Analysis: Much ado about F1 engines, as drivers' title battle lacks drama
Ferrari's decision to incur a grid penalty for both drivers in Austin, due to a change of engines, makes it even more likely that Lewis Hamilton wi...
Ferrari's decision to incur a grid penalty for both drivers in Austin, due to a change of engines, makes it even more likely that Lewis Hamilton will clinch the title on Sunday. In comparison with previous years the title battle at this stage of the season lacks drama, but there is plenty going on behind the scenes with engines taking centre stage at the moment.
Efforts continue to get a competitive engine supply for Red Bull for next year, with a deal with Renault the most likely option; Bernie Ecclestone is still negotiating prize money with Renault for its return as a team owner and within that negotiation there is a deal to be done for Renault to bite the bullet and continue to supply Red Bull, thereby keeping two teams in F1.
Meanwhile among the manufactures and teams, discussions continue with regard to freeing up development, so that everyone can raise the pace of development and close the gap on Mercedes as quickly as possible; the show needs it.
We posted at the weekend that following the engine manufacturers' meeting in Geneva last Friday, it was looking as though Ferrari was set to use its veto against the proposal to cap the price of engine supply at €12m for new engines and €8m for year old units.
That situation is likely to escalate, as it's quite a big deal for Ferrari to invoke its right of veto over rule changes. Especially with feelings running high about the amount of power and influence the main manufacturers have over the sport since the switch to hybrid turbos in 2014.
This move from Ferrari also comes at an interesting time, as the EU competition commission is weighing up a complaint from Sauber and Force India about anti-competitive practices in the sport. Although this is primarily focussed on the uneven distribution of prize money among teams, the timing of a privileged competitor being able to exercise a veto right over the rules might cause a few raised eyebrows in Brussels.
Interestingly the new engines Ferrari is taking this weekend are not the rumoured 'development' units with a view to 2016, with a narrower base and a new gearbox. They are the same specification as the units introduced in Monza. Ferrari's plan this year was to get to this specification as quickly as possible and that meant pulling forward the introduction of the various steps along the way, with Bahrain being the entry point for the second engine. This meant taking a penalty at this stage for the fifth engine for each driver. But they will have maximum power for the remaining four races.
Ferrari went to great lengths last season to avoid taking a penalty for a new engine; with Fernando Alonso leaving the team, they were content to run very small mileages in practice at the later events and not be seen to have needed a penalty during the inaugural year of the hybrid turbo engines, unlike Renault.
Meanwhile Renault has made available an updated engine this weekend for its customers Red Bull Racing and Toro Rosso, but it's looking increasingly unlikely that either team will use it, as the performance gain does not offset the grid penalties that a new engine would bring.
"It's available if we want to use it, that would mean a penalty though," said Daniel Ricciardo. "We've got to understand if it is worth it. Last I heard it is not massive.
"My understanding is it is probably not worth taking.
"If we start from the back I don't think we'll make up the ground we would need. Right now we are less likely to take it.
"Hopefully today they'll tell me the difference and we'll find a bigger chunk of horsepower from it, but realistically it's not going to be worth a lot."
Renault needed to be seen to be trying to develop, as the other teams have done this year, using "tokens". In the event that their dispute with Red Bull were to end up in court, it would not look good to have failed to take advantage of the rules allowing updates.
Beyond that, it will be interesting to see what development programme has been going on with regards to the 2016 engine at Viry Chatillon, given the ongoing problems and uncertainty around the Red Bull relationship and the acquisition of Lotus.
To compete in 2016 and make the kind of step Ferrari made on the power unit from 2014 to 2015 would require a massive investment and a new approach, as Ferrari undertook last season. Has Renault made a similar investment for 2016?Honda meanwhile has one updated engine available for Fernando Alonso, the unit the Spaniard tested in Friday practice in Sochi and Jenson Button will get his own example at the next round in Mexico. It will be easy to compare the two this weekend - if we get ant dry running - to see what kind of performance step the new engine brings.
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