December 10, 2007 Last Friday, at the World Motor Sport Council in Monaco, the FIA, which governs Formula One racing, made a decision to immediately freeze engine development for the next 10 years. Unbelievably, the engine each F1 team presents and homologates by the end of next March will be the engine that team races until 2017 – and the billions of Euros normally spent on engine development will be channeled into peripheral systems. The FIA sees development outside the engine, such as with Kinetic Energy Recovery, as a far more valuable contribution to road car development than spending money on squeezing another 1000rpm and 30 horsepower out of an engine that's already spinning three times as fast as the one in your family sedan.
It might seem incongruous for a sport that's traditionally been regarded as the foremost crucible for engine development to suddenly slap a ban on it, but the FIA's decision to freeze engine development for the next 10 years has actually been taken with both Formula One's competitive sport and its responsibility to road car development in mind.
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Interviewed in the FIA's "Paddock" Magazine, FIA President Max Mosely made the fairly staggering statement that "the F1 racing engine is now fully developed. That is to say, there's nothing more you can do to an F1 engine that will enhance F1, make the competition better, or bring any benefit at all.
"What you’re trying to do in F1 is have a racing engine that sounds terrific and produces a lot of power. That’s already at odds with road car engines. Once the F1 engines went past about 9000rpm, they were starting to lose the road car connection. Last year they were up to 19,000rpm and, if we hadn’t stopped it, by now they could have been at about 22,000rpm. Completely irrelevant to the road. Just an utterly pointless engineering exercise."
Formula One teams until now have been spending upwards of a hundred million Euros each every year tweaking engine components for minor horsepower gains that are completely irrelevant outside the white lines of a racetrack. Mosely sees this kind of expenditure as extremely wasteful – in his view, Formula One's role at the pinnacle of world racing is to accelerate technical developments that can quickly be adapted for the benefit of consumer cars - like Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems, which store energy from braking and engine heat and return it to the wheels under acceleration.
The cost-saving nature of the move has widespread backing from the boards of the companies running Formula One teams, if not from the teams themselves.
"Two or three years ago, BMW’s F1 engine budget was greater than the entire dividend they paid to their shareholders," said Mosely, "Sooner or later, the main board was going to stop that. What has always happened is that the head of racing goes to the CEO, and tells him he needs more money to compete with the Japanese. And his Japanese counterpart is doing exactly the same. And the choice for the poor CEOs is to pay up or shut down the F1 programs. So far, fortunately for us, they’ve continued to pay up.
"If the regulator can tell them that the rules are going to be changed in such a way that no one watching will notice the slightest difference, but the costs will drop dramatically, and what money is spent will go on technology that’s directly relevant to their main businesses, then the CEOs tend to listen. And unless they think you’re a complete idiot, they’re going to go with you."