The Fomula One (F1) engine modes, affectionately known as “party modes” will be banned at the 2020 Italian Grand Prix when the racing teams grace the streets of Monza this weekend. This means the teams will be running the same engine modes in qualifying sessions and the race event, so no “party modes” as it is usually the case.The
Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) has again implemented a rule change midway through the season, a similar action that was undertaken by the FIA in 2011 regarding the rear diffusers for the Red Bull Racing F1 Team. This is a step that the governing body hopes to level the playing field but without compromising any particular team’s competitiveness. Having the rule change announced before the Italian GP and the following races thereafter, some teams view this change as a shake up on the qualifying order while teams like Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team believe it is a compromise that allows for better race performance.
What has really changed?
The engine modes on modern F1 cars govern the control parameters of the internal combustion engine (ICE) and the energy recovery systems. So all the settings that affect ICE performance such as fuel flow, air pressure and ignition timing will be affected one way or the other. Therefore, all the teams will be having one engine setting throughout the qualifying and the race event. The rule change will not be applicable to exceptional circumstances such as formation laps before the commencement of a race, laps under safety car deployment and the in-lap after the end of a race including the out lap in qualifying sessions. Therefore, drivers will be basically losing the modes where the engines would be at their maximum power output (sport mode for road cars) to be specific. By stripping away the maximum engine power output (party mode) is by way of close monitoring by the FIA on the legality of the engine designs from the various competing teams.
During the race event, drivers will still be able to change other settings on the car/engine without any FIA restrictions. The modern F1 cars are very complex and sensitive; features like the energy recovery system (power harvesting) will still be available including the overtake button. Drivers will still be able to harness the energy lost during breaking or acceleration which will be recharged to boost the car once again. Such rule changes especially in the middest of the season may lead to fears that teams may lose championships due to these effects and loss of integrity in the sport. The fear amongst the F1 race fans is the staging of dull races with no overtaking and track battles which excite everyone watching the races. The rule changes in motor racing sport should be entirely on sportsmanship reasons rather than degrade the integrity of the talented drivers and engineers working on these machines.
What does it mean to the teams?
The V6 1.6 liter turbo hybrid engines are an immaculate piece of engineering work but very sensitive to very minute changes on the settings. So the different engine mode settings can result either in a step forward or backwards for the different teams. Teams can chose to run their engine modes slightly higher for the race but this may result in reduced engine duty cycle. This will depend on the engineering estimates on the impact of the high performance modes during race time should they opt to run the engine on high modes. So this is going to be like trading off, whatever the top teams (manufacturers) have been enjoying during the qualifying sessions will be traded off for during the race time. Teams like Mercedes believe that lowering the engine performance should allow them to run the unit harder in the race. But for teams like Ferrari, having trailing Mercedes during qualifying hope there will be a better and improved change.
In the 2011 F1 championship, an engine mode rule change similar to what is being implemented in the 2020 season was introduced to manage the dominant title winning Red Bull Racing car for Sebastian Vettel. Back then, Red Bull believed it was an attack on their advantage spearheaded by the under performing Ferrari outfit. The rule back then stipulated that the engine mode used in qualifying (Q3) can only be used in the first part of the race and changed on the first pit stop by plugging a laptop. This was during the 2.4 liter V8 era which could not be controlled on the steering wheel by the driver as is the case with the current 1.6 liter hybrids. The change was introduced at the 2011 mid-season European Grand Prix in Valencia. The rule change was targeting the use of exhaust gases on the rear diffuser to generate downforce while off throttle. The blown rear diffuser concept was the idea of Red Bull lead design engineer Adrian Newey used a decade ago during the dominance of Williams-Renault partnership.
Winners and Losers
It will be interesting to see how the cars respond to the rule change regarding the “party mode” engine settings at this weekend Italian GP. Much has been said about this rule change with people having different views on what the change is really trying to address. Some pundits believe this a motive to derail Mercedes on their way to the seventh title in a row but the team has reiterated otherwise. The other teams believe they will have an opportunity to perform closer to the Silver Arrows as the change is likely to derail thier race performance. Having said that, Mercedes appears to be comfortable with the change and may even propel the team further from the rest. Therefore, the Italian GP at Monza will confirm any speculations and the performances going to other circuits. Formula One should be advocating for increased driver control on the racing machines. The rules are there to be followed but the frequency at which they are reviewed should not affect the integrity of the sport and the workmanship of the engineers who designed these complicated machines.