One manufacturer is flying and preparing a super motor for the late summer, while another is sweating on whether it can get close enough on development before the start of next season to make it even worth competing.
Mercedes’ technical chief Paddy Lowe has confirmed that his team will use engine development tokens “in the late summer”, for its third of four engines, while Red Bull’s Christian Horner has warned that Renault may be forced to quit F1 if in season development with the tokens system is not allowed to continue into a second year.
The idea with the new engine formula is a glide-path where development is allowed in the first few years before the engines are effectively frozen for years. The same model was followed with the V8s from 2006 onwards and after a bit of fiddling around and adjustment, they all ended up roughly the same by 2009.
The introduction of hybrid turbos last year has made them a major performance differentiator, as Montreal again showed with seven of the top ten cars powered by Mercedes.
From 2014 to 2015 8% of the engine was frozen and for the remaining 92% of areas were divided into 66 ‘tokens’, each manufacturer could choose 32 areas to develop and each one they did used up a ‘token’. Thanks to a loophole in the rules spotted by Ferrari, the homologation period for the engines did not close on February 28th, so for this year instead the manufacturers could carry any unused tokens after Feb 28th for use in the season. Ferrari used three on their engines which appeared in Montreal.
Mercedes has seven tokens still to use and will deploy some of them later this summer on the next engine, the idea being to keep them out of reach of the rest of the field.
However from 2015 to the 2016 and 2017 seasons 23% of the engine is frozen and of the remaining 77%, only 25 development tokens are available to be used by February 28th 2016 and that in season development loophole is due to be closed off by reworded regulations.
Renault are lobbying for a rethink to allow them to continue to develop during 2016, as they doubt now that they will make much progress this season, with all the reliability issues they need to sort out, before pressing the performance button and using tokens. A more powerful engine was scheduled for Silverstone, with input from Mario Illien’s company, but if homologation is to go ahead on February 28th 2016, there is too much to do in the time frame, with some very long lead time items in a power unit.
Horner says that they will be locked into uncompetitiveness and on that basis there is no point to continue, as they would always have a power deficit to Mercedes and Ferrari. Honda as a new manufacturer, is one year behind the others so has longer to develop before the engine freeze comes in for them.
Mercedes obviously want to lock in their advantage, but are mindful that they also have a duty to act in the best interests of the sport. They believe that if the roles were reversed – or if Ferrari had an advantage – then they would be very reluctant to give it up. But Horner has asked them to look at the big picture.
“From Renault’s perspective [the deadline] is the worst thing because the engines are effectively frozen forever after,” Horner said. “If you’ve missed it by February 28 then the scale of difference is unachievable in that time frame. Really, as these regulations are still relatively immature, it would make sense to allow, as we did this year, for development to happen in the season.”
“They [Mercedes] don’t have to agree [to carrying on with tokens], but the situation is that it’s a precarious point in terms of Renault’s commitment to the future. If you are effectively shutting that down in February, you are almost waving goodbye to Renault.
“I think they [Mercedes] need to have a bit of a grown-up think about it, and the FIA as well, to decide what is in the best interests of Formula One. If Formula One can afford to lose an engine manufacturer, then stick to February 28.”