Plans for the future of F1's engine formula were unveiled at a summit in Paris last week, attended by the sport's governing body, the FIA, F1's owners, Liberty Media, and "current and potential Formula 1 manufacturers".
Although the roadmap outlined contains a commitment to maintaining the road relevancy of F1's power units, an intention of increasing the sound and reducing the cost of the sport's engines has also been confirmed.
This is particularly interesting as Liberty have always emphasised how difficult it has been to maintain a good fan-organiser relationship (just look at the FA and how badly they run football in the UK). Now though, it seems like they have listened, at least a little.
Engine regulation changes summarised
- The 2021 power unit to be a 1.6 Litre, V6 Turbo Hybrid
- 3000 rpm higher engine running speed range to improve the sound
- Removal of the MGU-H
- More powerful MGU-K with focus on manual driver deployment in races, together with option to save up energy over several laps to give drivers a controlled tactical element to racing
The current MGU-H, the piece of kit that recovers heat energy from the turbo, is set to be removed for numerous reasons. Less of the engine's sound will be absorbed, meaning that the battery will receive a reduced flow of recovered energy. The knock on effect of this is that the engines will be far less thermally efficient.
This is offset however, through subtle changes to the way the car revs. Currently, the fuel is strangled at a higher rev range meaning the cars simply cannot create the kinds of noises we are used to hearing from F1. In order to fix this and answer the pleas of fans since 2014, Liberty plan to increase the amount of fuel flowing to the car at higher rev ranges.
With increased flow, the power will shift further up the rev range and drivers will have to rev the engine harder to get the power. Again, this will increase noise levels, but also potentially force a change of driving styles to favour older drivers such as Hamilton and Vettel who are both well accustomed to higher revving cars.
With the MGU-H deleted, all that remains to recover the energy will be the MGU-K, the device that captures braking energy and converts it into electrical energy that's fed to the battery. The electrical energy deployment will no longer be automatic, but controlled by the driver, taking it back to how it was when we last had MGU-K only (KERS) earlier this decade. One crucial change to KERS though is the amount of energy drivers can save over multiple laps.
Imagine this scenario: You're a Force India taking a risky one stop to preserve a vital fifth place. Your tyres are dropping off and there's a looming figure of a Red Bull in the mirrors. In theory, the Red Bull should breeze past down the straight, but if properly tactically managed the Force India may hold off the Red Bull for longer than it may normally.
The implications of this are potentially massive. Manufacturers may develop their own signature way of deploying the energy, sparking battery wars between the teams to find the best solution to the fine balance they now have regarding heat management, reliability and peak performance. Could drivers save up multiple laps of energy over multiple out laps in qualifying to have a stellar one-shot qualifying situation in Q3?
Another major change is the design of a prescriptive "plug and play" feel to the engine/chassis/transmission components. Currently, both time and money are wasted in replacing parts to comply with the strict engine guidelines. However, if cost and design could be reduced so that the parts are far easier to install and remove for a fraction of the price, more units could be used during a season and this could do away with the engine penalty saga that seems to have dogged F1 in recent seasons.
The final proposed change came from potential manufacturer Porsche.
With Porsche reportedly already having an F1 engine research programme underway, there has been talk of having electric motors on each front wheel.
This would make the cars four-wheel-drive, and would mean Porsche would be able to carry over this concept from its WEC technology. There have been objections to this idea from other engine manufacturers and teams, however, and it remains unclear if this is will actually be proposed. However, this idea will likely be rejected as soon as somebody important sees sense.
How did the teams react?
Ferrari were the first to comment saying they would quit the sport, which totally doesn't seem like an over-reaction to proposed engine changes. However, it is likely leverage they can use over the FIA along with the other teams to mould the specifications more to the teams' liking further down the line.
The question is, should a team still be able to do this, especially in the new era of Liberty Media?
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff was the only other to comment, sitting firmly on the fence, however he expressed reservations regarding dual development of engine parts between 2018-2020.
No doubt we will be hearing more and more about these proposals in the upcoming weeks, as surely this will be a topic that will debated for a long time to come as the future of the sport is hammered out.
What do you make of the proposed engine changes and what would you like to see in the regulations to spice up the racing? Let us know in the comments below.