Paris was the destination. FIA headquarters, the place. The future of the sport the agenda. Liberty Media, the owners of Formula One met with the governing body, the FIA, along with current teams and crucially ‘potential future engine manufacturers’ to debate changes in engine regulations in 2021 on Tuesday. So, what came out of these preliminary talks and are there signs of the sport moving in the right direction, both from a teams and crucially a fans perspective? Mike Heal (@MHeal10) analyses the fallout in the French capital.
Whilst the proposed regulations are in their developmental stages, what came to light this week were the underpinning foundations of where the sport sees itself in four years time, certainly in terms of engine formula. Since the beginning of the turbo hybrid era in 2014, the topic of the engines, or power units as they are known, has been one discussed at length up and down the paddock, with a lot of discontent. My mind casts me back to Christian Horner’s rant in Monza, specifically, suggesting that the current engine formula had “done nothing for the sport.”
Liberty, who took over F1 in January, recognised this. Impressively, Chase Carey, as he did when he appointed Ross Brawn as sporting chief, teamed up with ex- boss of Cosworth, Nick Hayes to discuss at length, the best route for the sport to take. Hayes was instrumental in providing the V8 in the Benetton that powered Michael Schumacher to his first world championship in 1994, as well as utilising his experience in NASCAR in the mid 00’s. It’s fair to say, then, that Liberty have acquired somewhat of a guru when it comes to engines, which the teams can relate to. Prior to Tuesday’s meeting, the sense was that both Hayes and Liberty were keen to keep the current 1.6-litre turbo engines due to their relevance to the cars we drive on our roads. And following the meeting on Tuesday, that’s exactly what they have proposed, along with some other important changes.
Feel the noise
Since 2014, fans and drivers have voiced their concerns about the sound of the current engines. Notably, a Grand Prix Drivers Association (GPDA) survey conducted last year amongst 26 F1 drivers was conclusive. 100% wanted to hear ‘cool sounding engines,’ something the head of GPDA Alex Wurz was quick to highlight this week on social media. Similarly, fans are longing for the days of the screeching V8s and V10s of yesteryear, the likes that would almost burst your eardrums as the cars sped past. The blueprint has proposed that the cars will have a 3000rpm higher running speed in a bid to amplify the noise. This is linked to another key point that came out of Tuesday’s meeting. The maximum fuel flow will be increased by up to 20%, allowing for the engines to maximise their revs, increasing the volume of the engines as a result. Formula One is about the speed and ‘heavy-metal’ foot to the floor racing. A car that is as loud as it is fast will not only please the drivers, but it’s something petrol-heads crave.
The heat is on…and off
The environmental efficiency of the current engines is a result of the very intricate inner workings of the power unit, namely the MGU-K and MGU-H. At present, the MGU-H recovers heat energy from the turbo part of the engine. The new proposals suggest that this will be removed come 2021. Whilst this leads to positives with regards to engine noise, (specifically that less noise will be ‘muted out’ if the MGU-H is absent), the idea of ditching this component has been lambasted, notably by the World Champions. Mercedes argue that removal of this system, coupled with the increase in revs, will mean the cars need more fuel thereby raising costs and weight of the cars. This may well be a key issue in the future meetings, and as with most proposals that are put forward to the teams, it may take them some time agree.
However, this change does put added impetus on the use of the MGU-K. This is the system that recovers energy from the brakes and coverts it into electrical energy to power the battery pack. Electrical power has come to the forefront of high level motorsport in recent times, particularly due to the introduction of Formula E (FE). ‘Power boosts’ have become a key attraction in FE, allowing the fans to choose which driver should gain a boost. Whilst the new F1 proposals don’t suggest this as an idea, they do outline that the driver will be able to control when they use the system and how much ‘boost’ they can apply, similar to the KERS concept we had in 2013. On the face of it, this seems like a great idea, certainly from a fan’s perspective. It will add excitement if a driver needs to close gap in the latter stages of a race or put in a hot lap to avoid the undercut at a pitstop and they have that ‘boost’ available. Ultimately though, it’s up to the powers that be but the heat will be on them to get this right.
Its frustrated me and I know many other fans and pundits alike (I did have a twitter exchange with Julia Piquet on this), that having prescriptive elements doesn’t work for anyone. If anything, it increases costs further, as teams will test engines in factories, morning, noon and night and spend millions doing so, all to prevent dropping 25 places on the grid. We’ve seen the incessant penalties that have ruined races this season for drivers and fans, and they should not be punished for something beyond their control. Reading the proposals in detail, the FIA don’t address this issue at all.
It seems whilst there is a push to regulate current components of the engines to reduce cost and potentially attract other manufactures, these outlined plans for Formula One’s future may increase the price the teams pay for an engine, which is a concern. The changes to the MGU-H & MGU-K systems effectively mean a total re-design of the how the engines are packaged into the cars, and this coupled increased fuel loads, has not sat well with the teams. On the other hand, an amplification of the noise of the cars is something the constructors, drivers and fans have cried out for and that seems to be on the way back. However, to make everything in the F1 garden as rosy as possible, the F1 hierarchy will have to compromise in order to get this right, for teams & fans. The power is in their hands.