A deeper look into the 'standard engine'

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Against all odds, the FIA have recently launched a tender to attract firms for the design of a standard engine or transmission for Formula One from 2010 until 2012. Although the teams are not happy with the idea, what is it that the FIA is actually looking for in a standard engine?

It is no secret that the FIA is looking for an engine formula that can greatly reduce the production and development costs for F1 engines in the future. One such ideas is the standard engine, a formula in which one supplier would design the engines. All teams would then be able to either buy the designs and build the engine themselves or simply buy them.

While the FOTA is still discussing, the FIA have already launched their request for suppliers, putting pressure on the teams while at the same time get an idea of what would be possible. The request includes: "the FIA can take any decision from the tender that it deems to be in the interest of the sport".

At this time, it is not clear how the engine configuration will look like, but it is evident that the interested parties are granted unknown liberty within only a few limitations.

The tender states: "Engines may be of any capacity or configuration, with or without forced induction, provided that the power output is 500kW (+/- 50kW) and provided that the power curve is suitable for racing. Engine power degradation should be consistent as between individual units to within +/- 0.75% (or some similar percentage to be specified by the tenderer) at all times in the engine’s expected lifetime. Tenderers should give indications in their tenders of the anticipated life of their engine."

Interestingly, the FIA still allows naturally aspirated engines, an idea that doesn't seem to match the green racing campaign that was recently launched. It is expected though that a naturally aspirated engine might be better suited for the requested "power curve suitable for racing". Eventually though this may come in second place to the green image of Formula One in the future.

The resulting engine must however be able to produce in between 603hp and 737hp, a value lower than what current engines are able to put out. One must however consider that KERS will be expanded after 2009, allowing more power storage and output. Of course, the new engines must be designed to work with this year's introduced standard engine control unit, commonly known as SECU.

"Engines shall have an access point at the front for input from a Kinetic Energy Recovery System, which input should be assumed to be at approximately two times engine speed", indicating how a KERS system in 2009 is likely to work, as the FIA is clearly steering away from any costly technical challenges. There is however room for another system, as one of the transmission requirements note: "If by 31 December 2008 any team intending to compete in the Championship so requests, the gearbox must incorporate provision for the input of drive from a KERS system."

A final technical requirement for the engine states that the maximum weight of an engine is 100kg, including all of the engine's components.

Any tenderer is also allowed to propose a transmission design, either as a single project or along with its proposal of a standard engine.

"The technical specification of the gear-change mechanism is to be proposed by the tenderer, save that the unit to be provided: (i) should be in keeping with Formula One’s high-technology image; (ii) should accomplish gear-shift within 50ms; (iii) should have no more than 15 available ratios with two variants of final drive ratio."

Again, quite some liberty is granted to the designer, although it is required "its dimensions should not differ significantly from those of transmission systems to be used in 2009 Formula One cars." Any transmission should also be designed for 6000km racing, equal to approximately 7 Grand Prix in the current format.

A complete transmission should also not weigh more than 50kg, including the new to be introduced adaptor plates. Such plates will be designed such that "a reasonable variety of suspension mounting points can be achieved". Again, hereby it is clear that F1's governing body wants more standardisation. Where teams are now completely free to design their suspensions as they like, it looks likely that the possible mounting points will be limited in the future.

In accordance with the tender process, any submission must be made by 7 November and a decision on the supplier will be made no later than 28 November. By that time, FOTA will have a lot to discuss attempting to satisfy the FIA with their own proposals if they try to hold of the much debated "standard engine" formula.