The ongoing debate over teams being allowed to use a fifth engine in 2015 without a grid penalty will be one of the highest profile elements of Thursday’s F1 Strategy group meeting.
Last year the rules allowed teams to use five engines without penalty, but the figure went down to four this year as it was deemed that the manufacturers would be on top of reliability. However Renault has had a worse time than last season, while Honda is of course now in its own debut year.
The fifth engine originally emerged in the context of ensuring that teams do not start to sit in the garage on Fridays as the season goes on in order to save mileage, which is why Bernie Ecclestone gave his support.
However Renault and Honda’s ongoing problems have meant that extra engines and grid penalties are now inevitable for RBR, STR and McLaren, and there’s been a push for the fifth engine to simply be added to the pool, rather than reserved for Friday use.
The consensus is that its supporters will struggle to get the idea voted through. Mercedes will only support the fifth engine if it’s strictly related to Fridays. Meanwhile engine customers – such as Force India – are adamant that they don’t want to pay for the extra engine.
“We’re not against it,” Force India’s Bob Fearnley told this writer. “But we are absolutely against paying extra money for it, so on that principle the answer would be we wouldn’t vote for it.
“We’ve lost an engine with Nico [Hulkenberg], and we lost it very early in its life, so effectively we’re running a three-engine programme for one of our drivers. So the question is can we somehow or other eke it out, assuming we don’t lose another engine? If we’re going to do that obviously we’re doing it to try save money. We’d vote against the principle of it costing us more, that’s for sure.
“The thing is we don’t know what we’re voting on, because the original concept for this fifth engine was based around Fridays, so until we know how it’s addressing the Friday issue it’s very difficult to make a decision. For me it’s what are they trying to achieve with it? The original conversations were about making sure Fridays are still fully supported.”
McLaren and Honda are obviously keen for the change to go ahead, although team principal Eric Boullier admitted that he’s not hopeful.
“As far as McLaren is concerned obviously we would be happy to have a fifth engine,” said the Frenchman. “I think having [us as] a new engine manufacturer in F1 it would be fair to have the same conditions that the other ones had when they were running last year. So yes, we are in favour of a fifth engine. But I’m not sure it will be that easy.”
Meanwhile Ecclestone has admitted to this writer that the cost issue was the major problem: “We agreed, or all the teams agreed, to have five engines during the year. We’ve got four in the regulations, and now people are saying maybe it should stay four. People who supply the engines don’t want to supply more unless they get more money, and the teams can’t afford it.”