For a repeat of 2014, keep engines frozen
This month, I begin with a confession: the current F1 engine rules still pass me by. I know I’ve always been more intrigued by the drivers and the chassis and not with the other critical piece of the performance cake. There was a time, though, when I kind of understood the difference between a DFV and a Ferrari V12. KERS? ERS? They’re a mystery to me. When I rst slumbered through the 2014 F1 engine regulations, the only paragraphs that jumped out at me concerned the return to turbochargers and to the lovely little V6 blocks that looked so nice in the Dino Ferraris. Twelve months on, the effect of the turbos has been nonexistent, and of the V6 we’ve seen nothing. Security guards have sealed garage doors; the turbos haven’t done their thing by exploding or igniting the way they used to; and none of the drivers have complained of throttle lag or sudden, uncontrollable power.
Instead, in ways I can’t begin to understand, the Merc engine somehow seems to have an 80bhp advantage. It doesn’t rev more than the rest: it isn’t allowed to by the regulations. Nor is it lighter nor more structurally sound – again, the regulations have eliminated such cleverness. It’s just faster, allowing the Merc teams to play with wing settings in ways the Ferrari and Renault teams can only dream of.
There’s little or no difference, as I now understand it, between the internal combustion engines produced by Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault. Strangle them with fuel capacity and fuel-ow restrictions and they all produce about the same amount of power and torque. The problems – the differences – all lie with the electric motors. The Merc produces about another 200bhp through its efcient re-use of heat and energy; the two laggards at most produce 120bhp. Hence the 80bhp difference between Merc and the rest.
The big question is how this has happened. Mercedes AMG High Performance Powertrains (born of Ilmor ) logically commissioned two specialist British companies to produce their electrical power – and brilliant they have been too. No compromises.
Over at Maranello, as I now understand it, Luca Marmorini found himself squeezed by the aero division: cram this in here. Squeeze that down there. Aero rules – right? Wrong. Not in the world of F1 ERS and KERS; not this
“Where is the sense in not allowing changes once a title has been won? Why insist on more of the same?”
time. Merc found exactly the right balance between space and heat – and the W05 aero package was moulded around it. At Ferrari – and to some extent Renault – the cars were sleeker and smaller… and much less efcient in terms of available power.
Now all of this is pretty standard stuff. Engineers – like the rest of us – often get it wrong. Look at Ferrari in 1978, when Colin Chapman was in his second year of ground effect. A monkey could have told you that a slim engine was going to be more useful than a wide one – but what did Ferrari do? Persist with their ultra-spacious at-12.
It’s a little bit that way now – except that Ferrari and Renault need to free-up their engine architecture, not compress it. The problem is, the engine-freeze won’t allow it.
Now I need to make another confession: in my rst reading of the F1 engine regulations, and in later chats with experts, I never realised that major changes to the engines wouldn’t be permitted at the end of 2014. I can only assume it never occurred to me that change wouldn’t be permitted. I mean, we’re talking F1 here. The pinnacle of technology, correct? And the subject is engines – a fundamental part of the show. I understand the logic of an engine regulation freeze – but where is the sense in only allowing limited changes once a title has been won? Why insist on more of the same for another 12 months? I never imagined they’d be stupid enough to be so restrictive. Now I know otherwise. I’m reminded, yet again, that we have a democratic process in F1 now. By unanimous agreement, only limited changes will be allowed during mid-2015, by which time another year of Merc dominance will be virtually complete. I also now know that turbos aren’t on these engines because they’re spectacular but because they are just a very efcient way of generating heat for the ultra-efcient electric motors. All very boring.
Nothing will change. Mercedes want to keep on winning, so they’ll never agree to re-write the regs. Renault and Ferrari have pushed them hard to do so but the Merc rejoinder is simple: they say further changes would greatly add to the cost of their engine and this wouldn’t be fair on their customers.
Yeah, right. For one thing, Merc don’t need to make big changes. For another, in the big picture it’s a simple choice between a closer, healthier championship and controlling rising costs. Right now, the need for the former far outweighs the latter. Put another way, if we don’t do something to allow Renault and Ferrari to improve their engine performance there won’t be any money to pay the customer engine costs, let alone the rising ones. Make the show good enough to attract the money… and then reduce costs where feasible. I’m not sure about a brand new engine for 2016, but we should thaw the freeze and get rid of the superuous, overcomplicated ERS. Keep a small, hybrid KERS element but make the most of the power with normally aspirated, ultra-spectacular, ultra-noisy internal combustion. And call them “hybrids”, as specied by this column nearly a year ago. Forget the KERS nomenclature. It’s F1 uff.
I wish we could do this sooner than 2016, but that would have required a despot – preferably a benevolent despot – to have told the Strategy Group, the World Motor Sport Council and every other water-cooler democracy within shouting distance of Paris and London to keep quiet and get a life.
The Merc engine was dominant in 2014, not due to the power of the engine itself, which was regulated across the grid, but due to the efficiency of its energy recovery systems