MPH: Rivals ask if Ferrari engine is legal as FIA launches Renault investigation

by Mark Hughes on 18th October 2019

Rivals question Ferrari engine advantage as the FIA investigate Renault over an alleged illegal brake system

Nico Hulkenberg and Charles Leclerc at the 2019 F1 German Grand Prix

Ferrari and Renault tech is under the spotlight Photo: Motorsport Images

Interesting times behind the scenes in F1 with just a couple of weeks to go before the 2021 regulations are announced. Simultaneously there are a couple of key points of contention about interpretation of the current rules.

But there is a very important distinction between the questioning by rivals of Ferrari’s power unit and the protest that’s been made by Racing Point over Renault’s alleged automatic brake bias adjustment system. 

Rivals have queried the FIA about whether an oil-cooled intercooler might ‘inadvertently’ leak some oil into the combustion process, thereby increasing the calorific content in the otherwise fuel flow-limited engine.

This is what at least one of the other engine manufacturers believes Ferrari is doing, but it’s essentially only a guess. It follows from speculation about a way being found of cooling the fuel before it enters the combustion chamber and about how its double ERS battery may have been able to subvert the sensor.


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Ferrrai SF90 engine bay at the 2019 Spanish Grand Prix

Have rivals identified Ferrari's engine advantage? Photo: Motorsport Images

The FIA has not given a specific reply, possibly because to do so accurately would reveal something that is a legitimate competitive advantage. The governing body’s position on this specific query is that if a team feels another is breaking the rules then it should submit an official protest. This is very much aligned with the position the late Charlie Whiting took last year when the twin battery system was at the centre of speculation. 

“We’re pretty sure we now know how it works,” said Charlie at Monaco last year after extensive explanations from the team. “It’s very clever – and as far as we’re concerned, completely legal.” In the way that the FIA is reacting to the latest query, it sounds as if it believes much the same this time around.

By contrast, Racing Point is not making any tentative enquiries to the FIA about what it believes is a corner-by-corner, circuit-specific automatic brake bias adjustment on the Renault. Instead, post-race Suzuka it put its money down and made an official protest. This is a very specific and detailed protest (it ran to 12 pages) outlining why it believes Renault is using such a system which would contravene article 27.1 of the sporting regulations which states the driver must drive the car alone and unaided. Components from the Renault have been impounded while the FIA conducts an investigation.

Renault R.S.19 front brake at the 2019 F1 Italian Grand Prix

Renault brake components impounded as FIA investigate Photo: Motorsport Images

Although Renault says it is confident it can defend its case ‘vigorously’ this has potentially very serious consequences if found guilty. It would place the parent company in an embarrassing position and the last time it was in such a situation (in 2009 after the ‘crashgate’ of Singapore ’08 was revealed) it left F1 for several years. With the sport in such a delicate stage of negotiations about 2021 and beyond, it needs all the support it can muster.

 

 

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