F1 could review engine rules if big gap remains

The FIA could ask F1’s Strategy Group for a rethink of the sport’s engine rules if the gap in performance between manufacturers does not close up sufficiently by the start of 2017.

Convergence between the current engines is one of four areas addressed by a recent agreement between the manufacturers over future regulations. The FIA hopes to bridge the gap between the existing engines after Mercedes’ domination of the formula has continued into a third season this year. The governing body is believed to be targeting performance convergence so that no engine offers an advantage of more than three tenths of a second around a lap of the Circuit de Catalunya.

FIA Head of Powertrain Fabrice Lom explained the process the sport’s governing body will go through at the start of next season to decide whether or not the gap is small enough. The FIA will wait until the deadline for the ratification of the regulations (April 30 in 2016, February 28 in 2017) before assessing whether or not action needs to be taken to fix the gap between the power units.

“There is no prescribed [convergence gap] but we will measure it at the beginning of each season,” Lom said on Friday in Spain. “If it is considered to not be at the level that we expected to be, we will come back to the Strategy Group and just report and then what happens will be the decision of the Strategy Group, totally in accordance to the F1 governance we have today.”

The gap will not be assessed by pure lap times or horsepower but with a performance index agreed upon by the manufacturers.

“We have a process agreed with the manufacturers so we don’t look at lap times … we have tools so we can calculate performance of the power unit itself on each car in a power index, because you have this hybrid system and you have an engine, you cannot only talk about horsepower.

“So it’s an index and we check every car, every lap of racing of these first three races, we take the best of each power unit of each race and we do the average that should give a power unit index of performance for each manufacturer. Then we have this translation of this index in lap time at the Barcelona track, so we transform this index in lap time and check the difference in lap time on the Barcelona track.”

With Mercedes likely to be the benchmark for any power convergence, Lom admits the FIA will be powerless to prevent the world champions “sandbagging” — in other words holding back performance and then unleashing more after the deadline has passed.

“So clearly the package is to help convergence, we are not mandating convergence. There is no prescribed convergence so we just put measures that should help convergence. Naturally the convergence will come with the stability of regulation and we try to speed up the convergence by having these measures but there is no prescribed convergence at all.”