Fabrice Lom, FIA Head of Powertrain has shed light on how the FIA and the teams have agreed on trying to get the power unit to converge to a similar power level in the next few years. In a meeting held at Barcelona, he explained a power unit index will be created for each engine to measure relative performance.
The global agreement regarding power units that was agreed a few weeks ago includes a number of changes to the power unit regulations for the period 2017 to 2020. This "power unit package", as the FIA refers to it, is the result of negotiations started in November, with a mandate from the Strategy Group to take on four major elements. The first one was reduction in price for the teams. The second one was obligation to supply. Then third one was help performance convergence, and the fourth one was to improve the sound.
As such, it was agreed to reduce the annual power unit price in exchange for a further reduction in the amount of new power unit elements that can be used during the season.
"For the reduction in price for the teams, we first worked to reduce the cost, because we cannot ask the power unit manufacturers to reduce price without reducing cost. So to reduce the cost, firstly in ’17 we will go down to four power units per driver per season, instead of five today, whatever the number of grands prix. And in ’18 we will go down – and this is a big task for them – we will go down to three ICE, plus turbo, plus MGU-H and only two energy stores, control electronics and MGU-K. So it’s nearly 50% less parts, so it should reduce the cost by a nice amount."
The FIA will also mandate standard sensors to further add to the cost reduction.
Secondly, a system was put in place to ensure teams will have an engine, enabling the FIA to assign a supplier to a team that has no contract in place. At the moment of such a request, the FIA will pick the power unit manufacturer with the least customer teams, even though a system is built in to protect new suppliers - following persistence of McLaren and Ron Dennis that they wanted Honda to continue as a sole supplier.
"This was a big part of the discussion because we also don’t want people to be able to play with that and to change from one power unit to another from one year to another in order to have the best one. So there is a quite complex system in place, but the basic [premise] is that if you are a team with no offer, so nobody is offering you a power unit, you can ask the FIA to have one and there is a system of ballots. So we will take the power unit that has the smallest number of customers. If there is only one, this will be the one that will be required to give the power unit. If there is more than one there will be a ballot between the two to decide which one will supply, and there is a low price of €12m from ’18 for this supply."
This new system also enables new teams to enter into Formula One without an agreement on a power unit supply, as they will be able to rely on the FIA to arrange for a supply.
The fourth item, enhancing the sound, has not been finalised yet, so details about a possible 'sound enhancer' are still unavailable.
That leaves us with item 3, namely the aim to see the power unit's performance converge. After suggestions of ditching the hybrid elements were ditched because convergence would best be enabled by stability in the regulations, it was agreed to scrap the current token system, so that each manufacturer would be more free in updating and upgrading their power units.
Next up, the technical regulations have been amended to introduce minimum weight and dimensions on some elements of the power unit, to introduce hard limits on the developments on these components.
"For example we put limits on the crankshaft dimensions, on the weights of some parts, so we are sure that there are limits on the development on these items. These limits were put where the best one is today, so that people know the target and also allow us to stop the best ones to develop more, to go lighter or smaller, so that we put something like a bit of a barrier to development.
"In addition to this we put limits on the boost temperature, so they cannot develop too much their cooling. Pressure, we don’t touch it because it really at the core. We have a limitation on fuel flow and the boost pressure is free.
"There's also a bit of packaging on the energy store and control electronics to avoid having to redo all the energy store to help the chassis performance."
However, as this would still not guarantee a "rapid" convergence, Lom has now clarified how the FIA will approach this matter.
"So clearly the package is to help convergence. We are not mandating convergence; there is no prescribed convergence. So we just put measure that should help convergence.
"Naturally the convergence will come with the stability of regulation and we try to speed up the convergence by having these measures but there is no prescribed convergence."
Charlie Whiting, also present at the meeting, was similarly confident that the newly introduced limits would speed up convergence, as is natural as the leaders find enhancements under stable regulations more and more difficult. As such, explained Lom, a system was devised to measure power unit differences during the first three races of each season, after which regulation changes may be implemented for the next season.
"We have a process agreed with the power unit manufacturers. So we don’t look at lap times, we have tools to simulate everything so we can calculate the performance of the power unit itself on each car and we transform this in a power index. You have this hybrid system and an engine and you cannot only talk about horsepower, so it is translated into a power index. We check every car, every lap of these first three races. We take the best of each power unit for each race and each PU manufacturer, then we do the average over the three races. This should give a power index of performance for each power unit manufacturer. This is an index. Then we have a translation of this index into lap time on the Barcelona lap.
"We will report these results to the Strategy Group, and the action is a decision of the Strategy Group. We will check this in the first three races which is a timing that is before the deadline to make a change at the majority for the following year. So we would be able – the Strategy Group, the Commission, the governance – should be able to do a change for the following year."