me think, I don’t like the idea of going to three engines, I think that sucks.

“We should be able to push more, sprinting is what we’re missing in F1.”

Let’s just nip this in the bud, shall we? Sure, Merc, Renault and Ferrari probably aren’t keen to supply 9 engines to their customers and the customers aren’t keen about the current price of their engine supply contracts so something has to be done to stop the madness. But what?

As it is, we’re going to head right back in to the same situation we had this season if no one takes the reigns and sets the correct course. I’m not sure about you but I had a blast watching Lewis fly through the field with the wick all the way up on his new engine in Brazil.

Drivers have always had to manage their resources

This was the argument that some fans offered back in 2014 with all of the Sustainability shackles the governing body placed on the sport. Tires, engines, fuel…it was all the proverbial sustainability tech in which everyone just has to get used to getting less from their tech and getting over it. The justification is that “drivers had to manage their tires in the 70’s too!!!”. Yeah, they did but nothing like this. Non sequitur.

Managing engines and de-tuning them for the long run and managing tires with a very narrow window of performance and managing the amount of fuel they can run is just completely antithetical to racing. It’s not antithetical to a series that is now an R&D department for manufacturers. It’s engineering fun and makes for a happy board of directors but it is getting to the point that the last person considered in F1’s appeal and reason for being, is the fan.

I honestly don’t care if Mercedes has an F1 engine that lasts for six races. I want Lewis to throttle that sucker and let it run like a stuck pig. This series has folded like a chaise lounge to the manufacturers and the pendulum needs to swing back to pure racing.

Back in the early 70’s, there were not many manufacturers and you know what? That was okay. Can the sport survive without the massive manufacturers these days? Many would argue not and they may be right. Therefore, F1’s Ross Brawn needs to start making changes now and not waiting until 2021 because there may less fans to impress.

Hat Tip: Autosport

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An F1 fan since 1972, NC has spent over 25 years in the technology industry focusing on technology integration, AV systems integration, digital media strategies, technology planning, consulting, speaking, presenting, sales, content strategy, marketing and brand building.

  • Junipero Mariano

    Aren’t we heading toward the other extreme of cost? It seems like the FIA wants 1 one insanely complicated hybrid power unit that lasts an entire season vs a fairly simple naturally aspirated engine that gets replaced every session.

    Surely, there must be middle ground that meets most of your objectives.

    • I think there is a case to be made there as the V8 was far less expensive but I would also challenge my own thinking on that by asking if the V8 was agreed too, would the manufacturers not pour massive resources into it as well? Seems like something they would do these days. I know it would not be easy but I still think making regulations with a built-in diminished return on amount invested might be the best way forward. Again, not easy to do…maybe impossible.

      • subcritical71

        Some may say this would lead to a spec series. I think I agree with you though, some sort of standardization (or rules which limit the returns gained) for the sport to grow.
        I would not like to have developement stopped, just target the development areas. ECU for example, that was standardized and had no effect on the racing (that I could see). Teams are still able to program the ECU as they want (with of course certain limitations). But they are also not spending millions of dollars trying to make the ECU better.

        • Salvu Borg

          When this exact same power struggle fight was undertaken before the exact same cost saving and would be entrants sweeteners were always pushed out, in fact nothing new, nothing different. The sure thing that always came out of any “standardized thing for cost saving” was the cost always worked out the opposite of what the sweetener was suppose to be all about.

        • jakobusvdl

          I think there is a real likelihood that F1 will go more and more spec. Mainly to create a predictable ‘show’. Unconstrained, F1 just becomes a financial ‘arms race’, where the deepest pockets dominate.
          For me, the ideal would be to reset the engineering challenge for F1 in a totally different way, and restrict the resources (financial and physical) such that innovation becomes the differentiator.
          It would be more like ‘scrapheap challenge / junkyard wars’ than the current super slick driver personality dominated series.
          I know that wouldn’t attract mass audiences, although F1 was still very popular in the 60’s and 70’s when it was driven by innovation, so imagine it would need to evolve into a set of parallel series – spec racing for the driver centric fans, and prototypes for the tech heads.

          • subcritical71

            I like your comment. and yeah, you could even do the driverless cars for the tech series. Didn’t Bernie come up with that one a while ago!

            While I don’t think it will ever get to 100% spec, I do believe some areas definitely could be spec and not ruin the image of F1 manufacturers. Most of whom are using the same equipment from 3rd parties already (there’s the first spec!). I bet most fans couldn’t tell one manufacturers engine apart from the other if all branding was removed, even the obvious turbo layouts would not give it away (to most fans).

  • Salvu Borg

    Without going into arguments as to what one thinks is good and the other one thinks is bad, what one wants and the other one doesn’t want, what one likes and the other one doesn’t like, it should be remembered that what we have is what all those involved agreed upon against a time frame. punto a basta. where will it lead if in the course of the time frame things that were agreed upon, some of those that had agreed too starts wanting to change this and that, and why would they want to change this and that of which they agreed upon?. having said all that, I as a follower of the sports have my own liking and disliking for what was agreed upon by those concerned, but what difference will that do to what was agreed upon?.

    • Alianora La Canta

      The trouble with that theory was that the FIA originally got there by making it clear it refused to budge and wouldn’t allow teams in otherwise, and now got there with only Liberty’s approval – not necessarily that of any team (thanks to the decision structure). So no, not all involved agreed this.

      • Salvu Borg

        The FIA under JT started doing things by consensuses as opposed to the system used before were things were mostly either imposed or dictated too.
        what was settled upon was by a majority of votes, a majority of votes must be respected even by those that voted against.

        • subcritical71

          I’ve read a few reports now that say Liberty and the FIA are working together and taking the new formula to the teams. It seems they have just used Ross as the public spokesperson, probably thinking he has history with a lot of people on the teams and can persuade them over time vs virtually anyone else in those two orgs.

          • FryDaddy

            That makes more than a little sense. Especially since IIRC he was a key player in getting us into this hybrid engine in the first place.

  • jakobusvdl

    Engine and gearbox usage limitations have been in place since 2010 (8 engines per season), and 2011 (gearbox must last 5 race weekends).
    Those limitations were high enough that they didn’t greatly affect the competitiveness of the teams.
    I think that the problem is that since 2014 the p.u manufacturers haven’t been able to make the p.u’s reliable enough for the reducing p.u element limitation not to be a factor in the competitiveness of the teams.
    If all the p.u’s were as reliable as Mercedes, the whole thing would be a non-issue.
    So its surprising that there haven’t been moves to slow the rate of reducing the elements in reaction to the problem.
    Reset the limit to 5 p.u elements, and most of the teams would get through the season with no problems (apart from paying for them), and fans would be appeased.
    Other points,
    1) I call B.S on the idea that the p.u’s are less reliable than in the past. Just read MIE’s ‘then and now’ article on the first turbo era.
    It too until 1988, after turbos had been competing in F1 for 11 years, for the rate of turbo cars finishing to exceed 50%. And in those days they’d be putting in a new engine each session.
    2) Mercedes giving Hamilton a brand new fully wound up p.u for Brazil, is just an example of the spending power of Mercedes. They can afford to do that, other teams are having to put used components back in their cars and turning the power down.
    If they could do that the whole season were back to the Mercedes dominance of 2014.

    • I never mentioned that they are less reliable, they are more reliable now. They have to be to get through a season.

      • jakobusvdl

        Sorry Todd, misquoted you on that. But what about all the other points, any comment on them?
        P.s – 50% of the turbo p.u’s weren’t even reliable enough to get through a race.

  • subcritical71

    I said it in another post, but I believe next year after about 9 to 10 races the grid will be set by whomever has the least amount of grid penalties, with the exception of possibly Mercedes. Although a believe Ferrari have caught up in alot of ways this year, and appeared to have the superior car from the beginning. I also believe Mercedes were sandbagging a bit and were able to turn things up when necessary.

    It’s always better with the benefit of hindsight, but I’m suprised there was not some formula developed such that the allocation of power units was based on the usage from the previous year with some agreed reduction. Say 80 percentile of average usage and 75% of that for the following year. This would not help teams with huge PU usage (uhem, Honda).

    What also needs to be done is a little more on the over-allocation scenarios where teams take a new engine opportunistically to avoid penalties down the road. It wasn’t long ago that teams could not take a engine/gearbox change unless the component failed or did not finish a race (if I remember correctly). This would prevent the stockpiling of units on a bad weekend.

    • jakobusvdl

      I fear you are right, but as we’ve seen, for Mercedes and Ferrari, starting down the grid just means they finish 4th or 5th rather than in the top 3. So maybe this is a way to ‘spice up the show!’
      Also, I think that there have been rule changes that mean teams can’t stockpile p.u elements the way did Mercedes for Hamilton last season. Ferrari couldn’t do the same for Vettel this year.

  • charlie white

    When both the 2018 Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships are more decided from grid penalties than victories or podium finishes, then the sport will react and change its ways.

    • subcritical71

      Sadly I think this is true. We are almost there in 2017…

      I think it is crazy that the teams have so much influence on the regulations. I think they should have input, even be able to lobby for a change, but I also think that is where it should stop. No self-interest rules, no veto’s… Currently the inmates are running the asylum!

      • Salvu Borg

        “currently the inmates are running the asylum” It is than an asylum that of which we F1 fans follows, I am afraid that if we lose the inmates we will have no asylum to follow.

        • subcritical71

          I don’t think Liberty would let that happen as it is simply not in their own best interest to have no teams on the grid. There has to be a balance, but also a regulating body that has the final say. Ruling by committee seldom works. Its then up to the teams to stay or go, but I suspect they will stay.

          • Salvu Borg

            I too happen to think that LM, the ones that this time solely and on their own embarked upon this exactly like the ones before it power struggle, a power struggle that after all sweeteners has been pushed out its ultimate aim is exactly like the ones before it, being all about milking the system better than the ones before them did, would let themselves get to the point to let that happen, at least the ones before them didn’t and found a way to navigate through all those that matter wanted. If they (LM) don’t manage to find a way to sort out this power battle they started they can kiss bye bye to their investments.

    • Salvu Borg

      everything thrown into the championship the lot are racing against and to beat as best they could. so everything that is thrown in becomes part of the game.

  • FryDaddy

    To elaborate on an earlier post…
    I’m not sure why any team in their right mind will even try to get a PU through 7 races. They’ll just swap them out after whatever their longevity/power/point expectations calculations tell them. Everyone is going to have to choose to either take one or two engine penalty(ies), or take a HUGE power loss penalty every weekend.
    Every.
    Single.
    Weekend.
    The engine longevity rule has reached it’s limit of absurdity where teams who plan on breaking the rule will benefit more than those who attempt to obey it.

    • jakobusvdl

      An alternative view for you to consider.
      In races Mercedes are 1.0 to 1.5 sec a lap quicker than Force India and Williams, with the same power unit. The majority of that pace difference isn’t due to power, its due to chassis and aero. Red Bull and Ferrari have shown, that getting the aero and chassis right allows them to compete with Mercedes despite huge power deficits, every…….single…..weekend.

      • FryDaddy

        What makes you think they make the same power? The biggest non-secret is that the factory teams get more power than the customers’. And far from being competitive in every race, well, we’ll have to agree to disagree.

        But even if I concede those points to you for the sake of argument, I don’t understand what point you’re trying to make. We know that setup and aero has a lot to do with performance. But teams are already maximizing their aero and setups every race. They aren’t saving them up for a special race in the future or to make them last longer.

        • jakobusvdl

          Cheers FryD,
          My point is that the chassis and aero capabilities of the top three teams provide far greater performance advantages than any actual (or assumed) difference in the power unit, otherwise the Mercedes powered teams would all have dominated the past four seasons.
          Now – I’m keen to hear, what’s your evidence for the ‘the biggest non-secret’? The p.u suppliers all deny it, though performance might suggest you are right.

  • Paul KieferJr

    I have

  • Paul KieferJr

    I have to agree: This engine rule is the height of insanity. Who in their right mind would expect an engine to last 7 races? I don’t think even NASCAR can come that close.

    • subcritical71

      I like the idea of pushing the hardware, but as we’ve seen this has only lead to lift and coast (turn down the engine to save it for further races), opportunistic engine stockpiling, confusion for the fans (grid penalties), and NO increase in the quality of racing.

    • jakobusvdl

      Endurance Championships?
      Le Mans 24 hours race distance, up to 5400km, average F1 race distance 300km, so equivalent of 18 F1 races. Insane!

      • subcritical71

        While I agree the mileage math makes sense, I would say thats an apples to oranges comparison. Both of those engines have been designed around their particular operating regime. In those 18 races the F1 engine would have been thermal cycled (cold – hot – cold) many more times than the endurance racer. Minimum of 3x for practice sessions, 1x for qualifying sessions, and 1x for the race, x18 races = 90 total thermal cycles – minimum. This adds additional stress and reduces the life of certain engine components (one of the reasons you just don’t start an F1 car with a turn of the ‘key’ and have an elaborate start sequence to warm the engine).

        It’s not all just about the mileage. I would guess that the endurance racer isn’t pushing his engine as hard for the same percentage of laps as the F1 driver either.

        • jakobusvdl

          Okay, not endurance racing ;-)
          But I’m sure there are other high end racing series that require engines and/or power units to last multiple race events, I was trying to find what Formula 2 and GP3 regulations are.
          We got used to the idea that engines are disposable in F1 in the period when tobacco money made such profligacy sustainable.

        • Salvu Borg

          In car racing the best drivers only push as hard as they needed too. this was always the case since the old days.
          The present screaming about the number of engines per driver allowed was never made by the present four manufacturers but from all those on the grid it was always RBR that made all the screaming, and this as recently as at the strategy group meeting at the Brazilian GP, with FERRARI shutting them up as soon as they started talking by saying the manufacturers had already devoted time and energy and resources to ensure their engines meets the 2018 reliability requirements.

          • subcritical71

            I would propose that Liberty and FIA make it so the drivers don’t have to lay back. This is how I would improve the ‘show’. If they don’t have to worry about the PU element making it 11 races then they can actually race vs stay in line and accept that their position was solidified in turn 1, more or less.

          • Salvu Borg

            Some might think that I don’t understand or care about how critical it gets the lower in number per season the PU gets, I do like everybody else, but before I go blabbing off I check what the facts are and what people that maters say. the rules as are were majority voted for, the present engine makers who voted for what we have does not say a single word against what they voted for. instead they prepare beforehand their engine as per what they all agreed about.

          • subcritical71

            To clarify my blabbed opinion, that proposal was for 2021, not next season.

    • Salvu Borg

      Grid penalties issued and accumulated so far.
      Total = 730 PU related only.
      Honda = 380.
      Renault = 310.
      FERRARI = 20.
      Mercedes = 20.

      • subcritical71

        Notice how the PU related grid penalties are inversely proportional to the engine manufacturers dislike for the new 2021 engine rules….

  • jakobusvdl

    Here’s a challenge. What does anyone on this site like about current F1?

    • Salvu Borg

      Those that has been left behind, very little or nothing, Those that bought the commercial rights, the possibility of milking the system better than the ones before them did. Those that the team they supports are not winning nothing at all. Some others just gloom and doom, and although swearing that they will not follow the sports anymore are still around.

      • jakobusvdl

        You’re right Salvu, judging by the tone of most of the articles and posts, I think most F1 fans are addicted to ‘doom and gloom’

        • Salvu Borg

          and yet they are still following and watching the racing.

          • jakobusvdl

            Thats the curse of addiction ;-)

    • subcritical71

      I like the engineering. Yeah, the hybrid PU is a very complicated piece of hardware, but so was every other thing in history until it was done the first time. And then to see the iterations that get you to a reliable product is what engineering is all about. How long have we been shooting rockets into space and they are still not 100% reliable. I just wish the teams could be more open about their tech.

      I watch almost any sport that has tires and a spark plug. The engineering involved is always the best part. I also like the racing, but that is only a few hours a week per sport. I also run my own car and have several friends who race in local club events.

      • jakobusvdl

        I’m with you on that SubC. The engineering is fantastic, no longer as obviously innovative as in earlier periods, but just amazing (even the aero).
        There is a lot more the teams could do to sell the technology to fans.
        Just showing the pure engineering effort that goes into getting a Sauber on the grid would probably blow most people away.

        • subcritical71

          I used to like the Sauber cutaway cars they used to do with driver installed (but he wasn’t cut in half, LOL).

          • Salvu Borg

            Non of the Sauber drivers were cut in half, but the car was, and I have seen it in person not only in picture, and could
            really Appreciate not only the job undertaken (the cut and or halving the car) but the actual engineering that goes in building the F1 car.