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Right or wrong? FIA backtrack allows Honda same development rights as other F1 manufacturers

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Right or wrong? FIA backtrack allows Honda same development rights as other F1 manufacturers
Jan 18, 2015, 10:28 AM

One of the most awkward situations in recent F1 governance took a further twist this weekend with the revelation that the FIA's Charlie Whiting has...

One of the most awkward situations in recent F1 governance took a further twist this weekend with the revelation that the FIA's Charlie Whiting has backtracked on his original edicts and will allow new manufacturer Honda the same rights to develop its engine during this season as the other three manufacturers in F1.

This follows lobbying from Honda at the start of the week, after they were originally told that they would have to homologate an engine by February 28th, while the other manufacturers would be allowed to work on 32 areas of the engine (using a token for each on developed) during the year.

The new ruling means that Honda will be given an average of the tokens remaining among the other three manufacturers once the season has started.

So is it fair and was there any other way to manage a situation which is unbelievable complicated and which once again drags F1 into portraying itself as a sport where the key players bicker over obscure technical issues?

F1 engine bosses

The Original decision on Honda

When accepting that the wording of the rules on homologation meant that there was no specific date given in 2015 by which engines needed to be homologated, Whiting said he accepted that the engine homologation loophole existed and added that it would not be "fair and equitable" for a new manufacturer to be allowed the same freedoms in 2015 as those who had been in for a year,

"As the existing manufacturers were obliged to homologate their power units by 28 February 2014 it would seem fair and equitable to ask a new manufacturer to homologate their power unit before February 28 2015," he wrote to the teams.

"We therefore consider this to be a requirement for a new power unit manufacturer."

However Honda will have pointed out at their meeting on Monday some salient points to Whiting; that they are obliged to come straight in and make four engines per driver last for 20 races, whereas the others had the luxury of five engines for 19 races last year. Another consideration is that from 2015 to 2016 the number of tokens decreases from 32 to 25, so they would be disadvantaged there as well relative to the opposition, from year one or participation to year two.

That said, these were the rules to which they signed up in the first place.

Honda has several advantages accruing from coming in a year late: it has been able to avoid many of the mistakes of engine architecture made by Renault and Ferrari and it has been able to see the strengths of the benchmark engine, the Mercedes and learn from them. It also has the huge advantage of knowing what the benchmark is; the other three manufactures were shooting in the dark during 2012 and 2013 as they readied their engines for the start of the 2014 season.

Some engineers feel that the decision to allow Honda the same tokens for 2015 means that they have had a double development period in their first season, which was denied to the other three.

Others argue that it sends out all the wrong signals if a new manufacturer, attracted by the brave new world of the FIA's hybrid turbo engine rules, has to pay expensive engineers to sit on the sidelines unable to improve the engine in its debut season.

Charlie Whiting

The backtrack

This weekend a new letter has gone out to teams from Whiting's office saying that the FIA has changed it's mind on what is "fair and equitable" as far as Honda is concerned,

"As each of the four 2015 manufacturers will have an homologated power unit at the start of the season, we believe it would be fair to ensure that each of them enjoys equal opportunities for upgrades during the season," he writes.

"We will therefore allow the new manufacturer to use the same number of tokens that the other three manufacturers have available to them, taken as an average of the three.

"For example, if the three 2014 manufacturers have eight, seven and five unused tokens respectively at the start of the season, then the new manufacturer will be allowed to use six during the season (the average rounded down to the nearest whole number)."

There are a number of factors at work here, but perhaps the most surprising one is that it has taken until now for the federation to realise that the signal it sent out with its original blow to Honda was pretty negative to other prospective new manufacturers, hardly an incentive to rush to invest in the new hybrid F1 technology.

This technology and the message it sends out is very important to FIA president Jean Todt and his team, quite rightly and it was very awkward that the return of Honda, the world's largest engine maker, should be tinged with such a snub from the federation whose new rules had attracted the Japanese giant back in the first place.

Screen Shot 2015-01-03 at 17.17.00

What happens next?

Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne described the development loophole as a "victory", but this is certainly a victory for Honda and for McLaren. If they have a good engine - and remember we still don't know anything about its potential other than it struggled massively in testing at Abu Dhabi - then they could have a pretty strong 2015. They could certainly be a threat to Ferrari, who had a poor engine in 2014 and an average chassis.

The way F1 works, everyone needs to be seen to have a win out of a situation - Renault and Ferrari had one from the original loophole, Honda has had one here and Mercedes will be wondering what it can extract from this situation to its advantage.

All of this is coming late in the day; the new cars run for the first time in two weeks in Spain and the start of the new season is just eight weeks away. There will be build plans in process and these will need to be redrawn. But Honda's other big advantage here is that it is only supplying one team, so it can be far more responsive than a manufacturer like Mercedes that has to bring in eight engines (two for each of its four teams) whenever it uses up fresh tokens.

Is the FIA backtrack on Honda fair?
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Series Formula 1
Tags innovation