MARCH 27, 2006

F1 - the pinnacle of technology?

The FIA has given details of a meeting that took place on Friday at Maranello with Cosworth, Ferrari and Renault.

The FIA has given details of a meeting that took place on Friday at Maranello with Cosworth, Ferrari and Renault. The purpose of the meeting was to formulate proposals to modify and extend the new (2008) rules for engine homologation so as to encourage research into engine efficiency and the more effective use of available energy. It was agreed that engines will be homologated for five years but that each year there can be modifications if details are given to the FIA before January 1 of the year in question. Complete new engines must be shown to the FIA before February 1. There are elements which can be changed including ports, combustion chamber shape, valve size, shape, and angle, the piston crown (although the weight of the piston must remain the same, as must piston ring position and compression height), camshaft profiles and valve actuation kinematics, intake manifolds, injector nozzles (but not injector actuator), spark plugs and changes to the cylinder head consequential upon and limited to those resulting from the above.

This sounds fine but it is worth noting that changes to the engine will be limited "to those that the FIA is satisfied are carried out and necessary for cost reduction or reliability. No modification will be permitted which, in the opinion of the FIA, may result in a performance gain". However this stipulation is not as concrete as it sounds and it would be applied in a "fair and equitable" fashion. This legal terminology effectively means that performance can be negotiated with the FIA and has presumably been included in the rules to make sure that the federation is covered against any legal claims about restrictive practices.

This means that engine manufacturers who are lagging behind the others should be allowed to catch up but not get ahead.

This all sounds rather complicated but in effect the FIA is trying to limit engine development so that everyone has the same horsepower. Whether this is a good idea is another matter as some would argue that cars with the same horsepower tend to circulate around behind one another.

The other question is a philosophical one, based on the fact that in the FIA survey last year the respondents voted overwhelmingly (80%) that it is advanced technology that sets F1 apart from the other forms of motor sport. With common ECUs, frozen engines, standard tyres and gearboxes that must last for four races, one might argue that it is getting to the point at which technology is now being completed suffocated by the rule-makers.