The proposed rules for engines in formula 1 from 2008 will be a massive change to the sport.
The rules suggest that the teams will enter a single engine design for 2008, 2009 and 2010 this year. And that they will use the same designed engine for that entire period. The idea is that engine development is damaging the sport as it is so incredibly expensive, it’s rather boring to most people and it reduces overtaking (as the cars get faster they can stick to the ground more which means you have to lift less and most overtaking happens when cars are slowing down not speeding up).
The FIA think this is also the right time to go for the rule change because coming, as it does, only a year after the change to V8s it means the engines are closer together than they usually are.
Well so far no argument from me. It is expensive, they are close together, it does reduce overtaking and it is kind of boring. This last point is the one that most commentators have focused on. They say things like Formula 1 needs to be at the forefront of design and innovation and that this change and they are almost saying “if we don’t have this forefront thing then we’re no better than GP2 and they even have overtaking over there”. Actually nobody will remember that the engines are the same unless the commentator says things like “you have to remember Martin that these guys are driving using old fashioned engines designed two weeks / two months / two years ago” every race for the next three years. Although we know he will.
There are actually three genuine problems with this rule:
The first is of reliability. We know that the although the small speed differentials between current engines will be beaten over the next three years by aerodynamics and so doesn’t really matter. But a) reliability doesn’t work like that, nothing can change it if the engine design is locked down, b) reliability is more important to the overall championship campaign than raw pace and c) the reliability is the part of engine design that is already the most divergent. Even amongst the fastest teams there are massive variations in reliability already.
The second is of costs. While engine costs are extremely expensive this rule change isn’t going to make a difference to that at all. What are the teams going to do with their engine designers over the course of the three years. Fire them? What will they do in three years when they need new engines? I think they will end up spending the money on future development and also on other parts of the car development thus saving nothing.
The third is of what happens next. This is the most troubling part of the plan as far as I can tell. One of the main defences of how it is going to be possible to do this is that the engines are very close together right now. The only way to really keep engine development costs low would be to not change the regulations again, and give the teams three years to come up with their next engine. The problem with that theory is that the engines would be wildly different with three years of closed room development (nobody gets to see what the competion is doing out on the track) and by the time people realise they are wildly different the engines will be locked down and they won’t be able to change things. In fact the only way to stop this is to make a sudden sweeping engine rule change a short period before the new engines are required and hope that everyone ends up on the same playing field. And even then there would be no way of knowing if the next 3 years were going to be a fair and close competition. If they do try and fake it with a sudden rule change then it will make engine development even more expensive than it is now making a mockery of the whole process.
So yes I think engine homologation is a bad idea. But not for the wishy-washy reasons most people seem to be suggesting.