F1 team principals revealed that teams running older power units have no other reason than commercial and financial constraints for opting against the latest engine specification. Despite to the possibly better reliability, older engines mean only hindrance because of the rapid development of powertrains.
F1’s governing body FIA has intended to reach performance convergence between engine manufacturers and fair treatment for customer teams.
Performance convergence was needed because of Mercedes’ seemingly never-ending domination. FIA put a package of measures in place for 2017 and 2018 which should speed up the process of performance convergence. This included constraints on materials, diameters and pressures of different powertrain components.
Fair treatment has been also a hot topic because customer teams constantly complained about the high prices of power units. FIA managed to cut the costs down with a revised engine regulation which was presented earlier this year. It urges engine manufacturers to sell their products “one million euros less than the price charged in 2016,” states the 2017 sporting regulation.
FIA also intended to develop equality between works and costumer teams which means engine manufacturers are obliged to give the latest developments introduced by their works team to their customer teams in the first race when the costumer squad introduces a new powertrain component. It will be vital from 2017 when in-season development will be freed up with the abrogation of the much-debated token-system.
However, those aspirations after equality has already been cut short with Sauber’s announcement that the team would use Ferrari’s 2016 powertrain in 2017. Despite to the fact, that is goes compelety against FIA’s wish for engine equality, the governing body permitted the Swiss team to use the one-year old power unit as it also allowed the Faenza-based Toro Rosso this year to use the 2015-specification power unit of Ferrari.
Sauber claimed that the reason behind the move is that the proven power unit allows the team to completely focus on the chassis as it knows the assembly and installation of this year’s power unit well and therefore Ferrari’s late changes on the power unit during the intense development war won’t have any impact on the integration for them.
However, team principals admit that using older engines can only bring disadvantages especially as further development and fine-tuning of the power unit go ahead.
“I don’t know all the reasons and background stories why Sauber decided to go with this year’s engine. I wouldn’t like to be in this situation because it’s a big disadvantage on the performance side to run with last year’s engine,” said Toro Rosso team boss Franz Tost.
The Austrian, however, is delighted with FIA’s allowance to let teams use older engines because it helps financially less strong squads.
“From the regulation side, I think it should be kept open because a one year old engine is most-often cheaper than the newest specification. Therefore the regulation should allow it. From the performance side the team anyway is disadvantaged,” Tost added.
Force India’s deputy team principal Robert Fernley backs the wish for the same engine specification for works and customer teams, but he can understand the reasons why some teams are forced to give up competitive advantage.
“I think I’d like to see one tier of engines mainly because it keeps everybody very competitive – but you have to probably look at the reasons individual teams have had to go down those routes. Only those teams can give you the answers on there.”
“We have issues in Formula One in terms of obviously the distribution of payments and things like that. Some of it can be financial, some of it’s performance-based, some of it’s availability-based. I think you have to look at the whole thing – but if we could move forward on a better programme it would be much better if all the engines were current,” concluded Fernley.