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Guest Post: Engine Limitations

August 15, 2010

As part of Viva F1’s blog swap shop, Maverick from the aforementioned site has dropped in with a sweet little post about the power and usage of engines in this years Formula 1 World Championship.

Several other posts have gone up to on various sites, including:

Meanwhile, I had time to throw a little something together for Pat Wotton at I Watch Too Much Racing about Giancarlo Baghetti: The Grand Débutante. For now, I’ll hand things over to Maverick.
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A Renault powerhouse. © http://www.formula1.com

“Engine Limitations”
The World Championship is currently finely balanced, all be it with Red Bull holding a performance advantage that they’re yet to really exploit to its fullest. On paper it currently looks like it should be a fight between Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel. Fernando Alonso should offer the most serious challenge with his team mate seemingly out of the equation and McLaren’s upgrades faltering in recent races. However, with the engine-examining circuits of Spa and Monza coming up, the intriguing prospect of Renault vs Ferrari vs Mercedes power-plant is thrown into the equation.

It’s All About Power…
The widely-accepted class leader amongst that trio is the Mercedes-Benz FO 108X, as Renault and Red Bull seem keen to keep reminding us. As Force India demonstrated last year, a low-drag package coupled with the Mercedes engine can make for a formidable combination around the two circuits. It may not be enough to offset the disadvantage that McLaren have suffered for the last two races (assuming the new front wing tests don’t achieve that for them) but by keeping them in touch in the standings it could provide sufficient breathing space for McLaren to catch up with Red Bull’s pace.

…As Long As You Don’t Exceed Your Limit
However, there is a more fundamental challenge facing teams regarding engines – the limit of eight engines per car across the whole season. Ferrari quickly rattled through their first engine, changing it in both cars after qualifying in the first race of the year, and were already on their third unit by Australia (full engine cycle details). Since then, the Spaniard has made each engine last three race weekends, a pattern that both McLaren drivers have replicated. The difference, however, is that in Hungary McLaren came to the end of engine 5’s three-race cycle meaning they have three engines to cover the remaining seven races, leaving Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button feeling relaxed. Alonso, on the other hand, has already used his 6th engine for the last two races and will need to continue the pattern of three races per engine. It’s potentially a tough ask with Spa and Monza to come, with Suzuka and Interlagos not doing them any favours. Certainly there is little room for problems if Alonso is to avoid a costly 10-place grid penalty for taking on a 9th engine.

At first glance, Vettel looks to be in a similar situation to Alonso although the picture may be more complicated than that as Red Bull have tended to change the engines more irregularly. That means that while Vettel switched to his 6th engine two races ago, there may be enough life still left in a previous unit for another race, possibly the relatively benign conditions of Singapore or Abu Dhabi. Indeed, he didn’t necessarily even use his 6th engine at Hungary as he could have switched back to an older one. On the other hand, the more frequent changes of engine could also point to a more deep-rooted problem in the Red Bull and it’s notable that Vettel struggled to stay within the eight engine limit last year too.

That said, on the other side of the garage, Webber is at least one race better off than Vettel and if it does come down to a battle between the Red Bull pairing, being able to risk running the engine a bit harder may just hand the Australian enough of an advantage in the coming months.

So in summary, possible sources of worry for Alonso, envy for Vettel and optimism for McLaren.

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8 Comments
  1. The restriction certainly adds another strategic dimension to the championship, and it is fascinating seeing how the teams play it. But.. I’m not sure I want the title decided on engine-change penalties.

    • Leigh O'Gorman permalink

      Aye – an extra bummer considering how fas both Suzuka and Interlagos.
      Maybe it’s a way for Red Bull to engineer Webber out of the Championship by giving him his 9th and 10th engines late on?
      😉

  2. Oh, here I am 🙂

    • What you doing here?

      Interesting analysis as always Mav. I’d have to think that it’s going to be a McLaren WDC this year, the engine is just so reliable and as you point out, these have stock in hand. That has to be a winning combination.

  3. Steven Roy permalink

    I had lost track of the engine situation so I really appreciated this post.

    The other thing which may affect the championship outcome is the new tests on the flexible front wings. Maybe RBR and Ferrari won’t be as fast and McLaren will gain on them as a result.

  4. Interesting but it is very difficult to have a REAL clear view on the situation without knowing exactly how many qauli+races and FP1-2-3 each engine has done.
    I mean that in the pool of engines used you can pickup an engine for friday and another one on saturday that will be used for quali and race. working this way you can somewhat keep the milage relatively low for race engines (fp1+2+3 are more or less equal to Q1+Q2+Q3+race). On top of that breaking an engine during FP doesn’t have much consequences, and far less than during the race anyway….
    … but this is an information we do not have….

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