All the non-Mercedes-powered teams in Formula One breathed a huge sigh of relief over a loophole which allows them to keep developing their 2015 engines throughout the year—except Honda, who actually had a named due date for their design. Now the FIA is looking to let Honda develop their engine all year, too.
Last year's biggest problem with the racing was the total and complete Mercedes domination of everyone else. Mercedes nailed that V6 hybrid turbo engine game right from the start. Great for Mercedes, but on many tracks, the Merc cars were simply uncatchable. Mercedes' factory team ran off with the win, making the most exciting battle of the year between their two drivers: Rosberg vs. Hamilton.
Even Formula One probably realized that insufficient competition among an already shrinking field was getting dull, so when Ferrari Technical Director James Allison pointed out that there was no due date for their 2015 engine designs, the FIA allowed it. Yes, teams, you may continue developing your 2015 power units throughout the season. The same number of items are "frozen" per the regulations, so development will be limited as originally intended, but you can still have more time to scope out what the other guys are doing and homologate your 2015 power units...eeeeeh, whenever.
Items that teams are able to change for 2015 under the engine freeze rules are measured in "tokens." Here's a good summary of how the FIA's loophole defines an engine as "homologated," from the BBC:
Mercedes, Renault and Ferrari all homologated 2014 engine designs and have 32 tokens to apply. But as soon as any of those tokens are applied, the engine is technically not the same any more and therefore strictly speaking not homologated. So at what point does it become a 2015 engine?
The FIA's current thinking is that at any point between zero and 32 tokens being applied, the engine is homologated. The engines change anyway during the season, on the basis of the modifications that are allowed in terms of cost-saving and so on, so there is never a single spec of a given engine. This new situation is, logically, no different, the FIA would argue.
Make sense? Nope? Good.
Exception to the loophole: Honda. Poor Honda. As a new power unit supplier for 2015, Honda had a due date for their engine design: February 28, 2015. As in, the whole thing must be turned in for homologation by then.
Of course Honda cried foul, as did many fans. Development moves quick in F1, so Honda's concerns about being left behind are extremely valid. A Honda spokeswoman had this to say to the BBC after the loophole was deemed allowable by the FIA:
Honda believes in fair competition for the goodness of the sport and our fans.
McLaren-Honda have contacted the FIA in regard to this issue, but we cannot discuss details at this time.
Per the existing regulations, Honda gets zero tokens for design changes until the end of 2015, just as all the manufacturers did in 2014. Problem is, now they're the only manufacturer with zero tokens, and something's got to give so that Honda isn't left behind. What's the point of bringing in a new engine supplier if they don't have an opportunity to present their power units as a viable competitor to everyone else's in their first year?
Good news! According to the BBC, FIA officials are now debating whether or not they should consider Honda's proposal to put all the Formula One engine suppliers on a level playing field for 2015:
The Japanese company, returning to F1 after a six-year absence, believes recent changes made the rules unfair.
Honda top brass flew over from Japan to discuss the issue with governing body the FIA on Monday.
An FIA spokesman told BBC Sport: "The meeting went well and we are discussing matters that arose."
The spokesman added that the meeting was "constructive".
Per a senior motorsport figure who spoke with the BBC, Honda would be in their right to lodge an official appeal through the FIA Court of Appeals through the Japanese motorsport federation. "Then you get proper lawyers looking at it," he explained.
This could be why the response from the FIA was so quick after Honda started complaining about unfair treatment.
According to ESPN, Honda is also taking issue with the fact that they will only be allowed to supply four engines per car for the season. Its rivals got to use five in their initial year with the hybrid V6 turbo power units. While the rules specify that there's only four engines allowed for this year's 20-race season, last year had only 19 races on the calendar, yet teams were allowed five engines. That extra engine makes all the difference in the world when you're working with an all-new and possibly unreliable unknown entity.
Honda has not released any further statements on the matter, as they would rather wait for a concrete answer from the FIA before saying anything further. We know they're mad, so that's all that matters.
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