Red Bull has raised the possibility of Formula 1 freezing its engine specification at the end of next year.
The team, and its sister outfit AlphaTauri, will be without an engine supplier when Honda withdraws at the end of the 2021 F1 season. They are exploring the possibility of acquiring Honda’s engine and continuing to run them, but want to avoid the high cost of development.
A freeze would allow Red Bull to do that – and could also save their rivals money. But would it lock others into a disadvantage?
Formula 1 has frozen its engine specification before, notably in the latter years of the V8s when development was restricted. This came after the existing power unit regulations had been in place for several years, during which time the teams’ performance had converged. This created a reasonably level playing field, at least in terms of engine performance, by F1 standards.
It also reduced their costs, a move which many might now welcome again. Without the move, F1 could risk losing Red Bull and AlphaTauri if they decide against pursuing Renault or Ferrari engines (Mercedes having ruled out the possibility of supplying any).
Freezing the power unit regulations would lock in the advantages and disadvantages some teams currently enjoy. Mercedes has moved a clear step ahead of the competition, while Ferrari have gone backwards and are lagging well behind.
It’s hard to imagine this changing drastically within 12 months, and Ferrari accepting a rules change which could leave them well off the pace for several seasons. At least until new power unit rules arrive, which is currently slated for 2026. With a move to synthetic fuels planned before then, a freeze would also compromise the sport’s drive to become greener.
I’m not wildly fond of the idea of a power unit specification freeze, but the idea makes sense at least in principle. The current rules have had several years to mature and, given the economic conditions, pausing development and concentrating on the next generation of technology makes a lot of sense.
But the argument driving this move puts me off it. Red Bull do not need to go down the route of taking over Honda’s engines – even if they can’t agree terms with an engine manufacturer, there are rules in place compelling one of them to provide units.
Red bull may be mortified at the thought of crawling back to Renault, who power units they vehemently criticised following the problems they suffered in 2014-15. But F1 can’t make a rules change of this magnitude just so one team can save face.
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