The FIA and the FOTA met this week in Geneva to discuss cost-cutting measures for the very near future. Although there are still many things to discuss, they came up with some basic agreements. One of the simplest regulations they have changed is that from 2009 engines will have to run for three engines and not two, as is currently the case.
The long-life engine is both a good and a bad thing. On the one hand, it adds yet another variable to the sport, where your engine cycle needs to be a part of your strategy. It cuts costs dramatically in that there should only be 6 engines used in an 18 race season (although currently 2009 is a 16 race season).
However, the negatives somewhat outweigh the positives with this ruling. Firstly, it isn’t unknown for a driver to accept the position they are in, during the dying stages of a race, simply because they don’t want to push their engine too much. If they are on the first weekend of the lifecycle, then they may reduce revs and coast to the finish. This doesn’t exactly encourage overtaking or a fight to the finish.
The other major issue that the current engine regulations provide is the joker engine change. If a driver needs to change his engine, then he gets a ten place grid drop. However, the 2008 season saw the introduction of a get-out-of-penalty free card, so that if the team can prove the engine is a problem, they can switch it out once without facing the drop. We’ve seen this a few times so far this season, sometimes when a driver has a legitimate engine failure, but more often than not, as a strategic measure. Teams often decide to swap their drivers engine depending what circuit is coming up, or because they want to be on a certain engine at a certain race. A driver cannot wait until the last race of the season to use the joker, otherwise everyone would have done that to be fresh for the race.
This just adds confusion to the already strange ruling that if a driver retires from a race, he can change the engine for free. It seems to be punishing those who finish, rather than those who’s engines don’t survive the course.
Nevertheless, expanding the life of an engine from two to three races shouldn’t make too much of a difference to teams, but could make a lot of difference to the budget.