It’s lock-down day in F1…

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…

43 thoughts on “It’s lock-down day in F1…

  1. I don’t understand how a given engine’s power can be increased through the season if all aspects of its physical properties are frozen. Seems pretty clear that that does happen, but I don’t see how it can be increased if no physical changes are allowed (except for reliability).

    Is any enlightenment available?

      1. But if the physical parts are the same, how is the software not a fuse? Won’t it blow up regardless of whether you crank up the software-controlled power in Week 1 or Week 20? It’s not the software that throws rods and catches fire 😉

        1. The amount of boost the turbo provides to the engine is controlled by software. More boost equals more performance and more stress on the mechanical components. The air/fuel mixture is controlled by the software. Running lean will save fuel but can lead to higher combustion temperatures putting more stress on pistons and valves. The software controls the ignition advance the engine uses. More advance can lead to more performance but may cause knock and lead to damaged pistons and cylinder head seals.

          So, as you can see, the software setting can lead to rods being thrown and the whole thing self-destructing in a spectacular way.

          1. Thanks for that.

            I would have thought they had simulators telling them about that as they robotically thrashed engines around the clock at different settings.

            Another case where my ignorance is showing…

        2. The software is a fuse, but, it’s not an on or off, all or nothing decision there are several analogue controls and measurements at play as with a road car engine, but, the engineers are playing a game of chicken with how small the tolerances should be in order to achieve a competitive advantage rather than meet an acceptable level of warranty claims. No engine is run at the absolute physical limit of weakest components, the engine guys are placing a calculated bet on how big these margins should be for various situations and possibly considering mileage covered by the engine hence running an engine say to within 1% (I have no idea re actual figures) of where you predict it’s going to go bang is probably not sensible for race 1, but once you have the first engine back and stripped down after it’s allocated number of races you can see if reality matched your predictions and static test bed results and revise the software accordingly, perhaps sailing closer to the wind because the decision is now based on actual racing miles. The likes of Mercedes and Ferrari have a big advantage in this respect, several power units from testing now a reasonable way into their projected lifespan. It’s not an unfair advantage, they just happened to have made best use of the development time this time around and perhaps just a little bit of luck thrown in too.

          1. Thanks for that.

            I guess what surprises me is the notion that a few hours of human-driven miles can teach them about engine limits that they cannot learn from simulators thrashing engines 24/7. I can understand that human-driven race miles can help them refine their simulators, but I’m surprised that simulators can’t provide adequate info about engine limits.

            I do understand that as the season goes on they’ll know more about how close to the wind they can sail… I s’pose I expected simulators to teach them 99% of that before the season started… (shows how much I know…)

  2. Joe, dont u think Taffin optimistic a bit saying “ll be ok tonite” ?
    so doesnt seem renault ll ask for extension time

  3. Joe,

    If an engine manufacturer was permitted to make changes post-homologation, how would this impact the Power Unit quotas for impacted teams this season? As we know, the PUs are expected to average ~4 races each this season. If, for arguments sake, say Renault (or any of the other 2) were allowed and made changes after the first race in Melbourne and teams used the revised PU for round 2, would that just be a hit the teams would have to take writing off “mid-cycle” one of their allocation for the season or have the FIA allowed for any provisions for such circumstances?

  4. Hi Joe

    Before the 2009 season Renault were given special dispensation by the FIA to bring their engine in line with the other engine manufacturers.

    The Renault engine then went on to win 4 of the next 5 championships (would likely have been all 5 if not for Brawn’s clever diffuser).

    Was there a feeling on the grid that Renault gained an advantage when this dispensation was granted?

    If a similar dispensation is granted to Renault again then I’m certain Ferrari and Mercedes will be taking a close interest!

  5. I see it is now being reported that Renault has asked for an extention in the dealine and this is to be discussed at the F1 strategy group meeting today…

  6. Isn’t the issue with Renaults engine that it only breaks down when it goes quick?It seems capable of some distance in a Caterham. Maybe Red Bull should adopt their design.

  7. It seems madness to have an engine freeze in the first year at all. Let the engine manufacturers learn and develop in this year and then apply a blanket homologation from the end of this season or start of the next.
    With engines as different and as complex as these, only having a few days of running in actual cars, very close to the deadline of the homologation seems more than a little silly. In fact not just silly, downright stupid.
    If the deadline is extended (as seems sensible) then all engine manufacturers will benefit from it. Whilst Renault has the most to gain, they are fixing issues, rather than improving performance. These are very different things in engineering terms. I cannot imagine Mercedes or Ferrari not agreeing to an extension if it were to become available.
    I just wish the rule makers would back off and allow the teams and manufacturers go at it hammer and tongs. May the best team win.

    1. Agreed. I was amazed when I first heard about this, I thought these engines weren’t going to be homologated for a year or two, once everyone had settled into the new formula.

      They should extend the deadline until, say, 1st December 2014.

    2. “I cannot imagine Mercedes or Ferrari not agreeing to an extension if it were to become available.”

      I can. Resources invested into a project, in both time and money, offer diminishing returns. If Mercedes or Ferrari think they have the best engine then the most they can expect to achieve with more time is to improve slightly and have the competition improve a lot. Their engine might get better but they should expect the gap to their competitors to close rather than open.

  8. Do you think Renault’s problem is intentional, so that they can later change the engine specification due to “reliability problems” and get out on top, just like they did with the old V8 when that was homologated?

    Or is it really so that a big F1 engine manufacturer can screw up so reliable every time a new engine format is introduced due to competence problems?

  9. Looks like Renault are trying to extend the lock-down date by two months, much to the annoyance of the other engine manufacturers. Only reading a BBC update this morning, Not clear if they are going to get it.

    Weren’t they the ones that ‘demanded’ the new engine spec or they would leave the sport?

  10. Rather than actual physical changes to the power units, I suspect much of the power/reliability gains will be due to software upgrades. Is that subject to homologation too and if so do the FIA have someone with the requisite skills on board to regulate it effectively?

  11. Andrew Benson now reporting on BBC that Renault are asking for a two month moratorium.

    Yesterday he said everybody in the paddock expected the FIA to quietly permit performance improvements through 2014, even though the rules don’t allow it, if a team needed same in order to competitive – in the interests of the show.

    Earlier today, he said that Ecclestone and Todt had 12 votes on the strategy group to the teams’ 6, so anything they wanted could go through regardless of the views of the teams. Now he says there needs to be unanimity and apologises ‘for any confusion’ (I always laugh when people insert the word ‘any’, as if there might not be any, when in fact they were completely wrong).

    Of course he must be right on all these occasions, because otherwise the BBC wouldn’t publish his stuff, would they? Except that each version is different, errr.

    Difficult to see why Mercedes and Ferrari should agree to a moratorium. The deadline may be rather too early, but everybody has known about it for a long time.

    1. So they ask for a moratorium when what they really want is an extra 2 months *before* the moratorium on development begins?

      Is this double speak? Or a difference between British English and the USian version?

  12. Of course, double points for the last race would reduce the penalty for getting your act together late and 3 races with double points instead of 1 would reduce the penalty considerably. I wonder if Vettel is still so against the idea of double points?

  13. So can one team in the strategy group veto this or does the veto held by the FIA and/or Bernie veto the veto, as it were. I find this detail all very confusing.

    However it’s clear to me that Ferrari and Merc would be stupid not to veto any extension, surely. F1 won’t suffer if RB and Vettel are relegated to the midfield for a while and I’m sure they’ll bounce back. They benefited from a change in the F1 rules which knocked Ferrari and McLaren sideways and now that appears to be happening to them. It’s all swings and roundabouts.

    Or perhaps Ferrari and Merc would not veto the extension if Renault agreed to submit the engine modifications to all the teams for approval, thus gaining insight to valuable technical data. Could it work like this?

  14. Well I’m no wiser as to what going wrong with Renault PU’s, is it down to the PU itself or Red Bull and how they’er looking to utilise it..?

    If it’s down to Renault you’d have to ask how testing wasn’t highlighting whatever issues are now surfacing.

    But overall the opinion “JS: Why should they be given more time. They screwed up.” is surely the right whether it was RB or Renault.

  15. Got to be very worrying for Renault engined teams to hear the supplier asking for a 2 month extension.

    Even if the extension is allowed, 2 Months is 4 races and depending how often these things are gonna go pop when pushed, that could be 4 of their 5 allocated power units gone and 168 Championship points gone.

    1. There’s nothing to say that performance wise the power units in terms of power output won’t be equal. Just that some power units are further on with their development than others. but even given the same peak power and peak torque figures there’s so much extra complexity with these power units that there would never be parity.

      Personally I think we’re on for a really exciting and unpredictable season and this is what F1 should be about, pushing the envelope, making the drivers and teams work hard and progressing new technologies that will make road cars better tomorrow. Some of the best F1 seasons I’ve witnessed have had all these ingredients and I really can’t wait for Australia. The circus will most definitely be in town.

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