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Keeping track - Long-life components cause an obsessive fan a headache

Published by Christine

Last year, a driver was only supposed to use one engine for two races. If his engine blew up and he needed a fresh one, a penalty was imposed. Personally, I found it quite hard to keep up with this. Was the driver on his first or second race with his engine? Would he be forced to back off in the closing stages, coasting to a points finish? Was he more or less likely to break down this time around? Is it a penalty, or did the problem occur in transit?

I tried to keep a record, but in the end, I didn’t feel it mattered that much. At the beginning of every race, ITV commentator James Allen would explain the ruling to us anyway, point out anyone affected, and Martin Brundle would pick up on those who were managing their engines.

This year, however, it’s all gone a little bit crazy. Now we have to keep an eye on the engine and the gearbox. We need to remember who is going back ten places and who only five. We need to count two rounds for the engines and four for the gearboxes. And worst of all, the first engine breakdown is a freebie, no penalty at all.

The FIA say they will monitor the first engine breakdown and make sure it is a genuine failure. I don’t see why. If a team wanted to waste their freebie on switching an engine just because they feel like it, that’s their choice. When one does break down, they’ll wish they hadn’t.

The point of my discussion here, however, is to decide how best to monitor this silly situation. To a certain degree we can still rely on commentators, but I’m in a position this year where I need to know.

I’ve been thinking about how to track the long-life components for a week or so now, and the best I can come up with is a spreadsheet. Drivers names down one column, races across the top. Each race has a column for the engine and one for the gearbox.



My high-tech plan for the season is to scribble a number one for the first race for each component, then a two for the next one (three’s and four’s as needed). I know, it’s quite ingenious, isn’t it? The FIA would never be able to think up anything quite so innovative.

Sarcasm over though, this is yet another layer of added complication for the casual fans, especially the new ones. It takes a certain level of dedication to devise a chart and religiously keep it up to date. You see it with football fanatics all the time. But the new or fickle armchair motorsport supporter isn’t going to be able to keep track of who is where and what they’re doing and more importantly why the fastest guy in Saturday's qualifying is starting from P16 because he blew his engine and gearbox on his in-lap.

Long life components are fine for the purpose of keeping costs down, and reducing the sport’s environmental footprint. But the other side of the coin is the risk of alienating current fans and increasing barriers to entry for newcomers.