Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has warned that engine performance balancing would mark the “beginning of the end” for Formula 1 and it would be an “embarrassment” if a manufacturer needs it to boost competitiveness ahead of a development freeze.
A complex argument is taking place over Red Bull’s demand to bring forward an engine development freeze by one year so it may take over Honda’s engines for 2022 without the need to upgrade the 2021 specification.
In addition to Ferrari and Renault being convinced to support an early freeze, one of the challenges is that it will lock engine manufacturers into their performance levels for three seasons and there have been discussions about what to do if a particular engine has a major deficit when that happens.
“I don’t think that anybody would accept such a humiliation in public” :: Toto Wolff
Red Bull team boss Christian Horner says a method to correct performance differences should be adopted and would be down to the governing body the FIA to police, while suggested solutions include Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto’s idea for increased fuel-flow rates to boost performance or giving an ailing manufacturer a small development window to catch up.
Mercedes supports the proposal for an early freeze but team principal Wolff said it will not accept any system that results in engine performance being manipulated within that.
Asked in Bahrain on Saturday if he felt Binotto’s idea for “convergence” was any different to a ‘Balance of Performance’ – the method used in various championships in sportscars, GTs and touring cars to equalise the competitiveness of different cars – Wolff said: “No, I don’t see any difference. I don’t see any difference.
“I think this would be the beginning of the end.
“The power unit is not only measured by the sheer max power, but it is subject to driveability, weight, cooling, and introducing a formula that fits all isn’t possible and it’s not something that Mercedes would endorse.”
When asked by The Race if any kind of corrective measure carried the same problem as BoP in principle, Wolff called it “bit of an insult” that rivals are tabling a system of “convergence” having previously pushed for the original token-based engine development system to be scrapped so they could catch Mercedes at the start of the V6 turbo-hybrid era.
He launched an impassioned argument against any kind of performance balancing, and pointed to Mercedes redoubling its efforts in the wake of Ferrari’s clear (and controversial) power advantage developed over 2018 and 2019.
“We continued to push the boundaries and we brought something to the track in 2020, that we were hoping would catch up,” he said.
“And that’s why I cannot comprehend that any car manufacturer that trusts in its abilities to develop a power unit and a chassis would want some kind of mechanism that would balance the power units out.
“I don’t think that anybody would accept such a humiliation in public.”
Binotto said his suggestion is not a “balance of performance as I don’t think that the aim or objective is to bring all the manufacturers to the same level”.
He prefers to call it “convergence” because it is “only a way of trying to help a manufacturer which is really down in terms of performance compared to the others” and insists that means only helping them “try to catch up to be at a lower level compared to the others, but not too distant”.
“How can we do that? I think that’s part of the open discussion we have got today,” Binotto said.
“I don’t there is a solution. Certainly, the easiest one is by managing or adapting the fuel flow, but I don’t think that there is a conclusion yet”.
“Honestly, do we want to talk every Sunday about whether the FIA has done the right rebalancing of performance between engines?” :: Marcin Budkowski
However, Wolff is not alone in his belief that some of these proposals constitute performance balancing.
Renault’s executive director Marcin Budkowski says that a “safety net mechanism to prevent someone to be at a massive disadvantage for three years” is worth discussing “but I don’t think it’s balance of performance”.
“Convergence of performance doesn’t resonate well in the context of Formula 1 because where do you start?” Budkowski said.
“How do you match performance between engines or cars. Do you compensate on power?
“How do you compensate for things like packaging or weight or weight distribution?
“They’re all parts of the development of a car. An engine is not a standalone thing that you fit in a box in the car and then it runs.
“The whole car is built around an engine, and there’s some compromises made between engines, not only on power. There’s all these other parameters that give you power.”
Wolff said that meant F1 needed to stay “very, very far away” from a system that tried to oversimplify engine performance or manufacturers would design their engines to improve other characteristics and rely on F1’s equalisation methods to guarantee performance parity.
He said it would risk a scenario similar “where you design power units for the sole topic of manipulating the system”.
Both he and Budkowski also expressed concern that it would impact the narrative of an F1 season.
Wolff compared it to the DTM’s use of success ballast and how that dominated conversations about car performance in the touring car series, which Mercedes was a mainstay of until the end of 2018.
Budkowski said: “If you start getting into balance of performance, you rely on the FIA to measure the output of an engine, not only on the power, which is not easy to measure, but also on the expected performance of an engine on the car.
“I think it’s very, very difficult. And, honestly, do we want to talk every Sunday after the race about whether the FIA has done the right rebalancing of performance between engines?
“Rather than to talk about who’s done a good job and who’s done a bad job?
“Yeah, there’s a risk, if you freeze engines for a while, you might be a bit behind or a bit in front. [But] we’ve frozen chassis and gearboxes for next year. Tough, that’s what we’ve taken as a decision.
“That [correcting engine disparities] is Balance of Performance really. We don’t really like it. We don’t think that’s the right thing for the sport.”