Engine homologation is not the answer for F1
Last Monday, Max Mosley gave a dinner for journalists to give them his view on motorsport and presumably how wonderful a job he's doing of managing it. Last Thursday Autosport.com carried a lengthy interview with Max by Jonathan Noble. It was actually very interesting and contained many surprises, at least for me, that haven't been widely reported. He admits mistakes over rule changes and also that some of the proposed rules for 2008 probably won't make it in. He also makes clear the FIA's new policy towards car manufacturers, at least in F1. I'll probably get a few more blog posting out of that interview, but for now I want to talk about one of the things that has got some attention from the press.
That is the subject of homologation, or "freezing" for people who find homologation too long a word to type. Max argues (quite convincingly for the most part) that by the time 2008 rolls around, two-race V8 engines will have been around long enough that most of the designs will be at approximately the same performance level. Therefore they can save the cost of a works engine programme for three years by homologating the design of each engine at the start of 2008 and until the end of 2010, all engines made by a particular manufacturer will be of the same design and secification as that homologated. Thus teams will spend the bucks to build enough of these very expensive engines for races and testing, but will save the much greater cost of developing newer, more powerful designs over that period. Max claims that engines for one team would cost about €8M to actually build, but that manufacturers are currently spending between €100M and €200M on their engine programmes.
That sounds great, saving all that money. But you have to wonder about the logic of it all. For homologation to be acceptable, the engines would have to be of roughly the same specification. If one manufacturer goes into the 'freeze' period with a 50bhp power deficit and they're stuck with that for three years, they might think twice about staying in the sport. If we then assume that the engines are equal then you have to question why on earth we would bother having 7 or 8 different manufacturers, why not just have one spec engine like Champcar and IRL now have? And of course if you have only one engine, you can find a much cheaper way to make that 750bhp target power that the FIA regards as safe. How about a nice 5 litre V10 for example? No need then for pneumatic valve systems or exotic surface coatings, thin-wall investment castings or anything remotely expensive. You could get the per-season cost of a team's engines down below €1M that way.
So why don't they? Because it takes away the central conceit of multi-make racing: That the equipment made by one manufacturer is better or worse than that made by another, and that the fans somehow care about that.
In the case of engines I have my doubts. Of course we couldn't have a McLaren Mercedes battling a Williams BMW in a world where all the cars used the same engine. But with the realisation that the engine doesn't play such a huge part in the performance of a modern F1 car, manufacturers are moving towards running their own teams rather than supplying branded engines. This is a return to the pre-garagista days where you had works Mercedes cars battling Porsches, Maseratis and Alfas. Now you have Toyota, Honda, BMW and Renault with their own teams and Mercedes owns a large percentage of McLaren. Williams would be happy to be just Williams if it meant they would save a lot of money and so would Midland F1 I'd wager and of course the two Red Bull teams are there to advertise a soft drink - the manufacturer of the engine couldn't matter less to them.
If you accept that both performance and costs have to be curtailed somehow, the only other argument against a common spec engine is that with it you have somehow lost some of the interest of the ongoing battle between manufacturers and that they wouldn't have a way to show off their engineering prowess. However, that opportunity has already gone mostly under the current rules with their prescription of cylinder count, v-angle, bore spacing, materials, weight and even centre-of-gravity height. The intention of the 2006 regulations is to deter innovation in as many areas as possible. The intention of homologation is remove innovation altogether for three years. And with innovation gone, so is the battle between manufacturers that they believe the fans want to see.
i use to watch f1 everytime it came on the tv but ive be’n put off by whats happen over the years, mclaren have always be’n the one for me, they’ve got that something the rest as not, the fia keep changing the rule’s, i know they change them for the safety of the drivers, but the fans want race’s to be won like they use to be won tactics,the tyres, the engine not blowing, or a race lossed because of them. i would like to see all the best drivers start at the back of the grid not the front, so come on give use f1 back and we can enjoy our f1 at the weekend.
robert jones () - 04 03 06 - 07:19