Focus - the 'one engine per weekend' rule 06 Jan 2004
The 2004 season will bring with it a radical change to Formula One racing's engine regulations - one that will affect not only the engineers who design the hi-tech V10s, but also the drivers who use them. The new 'one weekend' rule means that from Melbourne onwards, each car's engine will have to last for three whole days. If an engine fails and needs replacing at any point, the car concerned will be demoted 10 places on the starting grid.
The aim is to reduce costs, particularly for the teams towards the rear of the field, but not everyone in the sport is convinced the new regulation will achieve its aim. As always in Formula One racing, one man's cost-cutting initiative is another's green light to spend money elsewhere. In fact, some suspect that the new rule, rather than reducing overall costs as is the intention, may have the opposite effect thanks to the uncertainty that currently exists over exactly what constitutes the life expectancy of a Formula One race engine in 2004.
Cosworth Racing's technical director Nick Hayes comments: "By performing lots of analytical work and testing we can work out how long we expect parts to last. That's not such a major factor when everybody is trying to build engines to roughly the same life expectancy, but with the new rule there is some confusion, because teams may decide to do less running over the whole weekend and thereby design an engine with less life overall. That might give them significant advantages in terms of performance over a team with an engine built to run in every session of a Grand Prix.
"Let's suppose you decide to run an engine with a weekend lifespan of 750km and then suffer a failure. By changing you will pay the penalty of being demoted on the grid but what is to then stop you putting in a new engine with just enough life to last the race? If you've got enough money you will be able to bring engines to races with all sorts of lifespans to cover all contingencies. It might even be that it is the same engine but you have done a lot of work on the management system which means it can run at different speeds to ensure different lifespans. There is more than one way of doing things when it comes to engines...
"At the end of the day it is another variable and therefore is something that the 'haves' can get more out of than the 'have nots'. It's really very complex for a rule that looks very simple."
One thing that is certain, however, is that teams will have to build more durable engines. But just how will they do that? Generally, according to Hayes, your two options are either to add strength (which also means weight) to parts that suffer the most stress or to reduce the forces that impact upon them, which then means running less engine revolutions. Neither is ideal and even if they were, it isn't as simple as just beefing up the parts that need it, because strengthening one component will have a knock-on effect on the performance of others.
What you can expect to see, says Hayes, are engines where the 'parts that go up and down and whir round and round' have been strengthened without adding overly excessive weight and more than likely slightly lower maximum rev limits than in 2003. They are changes that will translate into noticeable figures to a telemetry engineer or the driver himself but won't, he predicts, be detectable from the grandstand. That is, of course, until one team takes a gamble and suffers an engine failure. Then everyone in the grandstand will be able to detect their driver being bumped 10 places down the grid...
(The above is an edited extract from a much longer feature on the 2004 engine regulations, available exclusively in the January issue of Formula 1 Magazine.)