The 2017 Italian Grand Prix served to highlight once again that current Formula 1 regulations around grid penalties for exceeding…
Away from incredible on track performances this season, recent Formula One news has been increasingly fixated by the prospect of ‘divorce’ between Honda and McLaren, with a number of respected outlets and leading pundits suggesting the separation is already all but finalised.
Whilst frustrations around the on track performance of the McLaren Honda partnership are plainly visible for all to see, with senior representatives from McLaren doing little to calm stories, one key factor appears to have been forgotten. The FIA Sporting Regulations.
Within the FIA Formula One World Championship Sporting Regulations, all power unit manufacturers are required to submit a list of teams they will supply in the following season by May 15th. Under this regulation both Honda and Mercedes have already informed the FIA of the teams which will be using their power units for 2018
“No power unit may be used in a given Championship season unless the Power Unit Manufacturer supplying such power unit accepts and adheres to the following conditions.
Each of the Power Unit Manufacturers of an homologated power unit must :
i) provide the FIA, before 15 May (or such other date as agreed in writing between all the Power Unit Manufacturers and the FIA) of the season preceding that in which such power units are to be supplied, with the list of teams (clearly identifying the appointed “works/factory” team, if any) to which a supply agreement has been concluded for the given Championship season ;
ii) if called upon to do so by the FIA before 1 June (or such other date as agreed in writing between all the Power Unit Manufacturers and the FIA) of the season preceding that in which such power units were to be supplied:
T = 111-A/B-C
– A = Total number of teams (including “works/factory” teams) having a supply agreement concluded for the given Championship season with a New Power Unit Manufacturer.
– B = Total number of manufacturers of homologated Power Units for the given Championship season.
– C = Total number of New Power Unit Manufacturers for the given Championship season.
provided that if the result contains a fraction then the fraction shall count as a full team (e.g. 11 teams divided by 4 manufacturers = 2.75, each manufacturer must, if called upon to do so by the FIA, supply at least 3 teams).”
Earlier today, confirmation was sought from both Mercedes and Honda as to the contents of the lists provided to the FIA in accordance with this regulation.
Honda stated their list submitted to the FIA documents Power Unit supply intentions for both Mclaren and Sauber. Mercedes confirmed their submission to the FIA references three teams, Force India, Williams, and the factory Mercedes team.
No provision is made within the Sporting Regulations around deviation from this commitment. With both Honda and Mercedes having stated intentions around 2018 it seems highly unlikely any change is planned or possible without the consent of all teams participating in the championship.
The 2017 Russian Grand Prix looks set to be the race in which Scuderia Ferrari cement their status as the dominant force in the World Championship. Having won two of the first three races of the season, the Scuderia’s pace was unquestionable yet many felt AMG Mercedes Petronas still held an ultimate performance advantage.
However with Ferrari having locked out the front row in qualifying for the first time since 2008 at a circuit which Mercedes have dominated in recent years, it is becoming clear that the boys in red have overtaken the silver arrows in terms of out and out pace. Since the introduction of the current power unit regulations, ignoring a few erroneous races, Mercedes have been the dominant force. The team has adopted an approach in which only an inter team battle is considered as a threat. In so doing, in a bid to ensure equality amongst drivers, race strategies have been safe and mirrored on both sides of the garage.
With a genuine threat from Ferrari for the overall 2017 World Constructors Championship clear, has the time come for this to change? At this point in the season Mercedes and Ferrari are the only team capable of challenging for race wins. Red Bull Racing being the next closest team were 1.8 seconds of the pole lap time in Russia. In this situation the challenging team, in this case Mercedes have two choices; acknowledging the lack overall race pace, they could take adopt the same approach as Ferrari in qualifying and the race, with the hope that driver skill or mistakes will elevate performances, or they could switch to an aggressive strategy, splitting their drivers tyres compound section in the hope of interfering with Ferrari.
For Mercedes to maximise an interference strategy the team should have sent either or both Hamilton and Bottas out into Q2 on Super Soft tyre compounds, with Ferrari qualifying on Ultras softs. This move would have safely taken them through the session and allowed them to run much longer in the first stint of today’s race. In electing not to do this Mercedes opportunity to interfere with Ferrari today will be limited to a strong start, or adopting a two stop approach over the expected one stop norm.
Moving forward, in order for Mercedes to challenge for their 4th successive constructors championship they must adapt to the new norm and consider irregular approaches to race strategy. Simple accepting, ‘the second row was a the best we could expect’ is not good enough from a championship winning team.
On the eve of the 2017 F1 season McLaren Honda head into the third year of their partnership with little cause for optimism. Despite the FIA’s removal of the Power Unit development token system which previously limited manufacturers ability to modify / redesign technology, Honda solutions seemingly remain at odds with the F1 Hybrid era.
2017 pre-season testing saw Honda introduce an entirely new Power Unit, a fully integrated unit developed around the MCL32. In a bid to improve performance and resolve drivability issues which plagued the 2015 / 16 design, Honda engineers have taken inspiration from the solutions seen with their immediate competitors. This approach, in the short term at least, appears to have failed. McLaren have reported extensive issues with vibrations within the power unit limiting any ability to push for out right performance. Neither team nor engine manufacturer have been able to validate design concepts through pre-season testing and have minimal expectations around the team’s ability to complete a race distance let alone score points in the opening races of the 2017 season.
The situation is unsatisfactory for all parties involved.
In recent days it has emerged McLaren may have made preliminary enquiries towards Mercedes around future power unit supply, some media outlets going as far to suggest a mid season switch could be possible. The reality of this is highly unlikely, both from a commerical and technical perspective the strategy defies logic and any form of long term thinking.
McLaren maintain an ambition to compete for and win world championships. Using Williams Martini Racing as a prime example, despite access to the dominant power unit for the past three seasons, customer status with Mercedes limits their ability to challenge. This should not be the strategy McLaren seek or accept. It may resolve short term frustrations with partners, but it will not deliver world championships.
Instead McLaren may need to seek an alternative solution. It is understood Honda support the team and power unit development to the tune of $100 million per season. On the recommendation of McLaren, Honda could look to redirect this finance to a third party. The third party in question being Cosworth.
When the Hybrid F1 regulations were originally outlined in 2010, Cosworth, similar to Mercedes, dedicated significant resource to develop a new power unit for the sport. The intention had been for Volkswagen to badge the Cosworth power unit, however as the implementation of the new regulations grew nearer VW reneged on their F1 ambitions. This left Cosworth with a concept power unit 4 years in the making but no manufacturer budget to bring the power unit to the grid.
Cosworth have stated in previous years that with budget the power unit they developed could be on the grid within 6 months. They remain confident that the solutions they engineered would be competitive. In theory it would be possible for the Cosworth power unit to become the 2018 Honda F1 Power Unit. It is fair to say there would be a certain amount of pride to overcome between all parties involved, but ensuring future competitiveness may ease the short term pain.
To those who see the suggestion of Honda badged Cosworth Power Unit as the future of the McLaren Honda relationship as far fetched, take a look at the companies house registry for the list of directors at Cosworth. Top of this list you will find Mr Zak Brown, Executive Director of the McLaren Technology Group.
Ahead of the 2017 F1 season former team owner turned pundit Eddie Jordan has suggested he would his response to Lewis Hamilton’s decision to back up Nico Rosberg in the final race of the 2016 season in a bid to secure his 4th World Championship would not have been as forgiving as that of Toto Wolff and the Daimler management board.
Never one to shy away from a headline, in this 2017 preview for Mobil One’s The Grid, Jordan comments on the departure of his good friend Bernie and the new start of a new era with Liberty Media.
Despite questioning Lewis’ approach to 2016, suggesting his lost focus, Jordan predicts he will be the favourite going into 2017. On Bottas, Jordan suggests 3-4 wins could be possible but questions his ability to push Lewis through the season.
In amongst new driver announcements, car launch dates, eRacing, and calender shuffling, the eagle eyed motorsport fan may have noticed a small but significant change in the name above the door of the current Formula One Constructors Champions over the Christmas period.
Since January 1st 2017, the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team has been re-branded Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport. In contacting the team the rationale for the change was explained as a move to harmonise the team with the overall strategic direction of the business. The team went on to explain the change does not necessarily indicate plans for the Brackley based team to expand into other categories, but that the team would not rule out this happening at some point in the future.
With a notice of intent offered to Formula E having been made by the Mercedes Grand Prix in 2016, in effect granting them first refusal on the final team slot in the championship, the harmonisation of Mercedes Motorsport branding could signal team preparations to enter the championship. Another factor to consider could be the rumoured budget cap set to be implemented across Formula One. Mercedes Grand Prix employ over 1200 staff, the salary bill alone could exceed the budget for running a team in future. Diversification of the team into other racing categories would serve to increase Mercedes brand awareness and maintain it’s commitment to the motorsport industry in the UK.
Mercedes’ positions in DTM & GT racing, logically, could also be housed under a single Motorsport entity, possibly located in the UK.
Formula E is in a great place. With Jaguar joining the championship, Audi scaling up their involvement, BMW committing to the category and Mercedes taking up a placeholder position, OEMS are falling over themselves to get their place on the grid. The same can be said for host cities, in only 3 seasons Alejandro Agag has secured events in locations Formula One have spent decades trying to get on their calendar. The Championship is growing beyond anyone’s expectations.
The success of Formula E is due in part to the mentality of cost control placed upon teams and organisers. Through staggering development cycles of components teams are not in a position to throw money at a problem to find a solution, instead they are forced to find creative solutions to move up the grid. The result Is exceptionally close racing in which more than half the grid are genuinely capable of winning races on their day. However, the Formula E development cycle could be about to cause the championship a serious headache.
I have followed Formula E since day one of the championship. I have been fortunate enough to attend a number of races and spend time with a variety of people in and around the sport. I am a huge supporter of the championship and the racing, although I have to be honest until attending racing there was always one element of Formula E that I couldn’t get my head around. That was mid race car swapping. Why would a championship designed to promote electric vehicle (EV) technology build prospective EV buyers greatest anxiety, battery range, into the race? For a time, it seemed that OEMS shared the same concerns and to give credit to Formula E, they had a plan. From Season 5, battery technology will be upgraded and the need for a mid race car change will be removed. It is exactly this evolution of technology that has seen BMW commit to the championship.
— Jon Wilde | JWGP (@jonnywilde) November 12, 2016
However, I’m not convinced this is the best direction for the sport. As mentioned until attending a race I was a sceptic of the mid race car change. Why not have two shorter races? It wasn’t until spending time at the London ePrix last season with a group of lifestyle journalists and corporate management that I saw the value of the car change. In explaining how the breakdown of a Formula E race, the most thrilling element of the race without any question was the car change. Witnessing drivers jump from one car to another bought the race to life and gave a very human perspective to the spectacle. It became the talking point of the day and the lynch pin of subsequent questions around the championship. The championship had me and many others converted!
So what happens in Season 5? In theory the range of Formula E batteries will be increased to remove the need for each driver to require two cars to complete a race distance. In theory we could see a lights to flag race with no interruptions. Is this the right direction? Speaking to drivers and team managers at the Marrakesh ePrix last month few seem convinced. Formula E races with no concerns over battery life and range and no need for pit stops could become quite mundane and processional. Drivers talk of their enjoyment of having a unique challenge mid race. A new element of their racing to finesse. Do we realy want to loose this?
No doubt Formula E organisers are more than aware of this and have already started to evaluate how they can change the way in which the championship goes racing to maintain the thrill and strategic element to an ePrix. To help them out along the way I’ve mapped out a few options for them to build into the equation:
Tyre change pitstop: A relatively logical and simple way to maintain the strategic element of ePrix in the post car change era would be to introduce mandatory pitstops for tyre changes. However, Michelin (the control Formula E tyre supplier) have commented in the past that their strategy around motorsport engagement is to showcase durability. They would not want to develop degrading tyres to artificially impact the race. Moreover, pitstops require additional equipment and manpower from the teams. Any savings generated through the removal of a second car would be negated. Formula E is an environmentally conscious sport; tyre changes could be seen to promote a message of waste.
Joker Laps: A seen in World Rally Cross (WRX), introducing the concept of a secondary element to a circuit layout which when taken will increase lap times by a number of seconds. Drivers could be mandated to take a certain number of joker laps during a race, introducing a dynamic element of strategy. Recently crowned WRX champion Mattias Ekström has passionately advocated their introduction in other series commenting “In F1, if you see how close many races were and it’s difficult to follow, if you have a joker lap someone has to do at a certain time, you can also time it different to get free air for a couple of laps, and that time you can launch your attack,”
Of course concerns around open wheel single seaters returning to a racing line from another point on track at full speed would have to be addressed, but Joker Laps would certainly add an interesting element to future Formula E events.
Dynamic induction charging: Qualcomm are a founding partner of Formula E. They work with the championship in the development of new technologies fit for the evolving automotive industry, one such technology is the Halo system. Halo is an induction charging plate currently used by the championship BMW i Safety and Medical cars. The charging plate removes the need to plug an EV into a charging point. This technology will be launched on road going cars in the coming 18 months. The next phase of this technology is to replicate the induction charging technology whilst a vehicle is in motion. Formula E, could look to introduce dynamic charging strips of 100-200 metres around elements of a circuit off the racing line in which drivers could pick up a power boost. Qualcomm have the technology to facilitate this kind of development. It would require additional investment and require extended periods of preparation time at ePrix circuits, but such a move would push Formula E further towards the pinnacle of motorsport technology. An accolade I am sure they are keen to achieve!
So where to next? Formula E is riding a crest of success. The Championship will have it’s work cut out in the coming years to balance the growing demands of a number of OEM’s all of whom expect to win, and the expectations of fans and sponsors to be entertained. Formula E should see the removal of mid race car changes as an opportunity to throw another element of change into racing. They’ve convinced the sceptic once; I trust they will do the same again!
In the weeks preceding Nico Rosberg being crowned 2016 Formula One World Champion and subsequently announcing his retirement from the sport, former Moto GP champion and future Ducati rider had the opportunity to sample the Mercedes AMG Petronas W05 around the Silverstone International Circuit.
The experience, arranged through mutual sponsor Monster Energy, was a dream come true for the Spaniard who became only the forth Moto GP champion to sample Formula One machinery.
With every man, woman, and child seemingly replying to this advert from Mercedes:
Lorenzo can at least now tick “any previous experience” box!
With the shock announcement from 2016 Formula One World Champion Nico Rosberg’s retirement last Friday, almost every driver on the grid has been named as a possible replacement for the German. Nico’s decision came as a surprise not only to media and fans of the sport, but to his employers and rivals on the grid. Had there been an inkling from anyone that Nico may have taken this decision the contractual status of a number of leading drivers may be looking very different at this point in the season.
The Mercedes board will be keen to install a replacement driver as soon as possible to minimise the impact on the teams 2017 campaign and maximise driver acclimatisation. That being said, should Mercedes opt for a driver currently under contract with another team it is highly unlikely they will be able to work with said driver until the new year.
From an ease of transition perspective Mercedes could opt for one of their junior drivers in Ocon or Wehrlein. Whilst kind on the cheque book and simplest to implement, Mercedes require a driver capable of performing from at the very top level from the word go, it is undeniable the potential of both drivers is without question, but it would be a risk to place them with the team from the beginning of 2017.
Realistically, this leaves Mercedes with little option than to approach drivers with existing agreements for season ahead. Toto Wolff has intimated he is reluctant to poach drivers from Ferrari or Mclaren, acknowledging the damage this could cause to future team relations in the lead up to strategy group negotiations with Liberty Media over the coming 36 months. This in theory removes Sebastian, Kimi, and Fernando from the equation. Whilst Toto did not explicitly rule out either of the Red Bull Racing drivers, it is highly unlikely either would be released from what are understood to be long term contracts.
This has left many to suggest Bottas has the most likely candidate for the seat. He is part managed by Toto Wolff and with Williams working in close collaboration with Mercedes a deal in theory could be easy to achieve. I see this to be quite unlikely. 2016 was somewhat of an underwhelming season for both Bottas and Williams. If the cliché of ‘you are only as good as your last race / season’ were to be applied. Bottas is not hot property and should not be regarded as the next best option.
Taking all of this into consideration I believe the best placed driver on the grid to replace Nico Rosberg for 2017 is Sergio Pérez. With 101 points, and 2 podium finishes in 2016 Sergio Pérez was the best performing non works Mercedes driver. He lead the Force India team to their most successful year in history, finishing 4th in the constructors championship scoring points in 16 events over the season. From a pure performance perspective Sergio Pérez has to be regarded as a genuine contender for the seat.
Over and above on track performance, Pérez is highly attractive from a commerical perspective. Mexico is a hugely important market for Mercedes, the car maker is looking to double car sales in the country by 2020. Having a national hero behind the wheel of a Silver Arrows would support this strategy. Beyond this Sergio Pérez brings his own sponsors to a team. Mercedes are not a team struggling for budget, but opening doors to the Slim family (Telmex Group) will be more than welcome.
Of course Sergio recently signed a one year extension with Force India which in theory locks the Mexican in to the team until 2018, however were Mercedes to offer the services of Wehrlein alongside a discounted Power Unit I am sure an agreement could be found.
Sergio Pérez is a changed driver from the man who replaced Lewis Hamilton at Mclaren in 2013. He has proved his consistency and ability to work with a team during his time with Force India. He deserves another opportunity with a top team. He is the most logical option for Mercedes.
Would it prove to be a threat to Lewis Hamilton? Only time will tell. His has a unique ability to manage tyres and with the huge shift in regulations coming for 2017 this attribute could prove invaluable. At this time Sergio Pérez’s management have declined to comment on the possibility of such a move, but there should be no doubt they will be evaluating any opportunity should it arise.