Former motorsport engineer and current Formula One managing director of motorsport Ross Brawn has outlined how the power unit limitations behind grand prix racing’s current farcical level of grid penalties can be eliminated. With just one race to go until the end of the 2017 Formula 1 season, there have been a total of 730 grid penalties issued for power unit elements changes this season – excluding gearbox penalties.
Not at all surprisingly, Honda has picked up a mammoth 380 places worth of penalties and Renault 310, while Scuderia Ferrari and Mercedes have just 20 each. To put these numbers into context, the entire season of 21 races only holds 420 grid slots – but the of threat unintended consequences means there is no easy solution to the matter. For example, if you dock constructors’ championship points a team may be able to absorb the hit, and should one driver get a better engine without punishment it would be equally problematic.
Ross Brawn has noted a division between internal combustion penalties, which account for about one third of the total, and those related to add-on elements like the turbo or energy recovery systems. As a result, his idea is to introduce simpler, cheaper turbos and energy recovery systems, stopping the need for a need to limit on how many can be used: “What I think we should try to achieve with the new engine is componentry that is economic to change whenever you want. If we go towards a different design of turbocharger, a homologated turbo, and it costs $2-3,000, why would you bother to even worry about limiting the number you use? It is not worth it in terms of the scale of the racing. But when your turbocharger is as expensive and complicated as it is now, then that’s why we have the limitations. The engine is an incredible demonstration of engineering competence, but it is not a great racing engine.” – the Formula One managing director of motorsport explained, as reported by the British media on Friday.
The idea of simpler engines jars with grand prix racing as a proving ground for new technology. But Ross Brawn believes this cannot come at the expense of entertainment, highlighting the World Endurance Championship’s loss of Audi and Porsche in LMP1 in successive seasons: “It has been interesting because Porsche have been in the meetings and they have been able to add their opinion because they have seen both sides. And they have been able to add that understanding of what went on, and it did become too much of a technical exercise. Sportscar racing has its fan following but even in the environment where the fans were not the biggest thing, it faltered and it failed. In this environment, where the fans should be the biggest thing, we can’t afford to have that sort of failure where we get so extreme we lose contact with the fans, because only a very few people can afford the technology and excel in the technology. We are four seasons into this technology and we are still getting so many grid penalties. All credit to Mercedes. They have done a fantastic job. But no-one else can catch up. That is the reality.” – Ross Brawn concluded.