Arms race? Game changer? What do the latest changes to F1 engine rules mean?
Posted By: James Allen  |  03 Jan 2015   |  6:32 pm GMT  |  277 comments

[Updated] It seems that the FIA has now accepted that there is a loophole in the F1 technical regulations, which might level the playing field a little, as Renault and Ferrari have been requesting for some time. So what does it mean for the 2015 Championship and will it change the packing order?

Here with the help of JA on F1 technical adviser Dominic Harlow, we will attempt to demystify what the latest developments mean for fans watching in 2015.

What is the latest on the F1 engine freeze?
The rules for the new hybrid turbo F1 engines, which came in last year, stated that the engines had to be homologated by the last day of February 2014 and that no development would be allowed during the rest of the season. But amazingly, the text of the rules did not spell out that the 2015 engines had to be homologated by the same date in 2015, only that they did have to be homologated. Ferrari queried this loophole and there was much discussion on the subject in the F1 Strategy Group meeting before Christmas.

The latest is that the FIA has accepted the loophole exists and written to teams and manufacturers accordingly. So now the three manufacturers, Ferrari, Renault and Mercedes, who are going into their second season of hybrid turbos, can potentially have longer to develop their 2015 engines, if they want. There is no set date for this, so the upshot is that manufacturers are free, should they wish, to continue development of a new power unit until they exhaust the tokens available to them for 2015. They may then homologate a new engine as and when they choose.

It’s important to note that the engines are homologated by the manufacturers, not by the individual F1 teams, so the switchover from 2014 to 2015 engines will be made at the same time for all a manufacturer’s teams on their timetable.

Red Bull and Mercedes F1

So does this mean that Renault and Ferrari will close the gap on Mercedes this season?
Unlikely, but what it does mean is that those two manufacturers, who were behind going into 2015, now can have more time, if they want, to maximise development of the 2015 units. The crucial thing to remember here is that they have to homologate their 2015 engine at some point and – as it will be more powerful and more efficient than the 2014 unit – they will not want to wait too long to introduce it.

We estimate that anyone using the loophole will introduce their 2015 engines by the Spanish GP, Round 5, at the latest. So that means an extra 8-10 weeks of development time, which could be worth anything from 1/10th of a second per lap to 2/10ths.

Each driver is only allowed four engines for the season. So teams working with manufacturers, who decide to take advantage of the loophole, will probably use a 2014 engine for the first few races, while the manufacturers work on continued development of the 2015 engines. But then each manufacturer will switch over to the new 2015 unit with all its teams at the same time, for logistical reasons.

So is this a game changer?
Not really, because the manufacturers can only work on specific permitted areas of the engine and make updates to 32 of those areas. These are called “tokens” and once the 32 tokens have been used up, they have to draw a line in development. Once the manufacturer has introduced its new engine, it cannot use the old one anymore – only one engine can be homologated at a time.

Screen Shot 2015-01-03 at 17.18.35

Does this have a cost implication? Does it make life even less affordable for the customer teams?
There is some potential for manufacturers to spend more money, of course, but we don’t believe it will be a significant extra cost to pass onto the customers. Renault and Ferrari both have an A and B team, essentially, so they would have to make four 2014 engines for the early races, plus test engines for February tests, then introduce the 2015 unit in April/May.

What are the risks?
There are some interesting possibilities. If, for example, a driver had a failure on his engine in the opening flyaway races and was forced to take another 2014 engine before the manufacturer switched to 2015 units, he would only have two 2015 engines to last him the rest of the season from the date at which the 2015 unit came in. That would almost certainly mean taking a penalty later in the season. The penalty rules have been subtly changed too, so that you now would start from the back of the grid with a full Power Unit change, rather than the pit lane (as Vettel did in Austin), making it less punitive.

Screen Shot 2015-01-03 at 17.17.00

So how will Mercedes react? What will they do now?
Of course they are free to take advantage of the loophole too. But as they are also the biggest suppler of engines in F1, with four teams and eight drivers to supply, the logistics of changing their build plan now are very significant.

There is a school of thought that they could have an advantage by sticking to their original plan; by homologating the improved 2015 engine from the start of the season, they will potentially have four races with an advantage while Renault and Ferrari are still running 2014 units. This could give them and their customers an early lead in the championship.

They will also be able to optimise the cars and cooling around the 2015 units from winter testing onwards. Also they are free to start development straight away on the 2016 upgrades, ready for homologation this time next year – so they would be able to focus on that work, rather than splitting resources, as they would have no more development work to do on the 2015 units.

How does this affect Honda and its new hybrid turbo engine, which did not run in 2014?
They will be subject to the same rules as the others were for their first season – i.e. they must homologate by the end of February (next month). If they did not, they would effectively have two development windows in one year and that would not be sportingly fair.

So,in summary, what does this all mean for the 2015 season?
In our view, it will give Renault and Ferrari a chance to make up a little ground from May onwards and make the most of their 2015 power units. They will probably close a little on Mercedes from the introduction of the new engines (i.e. Spain) onwards. It also shows that the sport did something to improve the sporting balance, within the tight regulatory framework which exists around the technical side of the sport.

What do you think of these latest developments? Is it good news for F1? What do you think the manufacturers will do? Leave your comments in the section below.

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I do not see how big the advantage is. They will have 12 days of testing of the new power units pre season start – same as Honda. The only difference is they will have more time to analyse the data before they have to homologate. But they will not be able to use the 2015 unit until it is homologated. Next year they will be able to change fewer components than Honda. But I have 2 questions not answered by this article.

1 – will teams be able to use 2015 units during free practice 1 & 2 on race weekend Fridays?

2 – Will Honda be able to use 5 engines this year? That was part of the early homologation last year.


They would save a lot of money if they just used the v8 engine again. There are enough races, lemans and formula E included which showcase hybrids and electric batteries. I am 110% sure matter what a normally aspirated v8 race car could complete a 2 hour sprint race faster than any hybrid. The normally aspirated engine was being developed to a peak in 2004 when we had over 1000hp.

Fuel saving in F1 is a farce. How much money do they spend on the llights that make us see the night races? How much only do they spend taking it around the globe?


If Honda as a new entrant this year must be tied to the same restrictions as teams had last year they should also have freedom to use the same number of engines as teams were allowed last year, as it is stated recently they have to limit their entitlement to the number other teams are allowed to use this year (one less than last year). Unfair and not right by any stretch of the imagination either the same constraints entirely or use the same criteria to re write the rules on this matter too and let Honda this season as other manufacturers are doing.

Why does the FIA not have dialogue with the fans like this website does, why are they so frightened to open up to criticism they could get more ideas from fans on what they want to see in the future rather than just listening to the manufacturers. It need not mean Jean Todt reading every posting but his staff could amass a whole raft of data to guide them on the feelings of the masses out there.


@ roy…your logic is identical to what i have already posted and that is gratifying. at times one wonders if the wood is sometimes obscured by the trees.

as for the ideas put forward by posters on sites such as this i fear no one from the F1 hierarchy would give them more that a cursory glance, if that! F1 is all about vested interests, that is how businesses are run. the only thing that would change their minds would be total boycotts. now that would bring an immediate response. if no one turned up to the british GP because of a specific issue/issues how long do you think it would take to get a result? days? probably within hours i should think. economic isolation is the only way forward if you want to influence the thinking of those that govern F1.


I wonder if the reason why Honda only did 2 or 3 laps at the Abu Dhabi test is because they became aware of the loophole during the technical delegate meeting? ie. they knew that the other teams would be able to delay homologation and perhaps copy a few Honda secrets?

I find it hard to believe that all they were able to muster up were a few measly laps before running into electrical issues, yet somehow were able to design, build and run 10,000 hours on the dyno. Not to mention the logistics complexity of fitting engines into the chassis and shipping engines to Abu Dhabi etc…

Sounds like a last minute sandbag attempt.

Similar to the last Honda sandbag scheme when they skipped preseason testing and conveniently ‘sold’ the team to Ross Brawn right before the season start…..who then went on to dominate the season…


An arms race isn’t so good for managing budgets, but excellent for technological development 🙂


My thoughts are FIA rule makers got it wrong last year on homologation. Knowing how new engine with such complexity could fail to perform from the off they should have given 3 to 4 races before homologation of the units was required the gap from one engine to another would probably not be so great by then although the end result of the season may not have changed. Had they got it right last year this year would not have been so contentious right now .

Perhaps Honda could be thrown a carrot yet by allowing a few tokens to be upgraded after February up till the other teams finally homologate and let them homologate with other teams later but submit a back dated homologation draft of their engine as it was at the end of season test last year that then the engine to race up till final homologation this year.

Frankly the FIA should have outlined last year the consequences of not homologating an engine last year once more the rules have been tailored to suit the red car but the red team dropped the ball and let the silver team catch it first.


If Honda have a decent PU straight from the get go (not impossible you know), they can work hard on achieving reliability while Mclaren can fine tune their chassis in relation to the engine.

While Ferrari and Renault are busy running a 2014 PU (we assume they will), Honda will benefit from

competing against cars which are using their slow, 2014 spec motor.This in my mind levels the playing field a bit and will allow Honda to evaluate its “first” PU against the other suppliers’ “first year” attempts.

No time now for excuses. Mclaren have good drivers and need results.

Lack of a main sponsor is something we expect from Caterham not Mclaren.


with such a great line up waiting to compete this year…….just bring the pu


Hi James.

I was just reading the Autosport article on the McLaren Honda testing woes at Abu Dhabi, and I was just wondering, why do the F1 teams not have a ‘rolling road’ of sorts to bolt the car to and run engine and gearbox at speed? Surely if they had this, the majority of the problems could have been solved in the factory prior to the very valuable test, and it would greatly speed up track operations with the reduction of reliability issues.

Just a thought…



Honda and McLaren pressing FIA on loophole now and possibly protesting teams on developments in season. My question is at what point were they first informed by the FIA that they had to homologate by February, if it was after the loophole was confirmed to the other teams there may be a loophole for protest that no date was previously set for them as with the other teams.

Personally I hope they run with new engine while others keep 2014 engine for a few races and Jenson gets a flying start in the championship, Go pink 22 show what a red/white monster can do (well it is Honda powered dream machine)


I think it’s pathetic.

Honda are already at a disadvantage by not being in F1 last year.

Just let everyone use the loophole and let’s make F1 as competive as possible.

kenneth chapman

@ dan…either that or at least let honda have five engines to play with like the others had.



Could teams use Friday Practice sessions to test ‘development engines’? e.g. Ferrari and Renault use current 2014 spec. power units for the first 4 races, but simultaneously develop and test 2015 spec. power units during P1/P2 of those 4 races, and then homologate from race 5 onwards?

thanks, Robert


No, they are all from the main batch and that’s it


If Renault closes the gap a bit we could have an epic Hamilton v Ricciardo battle. 2015 was going to be boring as everybody knows Rosberg is not a top class driver and with same cars Hamilton would win again easy. Thank you FIA for making 2015 more interesting. If winter testing comfirms Mercedes are not leagues ahead Melbourne will have much higher audience.


After going through all this discussion, over and over, I really think this is a red herring in a teapot. ;D

In order to take “advantage” of this ‘loophole’ Renault and Ferrari would obviously start the season with last years under-powered engines, which would basically concede the season. (This would turn all of 2015 into the in-season testing that everyone is always banging on about.)

Plus ofc there would be the visual spectacle of these automotive “giants” being regularly beaten by Merc customers whilst doing the dreaded “trundling around at the back!”

As well, they would still get to use only 4 engines for the season and using an old one first would leave only 3 “new” 2015 ones to last the rest of the season.

Suppose they broke one in Aus, what would they do? Install a 2nd “old” one -Which would leave them only 2 new 2015 engines for almost the whole season – or hurridly homologate the “new” one?

And them there’s the manufacturing/logistical aspects of supplying old engines while being ready to supply all new ones at the drop of a hat.

But perhaps Ferrari will take the risk, since they have already publically given up on 2015.


Most likely scenario for 2015, Lewis clinches his 3rd title and Alonso struggles. I hope I’m totally wrong.


I can see 2 points here:

1 – As Phil said above somewhere, this developments shows the FIA’s incompetence.

2 – Another wasted year for Alonso?


I would dearly like to be on hand to draft rules for the FIA. Whoever they use now and for the past several years seems to be completely incompetent.

But… maybe he’s not? Maybe he is instructed to leave loopholes? I find that more likely than that their draftsman is as incompetent as he seems. (And that says a lot for my opinion of the FIA.)

I hope that their draftsman is reading this and sighing in relief that someone understands.


Maybe he is instructed to leave loopholes?…

For what it’s worth, I had a similar thought. Bernie doesn’t like everything tied down too tight – he always likes a bit of wriggle room.


Well, James . . .

Judging by the number of replies to this post which have included variations on the word ‘understand’ in them it seems that this ‘engine rule’ is about as clear as used engine oil.

I look forward to a series of in-season ‘adjustments’ driven by the usual behind-scenes machinations.

I only hope that the performance-art satire that the F1 organisation has become is offset by close and exciting racing on track.

All my pseudonyms and I wish you and your team a Happy New Year.

The former eagerly await grist for their mill.


>>performance-art satire



This seems wrong. They can bring updates through the season not just one new engine.


Why does anybody look incompetent. i suggest those who think so, go & try and write a contract/ rules for multiple years. I promise you you will look back and see how many holes were in your thoughts.

Hindsight is the exact science. Even this oversight has limited advantage as beautifully explained here but I wonder what we overlooking


Is it possible Honda asked the FIA to not stipulate a date in 2015, as they were behind in their development program and weren’t sure they would be ready by the end of February?

I’m looking forward to seeing how Honda perform next year, certainly it will be one of the top stories.

James, who do think will be surprise next year? There seems to be have been quite a lot of staff moving around in F1 in the last 6 months and I am just interested to know how think that may pan out. I, for one, am interested in how Peter Prodromou will do at McLaren and James Allison at Ferrari.


Sometimes you get the feeling these journalists are more qualified than manufacturers, team principles, drivers and mechanic’s. Must be awesome giving soundbites for everything without being in technical meetings, boardrooms, etc. The good thing is that with speculation, it’s just that.


Hi james! I have questions

-Is it possible for Ferrari, Renault and Mercedes to use their 32 tokens for performance upgrade after homologating their 2015 power unit or not?

-Will manufacturers be able to use for example 4 of their 32 tokens only for one part of power unit?

-In your opinion Will McLaren HONDA take a legal action to be able to use the loophole like other manufacturers in 2015? (IMO McLaren HONDA will win if they are going to take legal action against FIA decision)

Thank you for your informative article as usual.


As I understand it no, once it’s homologated, that’s it for development for the season

As for Honda, it will be interesting to see what they do, but if they were allowed to take advantage of the loophole it would seem rather unfair given that they have already had the advantage of knowing what the targets are for their engine and will have learned a great deal about the three other manufacturers’ units during 2014.

kenneth chapman

@ james, you say that it would be unfair if honda were given the same dispensation of later homologation/mid year tweaks granted to renault/ferrari/mercedes as they, honda, have an advantage of knowing what the targets are. surely the’ others’ have the advantage because they have had a full season racing upon which to hone their pace and reliability.

both of these advantages/disadvantages cancel each other out in the fairness stakes. so by my reckoning honda should get to use five engines otherwise the pendulum swings unfairly against honda.


Hello, James or Hello website. I don`t know which is more appropriate but this one very measured website indeed.

The tone here you are trying to hold is very measured and restrained and sometimes it does seem you are lost a little bit in F1 jungle and you want to be rescuing but as you love it you can`t let it go. It must be painful to bite your tongue to hold yourself back so often.

Can you please tell me how can Honda have been learned a great deal about the three other manufacturers units during 2014, when there is no official agreement with others manufactures to allow this, and then most importantly- how this kind of presumption can be basic to make an official agreement out of it?

It just seems to me that nothing can be change in F1 from the top to bottom before people inside F1 circles does not want to… or allowed to?


“once it’s homologated, that’s it for development for the season”

James I think that depends on the definition of “development.”

I can’t see anybody just down tools and go home when its homologated. No, I’ll bet they’ll keep developing it in the lab and call it the 2016 engine or something. They just won’t be able to continue to tweak it to run it in races.


Of course the development work continues flat out on future developments for 2016, but you cannot apply anything to the 2015 engine, as things stand, once it’s been homologated


James, do we know if the Honda engine has basically the same unique layout as the Mercedes? With Mclaren using the Merc engine last season that must surely give Honda a lot of information that Ferrari and Renault don’t have. I would think a 2014 Merc engines will have been subject to meticulous strip down in Japan . or is there some legal restraint that prevents that?

I expect the Honda to be very strong, possibly after initial teething problems.


One small point. There could potentially be huge advantages for RBR and Ferrari. In my view, with engines we see ‘step’ changes in performance rather than linear improvements as in the case of Aero. Therefore having a little more time to homologate the engines would mean a higher step could be obtained for Renault and Ferrari teams.

There was a quote from Helmut Marko, when he said that their new engines would be ready only by June/July. If homologation wasn’t delayed from Feb, then RBR will have been forced to run a slightly improved version of the 2014 Engine, rather than a completely different version 2015 Engine which would require serious optimizations.

The different between Aero and Engines is that you can change Aero throughout the season. With Engines, if you get it wrong, you are screwed for the entire season. For a new 2015 concept engine, time till February was always less and teams wouldn’t have made dramatic improvements to their engines by February and hence would run potentially much less powerful engines.

I expect a dramatic improvements in performance of Renault and Ferrari Engines. Now they have the time to optimize completely new radical concepts which they wouldn’t have risked by February.


The teams have been working flat out on the 2015 engines since March 2014 i.e. After the engines were homologated for last season. Do you think teams waited for the end of the 2014 season before they started working on the 2015 engine?

Marko probably thinks it will take a few moths longer to catch the 2015 merc assuming that merc homologate at the end of February. The problem being that if they do wait that long for the new engine then they will give merc a 4/5 month head start on the 2015 season.

Renault suspect that their improvements may bring them close to 2014 merc but they will still be behind 2015 spec merc.

Option 1 – homologate 2015 engine in Feb and suffer some delta to the merc for the whole season, or

Option 2 – run 2014 engine till June/ July and then hope 2015 engine is competitive with merc 2015 engine for rest of season…

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t….


With engine homologisation

It disallows full Renault-vation

Although with a token

One fixes what’s broken

It tends to deter inovation

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