FORMULA 1 ENGINES
re-2014, Formula 1 engines had more or
less dropped off the radar as a topic for
discussion or complaint. Development was
basically frozen on the 2.4-liter V8s, the
gap between the most- and least-powerful
wasn’t worth picking a fight over, and the
status quo was defined by aero prowess.
But everything changed when the
turbo-hybrid V6s we have to call “power
units” came in last year. Now the talk was
of little else but engines, which is exactly
what the manufacturers wanted as they
tried to justify their investment in the
sport, but mostly the wrong sort of talk.
Unfortunately the remarkable
technology that Mercedes, Renault and
Ferrari employed was obscured by debates
about noise (or lack of), whether F1 should
be pursuing a formula based on fuel
economy, and if the relative performance of
the three engines played too great a role –
the defining role, in fact – in determining
who was competitive, and who wasn’t.
It’s the latter debate that rumbles on
into 2015, to the point where Red Bull
Racing didn’t just throw underperforming
engine supplier, Renault, under the bus
after the season-opening Australian
Grand Prix, but demanded that the FIA
peg back the performance of Mercedes-
Benz for doing too good a job.
There have been other eras when engines
had a great influence, but what makes this
one different is the limited scope that a
manufacturer has to dig itself out of a hole.
All three power units were homologated
as of Feb. 28, 2014, and thereafter they
couldn’t be changed. Some updates were
allowed by the FIA for reliability reasons,
and a manufacturer could fine-tune areas
such as fuel and software. But the basic
hardware could not be upgraded.
The off-season was crucial because the
FIA framed the new rules with a token
system that allowed for a gradually
decreasing package of updates between
seasons. The power unit is divided up into
66 carefully weighted tokens. The
manufacturers could “spend” 32 tokens this
past winter, another 25 prior to the 2016
season, 20 before ’ 17, and 15 before ’ 18.
The problem faced by Renault and
Ferrari was that some of the changes they
wanted to make required a long lead time,
and they wouldn’t be able to design, test
and homologate their upgrades before the
first race of 2015. In the case of Renault
there was the specific issue of Red Bull
adding R&D support, along with consultant
Mario Illien. That input would take time to
filter through. Thus they began pushing for
updates to be allowed during the season.
Then it emerged that the FIA had
dropped the ball. Although everyone knew
the original intention, the governing
With Formula 1’s power unit manufacturers allowed only
limited year-on-year changes, weaknesses in a package are
difficult to fix. It’s a situation that’s already causing friction.
WORDS Adam Cooper MAIN IMAGE Frederic Le Floc’h/DPPI
(MAIN) Visually, Renault’s
turbo-hybrid V6 Formula 1
engine is a jewel. As things
stand, its performance
doesn’t match its looks.
Will the Mercedes-powered
teams (LEFT) drive off into
the sunset in 2015? Red
Bull Racing says yes...