There will be no re-tuning of the engines competing in Formula 1 this season, after extensive discussions on ways of equalising engines drew a blank.
The Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault engines will all be as they were in 2009. The V8 engines in use in F1 at the moment are all frozen in specification, with no performance developments allowed. However manufacturers are allowed to request changes in the interests of reliability.
In that process, some changes were made which definitely improved performance, so by the end of 2008 there was quite a difference in performance between the best and worst performing engines.
The FIA ruled that Renault, which had been left behind, would be allowed to retune its engine to bring it up to the level of the others.
This season the same thing happened again. According to analysis we ran on this site in November, the spread of engine power from the best to the worst engines this year was around 2.5%. This means that, if the Mercedes is believed to have had 755hp, the least powerful engine was 18hp down, which is worth just under 3/10ths of a second per lap.
This time the FIA proposed that if the teams were unhappy then they should sort it out themselves, but it could only be on the basis of the best engine being detuned. Mercedes were very unhappy with this and there was some scepticism about the whether the Renault was as down on power as it was being suggested, especially as Red Bull won six races. After extensive discussions got nowhere, the FIA is believed to have ruled that the engines will stay as they are with no re-tuning.
It is worth remembering that “equivalence” isn’t actully required in the rules, just no performance development. So getting exactly equal engines is not something the FIA has to be seen to pursue.
Red Bull were keen on a move to Mercedes power for 2010, but met with resistance from McLaren and Brawn and also from powerful voices within Red Bull itself. So they will remain with Renault. But this is no bad thing; it is worth remembering that they won the last three races of last season, so the engine clearly wasn’t struggling.
And perhaps more important, performance isn’t going to be the holy grail in races this season; fuel efficiency is, due to the new rule outlawing refuelling. The Renault is the most fuel efficient engine in the field, so the Red Bull team can budget for a smaller fuel tank, which improves weight distribution and aerodynamics and they will carry a lighter fuel load at the start of the race. Every 3 kilos of fuel they carry less than their rivals will help them by a tenth of a second per lap. That could be decisive this year.
Adrian Newey said today that McLaren and Brawn blocked RBR from having the Mercedes engines. The team also evaluated Cosworth. But I have a feeling that they will do just fine with the Renault this year.
This story has been written in response to a number of questions posted on the site by readers wanting to know what’s going on with equalising engines. Thanks to them for suggesting it.