News and views on motorsports

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

5 Year Homologation

In a press release by the FIA, a number of decisions were reached by the FIA in consultation with Ferrari (of course!), Renault and Cosworth regarding the 2008 engine regulations. Particularly, on the subject of homologation. Thinking again, the headlines of a few days ago were a little sensationalist. 3 Year Engine Freeze cried a lot of websites.... and that includes me I hate to admit.

However, as I said in a later article, the idea of homologation isn't as bad as it sounds. First off, engine power and safety. Back in the 1980s, the 1.5 litre BMW turbo engine produced some 1270bhp in qualy trim. Porsche never built a qualy special TAG turbo but according to them if they did it'd have done 1500 bhp without blinking an eye. Eye popping power but I think many believed it was just too plain dangerous especially given the sort of power delivery.

Then came the era of the 3.5 litre normally aspirated engines. Again, power outputs began creeping up again. That lasted until 1994, then after that for a long time till this year the 3.0 litre engine. Power outputs again began knocking on the door of 1000 bhp. Again deemed to dangerous (and whatever other reasons), it was agreed to limit the power again.

The pattern is clear. Whenever power outputs rise, there will be calls to reduce that power again. This in turn leads to enormously expensive changes in engine configuration. So, why not simply peg power (and engine designs) to a certain level for the next few years? Homologation works in other forms of racing, so why not Formula 1? As I said in my previous article, if modifications are allowed based upon the homologated power unit (rather than introducing a new engine every year) then it is actually a great idea for cost reduction.

According to the FIA press release, the engine makers are allowed to modify the engines in a number of specified areas. What still gets to me is that only modifications to reduce costs and/or improve reliability is allowed. Modifications to increase power outputs are still not permitted. However, it does mean that modifications to the egg shell like Mercedes engines will be allowed so they won't go exploding every race weekend for 5 years, so long as the FIA are satisfied that the modifications do not lead to an increased level of performance. Although argues teams may still be able to increase performance to match the level of other engines. However, once all these engines are performing at similar levels I should think that they'll freeze power outputs. I wonder if you could submit a super powerful V8 in June to be homologated for 2008 and then slowly but surely resubmit engines from then till 2008 that build upon reliability. Probably not.

To be fair, the FIA will need to measure power outputs to ensure that everyone is competing "fairly and equitably." Are they going to start putting engines on dynos before the race? Whatever it is, I think if we're going to have all these cost reducing homologation then perhaps they should have ditched the unpopular two race engine rules. I mean, even a 15kg penalty for each engine failure is still a penalty and in a sport where every gramme counts 15kg is a lot. Penalizing drivers for a engine makers faux pas is unfair. Same goes for the gearbox regulations.

The FIA should allow modifications to increase power. Unless they do, its still against the spirit of Formula 1. Sure there must be limits to the development. And for sure, costs need to be cut for I firmly believe that privateers must survive. However, the act of reaching for greater power and performance (even from a limited or homologated base) should be allowed. That is the essence of racing, whether you're a Saturday night street racer, a karter or Cosworth. Not allowing power developments is simply wrong.

Finally, I think homologation is a good idea but 5 bloody years? Thats just too bloody long. As for the question of the technology allowed in Formula 1 for that homologation period, its still too bloody restrictive. No variable trumpets, no variable valve timing? Ridiculous.

And by technology, I do mean racing technology or the science of going as quick as possible on a road course. Racing is racing. Going to work and picking up the kids from school as economically and safely as possible is everyday motoring. Lets not confuse the issue by mixing them up and trying to make the former relevant to the latter. The spirit of racing has always meant you made a two fingered salute to mundane everyday compromises and concentrated on going as fast as you can with whatever technology that allowed you to do so. That means dropping things like hybrids, alternative fuels, biofuels et al as some (including the FIA) have advocated.

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