No, no, no, no. Were the FIA to heed Christian Horner’s call to put a brake on Mercedes for having done a better job than the other engine manufacturers, Renault especially, it would be a total betrayal – of the terms under which everyone entered and of the sport itself.
Another year of total dominance by the Silver Arrows will not be good for business – but this business is at least partly predicated on F1 being a sport. Sport is supposed to be a meritocracy. Penalising a participant for having achieved too much excellence?
Horner points out that when Red Bull was dominating there were frequent ‘clarifications’ and even mid-season regulation changes apparently aimed at reducing Red Bull’s advantage. It is true that there is a history of the authorities seemingly trying to manipulate the championship – stretching back to at least 1994, maybe even 1976 – and that’s not a good thing. But what Horner is suggesting – just bluntly equalising the horsepower between engine manufacturers – is a step beyond that. Changes to exhaust layouts, body flexibility testing and engine mapping – which apparently attacked key advantages Red Bull enjoyed from 2009-13 – were at least attempting to undermine only the source of an advantage. The equivalent of what he is now suggesting would have been to reduce the Red Bull’s downforce to the level of the others back when they were dominating.
Part of the fascination of the sport is in someone deriving a technological advantage and then watching how the others respond – and how long it takes to catch up. They always do eventually. If that’s bad for TV figures, then the lesson is not to be so enslaved to TV figures.
It all illustrates again what a folly it was trying to combine a change of engine formula with an engine freeze. A far better idea would have been to stipulate the maximum price for which the engine could be sold to customers. That way a manufacturer would be free to spend as much money as it liked on development, but beyond a certain point would only be increasing its financial losses. That way any manufacturer that had plain got it wrong – like Renault this year – could develop its way out of that embarrassment without having to worry about, or bother the fan with, engine tokens.
The token system – and the engine freeze before it, in the V8 era – attacked the symptoms of an illness rather than the illness itself. Still the nettle of costs is not being grasped and the signs from the opening race in Melbourne were that the chickens are now coming home to roost as a result. The problem has been ignored, denied or brushed off for years, but it’s now undeniable. The cracks are there for all to see. What would make it worse – much worse – would be a blatant removal of competitive merit. Then it would cease to mean very much at all.
Suggesting a tweak to the engine regulations from 2017 in the hope of helping mix up the competitive order is one thing. But applying a lowest common denominator to engine competition would send F1 down the road of wrestling. At its heart, this is still the most magnificent sport that mankind has ever devised. It’s majestic in its ambition and the multi-dimensional nature of its challenge. Let’s not make a joke of it.