Today is the day on which the specification of the F1 engines of 2014 must be homologated.
What does that mean? Well, homologation is basically another word for “certification” or “accreditation” and means that the engines are given official approval by the FIA. This is achieved by the engine manufacturers each delivering an engine and all auxiliaries to the federation to be a yardstick for the rest of the year. All additional units used this year must be the same specification. The FIA can carry out checks at any time to ensure that the engines are the same.
This presents a problem for Renault because its engines have been suffering from reliability trouble in the tests thus far. The good news is that there is an allowance for reliability problems. The manufacturer writes to the FIA and explains the problem and indicates how this can be solved without an improvement in performance and if the FIA agrees it asks the other manufacturers if they have any objections to a change.
There can be performance changes made this time next year when the engines will be homologated for 2015. There will be a similar opportunity before the start of 2016 as well, although the changes will be more restricted at each stage. In theory this means that performance gaps will narrow and development costs will be contained. Like most things in F1, however, there is always potential for change, based on lobbying. F1 needs to maintain the support of its engine manufacturers and so has to be a little flexible if a car company says it needs change or it will quit. This is obviously controversial, particularly as the federation is run by a Frenchman, and Renault is a French company. The FIA will need to be careful that it does not stir up accusations of favouritism from the rival engine manufacturers who all want to win, competing on a level playing field.
The obvious thing for all of the engine makers is to homologate engines that have the highest spec possible, but the risk is that there will be blow-ups. Reliability fixes can then be applied but World Championship points may be lost in this process. Titles are won and lost over the course of the whole season, so deciding on the spec of engine to homologate is a pretty important decision.
And a bit of a balancing act…