The first rules row of the year
What would the F1 winter be without a juicy rules spat to keep the fires stoked as we await the first roar of 2015 cars on track? And this year the ‘makers’ (of engines, of rules) have done us proud. To boil the argument down, Ferrari and Renault found a way to keep developing their engines through 2015 to help them get on a power par with the dominant Mercs, while newbies Honda, returning with McLaren, will have to freeze the spec of their engine at ‘V1’ on 28 February. Thus, at a stroke, a bold and proud new competitor, not to mention one prepared to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into a sport that’s still navigating choppy financial waters, is being roughed up even before it has started fighting.
It smacks of nothing more than old-school bullies ganging up against an ambitious and wealthy new boy, from a respected family, and, truly, F1’s power-brokers should be ashamed at their actions for once again failing to grasp the big picture.
It’s not that Honda aren’t big enough to take the snub, nor that they won’t fight back (there is already talk of legal action against the FIA for erecting an anticompetitive barrier to entry). No, it’s that F1 shouldn’t find itself in such a tedious debate about engine credits and development windows, when all the fans want to see is star drivers racing hard in cars of comparable competitiveness. Instead, we have the prospect before the season has started of Fernando and Jenson driving McLaren-Hondas less powerful than they might be, and suffering from a lack of competitiveness as a result.
But surely Renault and Ferrari need development to catch Mercedes? Yes, of course, but so will Honda, so why not one rule for all? Hobbled Honda? No thanks.
It’s never possible, in such a dog-eat-dog sport, to keep all the major players happy, but this issue has forged unholy alliances. F1 Racing understands that it was a Ferrari man who first spotted the regulatory nuance that might allow continued engine development (for some) beyond 28 February and quickly, we gather, a call was put through to the Christian Horner batphone, to enlist the support of politically powerful Red Bull, on behalf of engine partners Renault.
Now some might contend that we should expect nothing more than skullduggery and vicious piranha-on-piranha action, when it comes to finding an advantage that might eke out a tenth (or more) per lap. Indeed, isn’t F1’s hunger to feast on the carcass of weaker rivals part of its ‘red-in-tooth-and-claw’ appeal?
Maybe so, but this smacks more of desperation than of necessity, and when Honda do ride out the storm, as they surely will, they’ll not be quick to forgive or forget.
Only a month ago it was Ferrari chairman Sergio Marchionne, ironically enough, who derided F1’s regulatory structure when quizzed during a press briefing as to progress on 2015 engine negotiations. “It’s a real labyrinth,” he said. “The rules appear to have been written by a drunk at a bar. We have to simplify them so that even normal people can understand.”
And to that sentiment, as we prepare to toast the birth of a new F1 season, we raise a glass.