The FIA ‘very much intends’ to issue a technical directive ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix that would stop Formula 1 teams being able to use ‘party modes’ in qualifying.
Ahead of last weekend’s Spanish GP it emerged that the FIA had written to teams informing them of a plan to normalise the use of engine modes over grand prix weekends.
No details were communicated, and it was considered possible that the technical directive – which is likely to demand engine modes used in qualifying are applied a certain amount of time in the race as well – could be postponed to 2021 if other concessions are sought.
However, FIA race director Michael Masi said after the Spanish GP that “it’s very much intended that the technical directive of the use of the engine modes will be issued prior to the Spa event”, marking the governing body’s first public comment on the matter.
The reason for the change, according to the FIA, is to make it easier for the complicated V6 turbo-hybrid engines to be policed, though an ulterior motive is perceived to be that it might pull back the dominant Mercedes team.
It became clear last year and over the winter that the FIA is not able to control every facet of legality within the engine rules, as its own suspicions over Ferrari’s 2019 engine could not be confirmed or denied – so the FIA’s investigation ended in a confidential settlement.
Asked if the FIA is capable of monitoring the engine mode use properly, Masi said if it wasn’t then “we wouldn’t have gone down the road that we have”.
“I know that the technical team in particular has done a huge amount of work on this and has also consulted with the four power unit manufacturers to get their input,” he said.
“So we’re as confident as we possibly can be at the moment.
“I think as the late Charlie Whiting used to say, we have a technical team of 10. You add a thousand people at each of the various PU manufacturers, so…
“But no, we are confident otherwise we wouldn’t certainly be going down that road pursuing it.”
Mercedes is adamant that any such technical directive will not be a problem despite its apparent engine advantage.
This is based on the premise it will simply allow for more engine performance in the races.
Mercedes enjoys such superiority in qualifying that even if it did forfeit a few tenths without its peak engine, which would be an extreme loss, it would still likely lock out the front row comfortably.
There was a suggestion Mercedes deployed a slightly lower engine mode in qualifying at Barcelona, although this could be for various reasons – such as managing the engine in very warm temperatures or preserving engine life given it is on its fifth weekend.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff made it clear post-race that the trade-off for not using the ‘party mode’ is significant in terms of durability.
“We don’t lack in performance on Saturdays,” said Wolff when asked by The Race if the engine mode technical directive could just make Mercedes even stronger in races.
“We had until now quite a margin. We struggled in some of the races where we were quite limited in powerful engine modes.
“And if Formula 1 were to ban, in season, certain power unit modes then I think it will actually help us in the race.
“Because if you can avoid to damage your power unit in those few qualifying laps that you have available in Q3 and then the odd lap in the race the damage metric goes down dramatically.
“So five laps of quali mode not being done, gives us 25 laps of more performance in the race.
“We are always very marginal on what we can extract from the power unit and if we were to be limited in qualifying modes well then, we will be stronger in the race.”