Sidepodcast - All for F1 and F1 for all

Thursday Thoughts - Is engine parity necessary for 2010? - Delving deeper into the F1 regulations, as engines take priority

Published by Mr. C

This week's question for Thursday Thoughts was posed by Maverick of Pitlane Fanatic, and relates to comments made by Christian Horner of Red Bull Racing earlier this week. Initially I thought the answer was simple and that this might be a very short post, but maybe there's more to it than that?

Horner suggested on Tuesday that his team were holding back on renewing the contract with existing engine partner Renault, until the outcome of meeting between members of the Formula One Commission next week, was understood. Specifically the topic of interest is engine parity and the team boss is adamant that a means of equalising engine performance within the sport should be found.

Which brings us to this week's question: Is engine parity necessary for 2010?

Nothing left to win

I completely understand Christian's stance, and although I don't for one second think he'll ink an engine deal with anyone other than Renault, I am glad he's brought the issue to the public's attention. Ever since the idea of engine homologation was first suggested by the FIA, Christine and I have been dead set against it. Sport at it's most basic level is about competition and standardising any part of that competition, for whatever reason, rarely serves to benefit the sport or those that compete.

Right now engine manufacturers are exiting the sport left, right and center. There may be a number of factors that have instigated such a mass exodus, but can it be entirely coincidental that the one engine manufacturer bucking this trend and investing heavily in Formula 1, is the one who also happens to have built the most competitive engine? The same engine that recently took both the drivers and constructors championships?

In a recent article Auto Motor und Sport noted that this year the Toyota engine was approximately 18hp down on the Mercedes. That equates to a couple of tenths a lap. In the past Toyota could have worked harder, invested more heavily or innovated in unique ways to claw back some of that deficit, but in the midst of an engine freeze their hands are tied.

Power of goodbye

I have long argued that one of the primary reasons Honda quit this sport is because they knew their homologated engine was a complete lemon. I suspect company culture prevented those involved from openly admitting such a thing, and bailing out of the sport altogether was the lesser evil. Could Brawn have achieved what they did this year under Honda power? I very much doubt it. That engine regularly failed in hot temperatures, which was exactly where the Brawn chassis and tyre combination worked its magic.

Who's to say further tweaking will fair any better?

I believe FIA engine homologation contributed to the demise of Honda. I strongly suspect it had a bearing on Toyota's decision to quit too, while BMW's legendary power advantage just a few years back was likely curtailed by the same restrictions. Add to that mix the spectre of a non-competitive tyre supplier, and the F1 development race exists solely in the domain of the aerodynamics and chassis department. Imagine working in the wind tunnel and being told you first have to claw back a 3/10ths of a second engine deficit before you start, what hope do you really have?

None of this of course answers the initial question, and in part that's because any form of agreed engine parity will simply be a sticky plaster over the gaping homologation wound. Last year Renault were allowed minor engine upgrades for exactly this reason, but clearly they didn't have the desired effect despite all teams agreeing that they would. Who's to say further tweaking will fair any better?

In years gone by, a poor engine would likely cost you a season. In the modern era, you can wipe out five or more and if that's the case you may as well walk away. Parity may offer some small respite, so kudos to Christian for trying, but I suspect exactly the same question will come up again this time next year.