Tombazis: Engine legality is hard to police

Ensuring the legality of Formula 1 engines at all times has become a particularly difficult task in the V6 turbo-hybrid era, admits FIA technical director Nikolas Tombazis.

An ongoing concern for F1’s governing body, Tombazis explains that the sophistication of the power units makes it hard to be sure teams are staying above board on a lap-by-lap basis.

“Unfortunately, it is no longer as simple as it was in the days of the V8 engines,” he told Auto Motor und Sport. “Back then, you just had to ensure that the maximum speed was adhered to, the dimensions of the engine were correct or the fuel specification complied with the rules. The problem with the current drive units is that the hardware may be perfectly legal, but it is still possible to operate it illegally.

“To do this, we have to continuously monitor countless parameters via the software, signals and sensor messages while driving. If a driver changes the engine settings every lap, it becomes difficult to regularly check the operation of the engine every lap to make sure that the rules are being followed exactly. Especially in special moments of a race, for example the lap before a pit stop or after, or when overtaking.”

It is for this reason that the FIA issued a technical directive before the Italian Grand Prix which limited teams to a single engine mode for qualifying and the race, with Tombazis detailing how this makes his job of enforcing the rules easier.

“We have limited oil consumption to 0.3 liters per 100 kilometers to prevent oil from being used in the combustion process. However, we do not measure this consumption over the entire distance, but after each lap. It is forbidden to exceed it at short notice and then save it again later.

“If you now switch back and forth between different engine settings, it is extremely difficult to track oil consumption at all times. This was one of the reasons why we issued this technical directive.”

As for the concerns this TD will cause a decline in overtaking, Tombazis indicated it shouldn’t make a significant difference.

“Overtaking can be a bit more difficult than before because the drivers no longer have the full excess power as they used to. But they can still use the full electrical power.

“We also have a lot about overtaking in our brainstorming on the 2022 regulations. One idea was to give the driver more power in the short term. But if you rely solely on the engine power, you would need a very large delta. What the drivers now lose by restricting them to one engine mode is comparatively low.”

Now in their seventh year of operation, the V6 turbo-hybrids are likely due to be replaced some time this decade, with Tombazis offering 2026 as a target date.

“We are already thinking about the engine rules from 2026, where we want to take another big step towards green technology and sustainability,” he said.

“With the new regulations, we also want to simplify the monitoring process and make our lives easier.”