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As we orbit Formula 1’s publicly stated positions on everything from safety to sustainability, we only see the issues, topics and talking points that F1 pundits care to share with the public. That’s the reality of being on the outside looking in.

The fan that can weave a narrative by reading disparate stories and juxtaposing the context from different team perspective, positioning and political positions can start to see fissures and cracks if one cares to look directly into the sun of F1.

It doesn’t really matter what you personally think of the new regulations in the microcosm of your world. What matters is the macro effect it has had on viewership, sponsorship and the racing product as a whole. You may be convicted by F1’s new social responsibility but reading between the lines gives you the perspective that the new direction may not be working as well as the oracle of good intention had planned.

The new regulations focus on the power units and why not? F1 is about engines and if you’re a Ferrari fan you’ll know that Enzo Ferrari himself felt very compelled to remind the world that aerodynamics were for people who couldn’t build a proper engine. These new engines may not be what he had in mind though.

Looking at F1’s linear history, a clear engine advantage has happened before—Ford DFV—but has there been a dominance so comprehensive that it could create a dangerous direction for the sport under the weight of its own regulatory freeze? Red Bull’s Adrian Newey thinks so as he told AUTOSPORT:

“There is grave danger, with the freeze happening progressively over the next 18 months, because it’s not apparent if one manufacturer ends up with an advantage as to what happens at that point.

“Is that advantage maintained for ever more, in which case the rest of us give up?

“It doesn’t seem to me to be a particularly satisfactory situation at the moment. The regulations need more of a fundamental rethink in my opinion.”

The engine development process affords the initial design that can be improved upon over time but the amount of improvement is gauged, rapidly reduced and eventually locked down. Newey fears that once locked, the clear advantage will be baked into the regulations giving Mercedes plain dominance until the next major engine change which could be several years under the current direction of F1.

The harmony that had been achieved in the last iteration of engine design—the V8 format—had reached a balance that complimented the sport just as the V10 had before it. Can the V6 turbo with its hybrid system be balanced or the regulations be changed enough to allow for the balancing of the power units across the teams? Will Mercedes like that? Clearly they’ve done their homework.

I believe what Newey is suggesting is a whole new approach to the engine and one that gets away from the current fuel flow restrictions and low rev knock-on effect but that’s my interpretation of his comments and that is also based upon his decision to now slowly remove himself from F1.

I think he sees a downward spiral and isn’t interested in toying around with the current fiddly nature of F1’s socially responsible, flatulent sounding V6 turbo electric cars. The warning is not without bias as an aerodynamic man himself and the focus on engines or power units isn’t his cup of tea so take that with a jaundiced eye if you must but in the end, I think a large swath of F1 fans are agreeing with him at some level.

If we were going to get away from the aerodynamic impact on F1, throwing muted V6 turbo hybrids in the equation as the new focus for the future may not have been the best alternative. Perhaps using Aero’s strengths against itself through creative regulatory mandates may have delivered better racing with a V8 lump in the back that would have kept the engine expense of F1 low.

In the end, the simple notion of reducing aero has been offered by every fan who cares about F1 and yet the series simply can’t find it within themselves to take such a leap of faith—which is odd because today’s regulations and power units are a bigger leap of faith than reducing aero was ever going to be and we’re paying the price—even serious consequences and grave danger according to Newey.

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An F1 fan since 1972, NC has spent over 25 years in the technology industry and as a CTO, he focuses on technology integration in commercial workspace design, AV systems integration, digital media strategies, technology planning, consulting, speaking, presenting, sales, content strategy, marketing and brand building.
  • What’s the difference, competition-wise, between these engines and the V8’s? The latter were introduced in 2006 to a stringent outline, and homologated a year later. From ’07-’13, a lower rev limit and “reliability upgrades” were the only changes; sounds more spec than FIA’s current PU development schedule, which allows wholesale improvement 2015-16, with an increasing bent towards ERS ensuing. There’s plenty of scope for manufacturers/teams to shrink Merc’s advantage, if that’s the concern.

    “the V8 format—had reached a balance that complimented the sport…” So, near-spec engines w/ negligible evolution avenues compliments the sport? Fine if that’s the opinion, but it contrasts the technical competition argument.

    Aero grip has been reduced significantly. Laptimes and teams forgoing dedicated low-drag setups at the fast tracks show this. I can’t visualize flow either, so perhaps a narrower front wing and lower diffusor box dimension/revised exhaust placement/beam wing loss proves difficult to understand, but the results manifest on track; isn’t that most important?

    “Perhaps using Aero’s strengths against itself through creative regulatory mandates may have delivered better racing…” Has the racing been poor? How does it contrast to 2013, or 2010, or 2008?

    Who knows Newey’s motivations for stepping back and speaking out; perhaps it’s the V6T’s, or the last decade of ever-more-stringent regs, or he’s looking for a new challenge. I personally believe he’s talking about restrictions in general, not this specific set. The skeptic in me says he’s whinging because his car’s behind, whilst giving him the benefit of the doubt, he’s concerned about costs and fatigued after a long, arduous career.

    I think you have a worthy argument about current costs; please expand, and opine whether it’s a promotional or budgetary issue. Or, I’d enjoy a piece describing how engine sound engages you, what’s been lost with these much quieter, lower-revving power plants. That’s compelling narrative.

  • F1derbar

    I don’t know about the PU noise but I know the sound of sour grapes when I hear them! Newey is an aero guy, his role is being diminished and they’re not dominating anymore.

  • Tom

    I think it’s great that the focus has been put more on the engine. Though let’s not kid ourselves, aero is still at least as important, just look at Red Bull vs. any Mercedes customer team.
    However, I agree that a development freeze in any area is a bad idea. Open competition is the way to go.

  • Newey just needs to focus on innovating. I am sure there is more downforce to be found with the current regs particularly around harvesting the braking energy, and shifting the balance of the car while cornering. It’s just a matter of time before Red Bull finds it. The PU’s are a finite part of the whole car…aero improvements are limitless.

  • Stan

    Grave danger? is there any other kind? So the homogenization of the v8s went on long enough the sport should be dead. Why go to all the effort and expense to make pseudo-spec engines. Just have MB produce officially licensed valve covers and call it a day.

    • Stan

      Epic fail for spell check. I know that are not making milk or other dairy products…

  • NeilM

    @Jeff

    You talk about the engine, but it’s not about the engine. The 2014 Power Unit, with all its elements, is massively more complex than the relatively simple 2.4 V8. The new V6 ICE alone is the least of it.

    • NeilM, I agree, and have opined how we the audience must look at the PU’s as an integrated power plant, not engine + KERS.

      My comments isolating the ICE were displaying its open development for the next year, with increasing focus on the remaining PU elements following (specifically ERS), and contending Todd’s assertion that the previous near-spec engine formula was positive.

      And, IMO it is about the ICE, as much as it is about -K/-H/CE/ES, and Turbine/Compressor/Charge cooler, etc. Compressor maps must be matched w/ supposed -H power-transfer capabilities, with desired airflow compounding in the combustion chamber, with CE-imposed throttle mapping, and so on. To say it’s power plant performance is about the ERS or Turbo elements is just as false as saying it’s about the ICE.

  • jason clark

    I was never a RB fan but i find myself agreeing completely with Adrian Newey over this. I loathe and hate the new engines or power units or whatever the hell you want to call them and judging by the empty seats at germany and dwindling numbers at various other facilities alot of people agree, even some drivers (off the record obviously, must tow the corporate line….).

    Im sick of being patronised by the media, teams etc etc telling us ‘we’ll get used to it’ despite the widespread dislike, even hatred of the dam things. You only have to look on youtube and see the myriad of negative comments aimed at the new cars and rules, this is not somethin that will go away, it will festure and get worse over time as more people forgoe watching or attending the races and the teams,FOM, sponsors etc etc begin losing vast sums of money all thanks to the FIA.

    I still love F1 passionately but what we have now just isnt F1 and i just cant watch it, the spectacle has completely gone and its just boring now.

  • I call it Formerly 1 now. But I also think L’Ham is a whining baby pants.

  • Oh, and if the engine manufacturers want to write the rule book then maybe they can buy the seats in the stands too.