The FIA and LibertyF1 are digging themselves into a hole over their attempts to reduce F1 powerplant development and running costs.
The current generation of F1 powerplants are extremely complex, comprising 6 component sets:
Internal Combustion Engine (ICE)
Motor Generator Unit – Heat (MGU-H)
Motor Generator Unit – Kinetic (MGU-K)
Energy Store (ES)
Control Electronics (CE)
Over the last several seasons, the FIA has been reducing the allowed number of sets that any powerplant supplier can use in a season without penalty. In the 2017 season, powerplant suppliers were allowed to use four of each of the six components during the course of a season without incurring penalties. If any car used more than 4 of each component type, penalties were imposed.
Meeting the reliability and life requirements for the component sets proved challenging in 2017 for powerplant suppliers. Honda, in particular, essentially debugged and tested their entire new-specification powerplant in public, chewing through 11 MGU-H units, 9 ICEs…the penalties were enormous. Renault also had numerous reliability issues, especially towards the end of the season when they seemed to deliberately run down their stock of spare components, which led to a public row with Toro Rosso, who at one point suggested that Renault was deliberately supplying them with end-of-life components in order to make it possible for the Renault works team to leapfrog them in the Constructors championship and gain more revenues from the F1 prize pool.
The practical target mileage for an entire powerplant package in 2018 is to be able to run for 7 race weekends – 3 free practice sessions, qualifying (which uses higher-power modes and is harder on the powerplant) and the race. This is reckoned to be around 750kms at nearly all race weekends. That is around 5300 kms for 7 races.
As a comparison, the Porsche 919 that won last year’s Le Man 24 Hours race travelled a total distance of 5000 kms in the race…
So…the ask for F1 powerplants is now for them to be as long-lived and reliable as a Le Mans LMP1 powerplant. Requiring that a 2-hour race powerplant be as reliable as a 24 hours endurance powerplant seems to be a mismatch of expectations vs. function.
Mario Ilien, who should know a wee bit about F1 engine and powerplant design and support, said this in July 2017:
…Next year, having three engines is more expensive than producing four engines.
All the new parts you are developing have to go through testing on the dyno, to make sure you have achieved the mileage for three engines a year. And that is expensive.
I think even four is not enough. We’re half way through this season, and half the field has got a problem.
Well, today, Cyril Abetiboul of Renault effectively admitted that Renault may actually formulate a powerplant usage strategy for its works team based on accepting that they cannot survive on only 3 sets of powerplant components. He appeared to be hinting strongly that Renault may decide to use more than 3 sets of components, and work out how to accept the penalties at the most advantageous points in the season. This is a pretty strong indication that at least one powerplant supplier is not prepared to stick to the 3 component set limit if it feels that exceeding it will allow it to provide a more powerful powerplant package.