Sunday, 14 March 2010

The case for a return to £200million engine development budgets in F1

The way the FIA constantly tweak Formula 1 regulations confuses many, chiefly because it isn't always easy to tell what they are trying to achieve with the raft of changes they bring round every successive year.

The official line is usually any combination of, "to cut cornering speeds", "to cut costs", "to create a better spectacle", "to be more environmentally friendly", "to make the sport more relevant to road cars".

All very noble but if the FIA are to be believed, why does it seem they always ban something one year and bring it back in the next then ban it again the year after? Surely, something that's good for the sport one year, doesn't suddenly become bad for it in the next. Examples? Traction control, slicks, KERS, one-lap qualifying, I could go on.

I think taking away mid-race refuelling was a good idea but it would've been a particularly good development if they hadn't frozen engine specifications in 2008. Having to start with all the fuel you need for the race places a premium on engine fuel economy.

The less fuel your engine uses per lap, the less you need to carry at the beginning, and less overall weight to brake and accelerate during a race, in itself means lower fuel consumption. It also means being kinder to your tyres over the course of a stint, so essentially, there would be a lot of lap time to be gained by having a more fuel-efficient engine.

If the FOTA teams had also not agreed to abandon KERS from 2010, kept the increase in minimum weight to 620kg so as not to disadvantage taller drivers using KERS, and also, not placed a limit on how much energy you could store in the system, the scenario would be set for a fuel-economy arms race. An arms race of the nature currently going on in the road-car space - happy coincidence.

If you need proof fuel-economy can win races, look no further than the success of diesel engines in motorsport vis-á-vis the Audi R10 TDi and the Peugeot 908 HDi FAP at Le Mans, as well as the BMW 320d and SEAT Leon TDi in touring cars.

It may seem unfair to compare endurance racing to F1 since F1's meant to be a sprint formula, but all that means is that the margins to be gained in F1 are slightly smaller. You have to remember though, races are won in F1 by "tenths of a second here" and "hundredths of a second there".

Engine development was expensive when it was allowed but with the way engine manufacturers currently supply around three teams each, the costs would be distributed; plus the "commercial rights holder" would do well to open up their fists to relinquish some money for a pursuit that makes the sport look more socially responsible.

Even better than this, "the performance advantage the Mercedes-powered teams currently have over the rest of the field, frozen-in by the ban on development, might be curtailed somewhat - although McLaren really would be nowhere if that happened.

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