Formula 1 Embarrasses Itself with Honda, Engine-Freeze Farce

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistJanuary 19, 2015

WOKING, ENGLAND- DECEMBER 10: In this handout photo provided by McLaren-Honda, Ron Dennis (R), Chairman & Chief Executive Officer, McLaren and Yasuhisa Arai, Senior Managing Officer, Honda R&D Co Ltd; Chief Officer of Motorsport, Honda pose as McLaren-Honda announce its new driver line-up for 2015 on December 10, 2014 in Woking, England. (Photo by Steven Tee /McLaren-Honda via Getty Images)
Handout/Getty Images

For all the flak that Formula One's new V6 turbo power units have received over the last 12 months, they do have at least one key positive.

Sure, they might not sound as ferocious as the previous V8 engines—and, indeed, as exhilarating as the V10s before them—and all the talk of motor generator units, energy stores and fuel-saving may not be everyone's idea of pure racing, but they promise to make F1 far richer.

Not richer from the financial side of things, you see, but from a sporting point of view, simply by attracting more car manufacturers to the grid.

Over the course of 2014, a host of big names from the world of motoring were rumoured to be considering a move into F1.

BBC Sport's Andrew Benson, for instance, reported that the Volkswagen Group were making tentative steps toward an entry, while Auto Express' Michael Taylor wrote that one of VW's leading brands, Audi, were willing to abandon their hugely successful Le Mans and touring car programs to join the grid in 2016.

Audi have enjoyed considerable success at Le Mans over the years.
Audi have enjoyed considerable success at Le Mans over the years.Andrew Hone/Getty Images
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At the height of the Audi-related speculation, Wolfgang Ullrich, the boss of the manufacturer, was forced to deny to Autosport's Gary Watkins that he had captured the signature of Fernando Alonso, the two-time world champion, to race at Le Mans in 2015 before spearheading the team's return to grand prix racing the following year.

Alonso, of course, ultimately joined McLaren, who from this year will be powered by the dreams of Honda.

The Japanese company—despite showing no hesitation when withdrawing from the sport in December of 2008 due to the global financial crisis and a lack of on-track success—have highlighted just how attractive the new-look Formula One really is for manufacturers.

Their deal with McLaren, rekindling one of the most successful engine-chassis partnerships in F1 history, was announced as long ago as May of 2013, when there was still a great deal of uncertainty over just how the new regulations would play out. 

Indeed, it is unlikely that even Mercedes' pace-setting new engine had been fired up in the factory for the first time at the point of the McLaren-Honda announcement.

In choosing to defer their on-track return until 2015—rather than bursting out of the blocks alongside their fellow engine producers last year—Honda had opted to dedicate an extra 12 months to development to ensure that their comeback is a successful one. McLaren even produced an interim car to conduct some early running with the new power unit at the end of 2014.

Clearly, much planning and effort has gone into the return of an organisation that was feared to be gone for good on that shuddering winter's day in '08.

How typical it was of F1, then, to lure the might of Honda back to the sport only then to irritate them from the outset.

The discovery of a loophole in the regulations concerning the homologation of engines, as reported by Autosport's Jonathan Noble, permitted the 2014 manufacturers—Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault—to develop their power units during the 2015 season.

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 27:  Fernando Alonso of Spain and Ferrari, Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP and Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Infiniti Red Bull Racing drive during the Hungarian Formula One Grand Prix at Hungaroring on July 27,
Lars Baron/Getty Images

This was because, as Noble reports, Ferrari technical director James Allison noticed a fault in the wording of the sporting rules (Appendix 4), which ordered the companies to submit their engines to the FIA by Feb. 28 2014, but contained no set deadlines for the following seasons.

Upon learning of Allison's finding, the FIA could presumably have ordered him to pipe down, stop nitpicking and adhere to the spirit of the regulations.

JEREZ DE LA FRONTERA, SPAIN - JANUARY 29:  James Allison the Chassis Technical Director of Ferrari is seen during day two of Formula One Winter Testing at the Circuito de Jerez on January 29, 2014 in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/G
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

But because its sport risked being dominated by the same team for the remainder of the decade if the engine rules remained static, the governing body had to conclude that relaxing the restrictions was, as Noble quoted an FIA spokesman, the "most logical and robust" option.

It was an extremely poor display of governance and the FIA's solution to one problem only served to create another.

Shizuo Kambayashi/Associated Press

In only allowing last year's manufacturers to develop their engines, F1 immediately and unnecessarily alienated Honda, who were faced with losing significant ground to their rivals despite the absence of a specified homologation date for 2015.

Presumably using the exact argument that Allison put forward to the benefit of Ferrari and Renault, Honda left the FIA with no option but to bend the rules once more.

Charlie Whiting, the F1 race director—as reported by Noble in a separate Autosport article—wrote to the teams in a document which stated: "As each of the four 2015 manufacturers will have an homologated power unit at the start of the season, we believe it would be fair to ensure that each of them enjoys equal opportunities for upgrades during the season."

SOCHI, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 10:  (L-R) FIA Race Director Charlie Whiting, FIA President Jean Todt and Chief Medical Officer Jean-Charles Piette attend a FIA press briefing regarding the Japanese Grand Prix after practice ahead of the Russian Formula One Grand
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

With the possible exception of Mercedes, there will be few within Formula One who will not welcome the decision to relax the engine homologation rules. 

The freedom that will come with the power units being developed in-season should bunch up the field and result in more competitive racing both from year to year and in each individual campaign.

Yet the cack-handed fashion in which F1 got there—to the point where the governing body seemed to be actively looking for flaws in its own rulebook on two different occasions within a matter weeks—was humiliating.

The highly sophisticated new engines, with their hybrid power and emphasis on efficiency, will make the sport fashionable for brand-new manufacturers and encourage former entrants to follow in Honda's footsteps and give it another try.

If only it could find someone capable of producing a set of watertight rules and regulations, and then refrain from making it up as they go along, Formula One might just be on to a winner.


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