Teams downplay engine freeze impact

RenaultLeading team chiefs and technical directors have downplayed the significance of the current engine freeze following speculation that some teams have been able to benefit more than others under the regulations.

Formula One is currently operating under an engine ‘freeze’ from 2008-12 and the teams are only allowed to develop their power plants on the grounds of reliability or cost-saving, by making a special public submission to the FIA.

Controversy surrounding the regulations first kicked off when Flavio Briatore and Fernando Alonso suggested that Renault had lost out by not exploiting this loophole as well as the other manufactures.

Valencia’s European Grand Prix also threw up talk of an increasing gap between the teams after Ferrari and their engine customers Toro Rosso held a significant advantage in the speed traps.

Speaking in Spa-Francorchamps – another ‘power track’ where engine grunt is likely to play a significant factor – representatives from Ferrari, McLaren, Honda and Toyota have dismissed the idea that the regulations are open to exploitation.

“We trust the fact that the FIA, as you know, has a sample of the engine that they can check every time they want, so in that respect there is this kind of comparison that you can do every time,” said Ferrari Team Principal Stefano Domenicali.

“That’s the situation. Even if the nature of this sport is to try to work on the area that you can work on and implement changes, that’s part of what everyone is doing and what we can do.”

“It would be very detrimental for the teams if some are cheating in this area because it would be a disaster for anyone who did that. So I’m positive on that.”

McLaren CEO Martin Whitmarsh concurred: “There is some scope for changes where there are reliability and costs factors but that’s in a very public way. I don’t sense within the sport at the moment a lot of concern about this issue.”

However, while there is consensus about the robustness of the regulations, the teams have acknowledged that variation and spread does exist by virtue of the difficulty in implementing a ‘freeze’ when performance is stable across the teams.

This comes down to an issue of which manufactures were able to develop their engines better in the run-up to the freeze argues Whitmarsh:

“Inevitably, when you have some stability in this area, there is speculation as to who has got the best engine and who’s got the worst engine and therefore some people can grow concerned about that.

“I think there was a period in which the engine manufacturers were allowed to tune their engines legitimately and I think some of the manufacturers applied more effort in that final very legitimate development phase than others, but that’s just speculation. I’m sure there is a spread across the engines.”

Honda’s esteemed technical director Ross Brawn, who is currently leading the teams’ Technical Working Group to submit cost-cutting proposals to the FIA for next year, also agrees that this is a potential area for discrepancy.

“The only thing that’s a little bit difficult is that if we freeze a design or we homologate a design or we standardise a design, it’s because we see perhaps there’s very little performance differential between the teams and we can afford to freeze it.”

“It would be unfair to freeze something where you then build in a performance advantage for the teams that may have an advantage for the period that it’s frozen and I think that’s where this speculation has started from because some teams perceive that other teams have more power and there’s nothing that we can do about it.”

Brawn reckons that much of the current controversy about variation exists because teams have lost out in other areas of development and are now blaming the engine homologation.

“When the engines were frozen, at that stage there was a perception that everyone was at a pretty similar level. I didn’t hear any disquiet when that process was suggested.

“There is some disquiet now, as you know, so either things changed between when it was decided to freeze them and they were actually frozen, or people are just uncomfortable now because they are not competitive enough.

“We’ve really moved the engine out of the equation now, there’s no development going on with the engine. It’s a bracket between the chassis and the gearbox now. We can’t do anything with it. But of course if one team does have an advantage there’s nothing you can do about it.”