McLaren and their new engine partners Honda have been left furious following a recent ruling on the development of the V6 hybrid power units by the FIA.
Amid a contested debate that has gone on for several months over the unfreezing of engine development, F1's governing body was forced to concede a loophole in the regulations that will permit the sport's 2014 engine makers, Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault, limited development of the power units during the 2015 season.
This winter, the three 2014 suppliers were allowed to development their engine under a tokens system with a set number of tokens and each part of the engine having a varying token cost, but Ferrari and Renault, the two main parties calling for a unfreezing of development discovered a loophole in the regulations as it doesn't stipulate when those tokens have to be used by.
Therefore FIA Race Director Charlie Whiting issued a directive late last week announcing that while development is restricted by the number of tokens, when that development takes place is up to the engine suppliers themselves.
However, that ruling does not extend to Honda who will join the grid this year after a seven-year hiatus. This is because last year unlimited development of the new power units was halted and the designs homologated on the 28th February with changes only allowed for safety reasons, and with Honda also needing to submit their design as the three other supplier did last year they are facing that same 28th February deadline this year.
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McLaren severely disadvantaged
The ruling therefore puts McLaren, Honda's sole customer at a distinct disadvantage in 2015 mostly due to the rate of development Mercedes, Renault and Ferrari could work at under the tokens system.
Indeed last year's pacesetters Mercedes are believed to have already found an extra 50 brake horsepower from the V6 engine for this season, an ominous signal to their rivals.
What may save McLaren and Honda's bacon slightly is the timing of this ruling. Given that the three suppliers were likely working to the same deadline they had last year plans on how to use the tokens and what parts of the engine to develop would have been made in advance.
Therefore the question will be just how many of those tokens will the three suppliers have left to use during the season?
For Ferrari and Renault you suspect it could be a few less given the huge gap in performance between themselves and Mercedes who maybe had more of a tinkering job with their power unit rather than more drastic improvements.
Despite this, and recognising the potential implications of the ruling, McLaren and Honda have confirmed they are in contact with the governing body over the decision to omit them from the development ruling but would not comment further.
FIA's reactive governance to blame
Once again the whole issue comes back to the reactive way the FIA goes about setting the regulations.
We have seen time and again how team engineers and bosses either come up with eloquent innovations in design only to have them later banned or find ways round regulations because of poor wording in the rulebook.
Of course it is entirely understandable that the FIA want Honda to undergo the same path the three other suppliers went down in 2014 with the homologation date at the end of February but there needs to be compromise to ensure McLaren and Honda stay on a level playing field to the rest of the grid.
The most obvious solution would be to given each of the four suppliers another set number of tokens which can be used during the season plus any they have left from the winter.
This way at least Honda is not so restricted and would not potentially lose out so much to their rivals during the season. while those who have the tokens left from this four-month spell between seasons still have what they are entitled to.
Whether that is the case or not time will tell but what this story mostly outlines is how the FIA need to be much more proactive in how it sets the rules to ensure critical loopholes like this one cannot be found in the future.
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