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Formula 1

What’s at stake as F1 meets to vote on major issues

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
5 min read

Formula 1’s stakeholders will meet today to discuss major matters including an engine freeze from 2022, a Saturday sprint race trial and the latest version of the 2021 calendar.

The meeting of the F1 Commission on Thursday comes just a month before the start of pre-season testing in Bahrain, with the season opener following two weeks later.

Cementing the Portuguese Grand Prix as the third round of the season is expected to be one of the meeting’s simpler objectives, but much larger issues with wider-reaching consequences are also on the table.

Red Bull’s engine freeze finally faces a vote

Honda is leaving F1 at the end of this year, after what will be only its third season partnered with Red Bull and fourth with sister team AlphaTauri.

It was immediately open to a deal to let Red Bull take over its engines for 2022 and beyond, but Red Bull was adamant it would not be able fund, let alone carry out, any engine development.

Under the existing rules, Mercedes, Renault and Ferrari would have had an extra opportunity during 2022 to gain performance vs the 2021 Honda engine before development was made to stop for three seasons starting in 2023.

But a motion to bring the engine freeze forward to the start of the 2022 season is expected to finally be tabled today after a delay of several weeks.

Jan 11 : What to expect from Honda in 2021

The compromise would mean manufacturers have the opportunity to update their engines for the new, increased-percentage synthetic fuels for 2022, while Red Bull can also employ Honda to develop the heavily-revised 2021 engine further.

But a sticking point could be the desire from some parties, including Ferrari and Red Bull, to incorporate a system that artificially boosts the performance of any manufacturer that begins 2022 with a major engine deficit.

Mercedes and Renault were vehemently opposed to the idea, labelling it a Balance of Performance-style system, while Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said it would be the beginning of the end for F1.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Sakhir Grand Prix Race Day Sakhir, Bahrain

F1’s new governance process means 27 votes from 34 (split across F1, the FIA, the 10 teams and four power unit manufacturers) should be required to make the early freeze a reality.

That means Mercedes and Renault could oppose the ‘convergence’ mechanism and therefore not vote in favour, supported by the three Mercedes customer teams, yet still fail to block the motion if everyone else votes to support it.

However, one theory for the vote being pushed back to now is F1 was keen on reaching a mutually agreed solution rather than forcing a narrow vote through.

An earlier next-gen engine, but which rules?

F1’s commitment to an engine freeze will almost certainly mean the next-generation engine will be brought forward from 2026 to 2025.

All existing manufacturers have expressed support for this so long as F1 finds a way to reduce the cost and complexity of its engine rules.

F1’s desire to remain relevant for automotive manufacturers and promote sustainability has created a divisive issue.

Therefore, a key part of the ongoing discussions has been which technology to adopt.

Options include using carbon-neutral fuels as the sustainability focal point, which ties in with F1’s planned move to more sustainable fuels in 2022 as well.

Saturday sprint race on the table

The trial of a proposed Saturday sprint race, which would reward the top eight finishers with points and determine the starting grid for Sunday’s grand prix, is expected to be voted on as well.

Three races – Canada, Italy and Brazil – have been earmarked as live experiments of F1’s latest idea to add an extra race to the weekend.

The last time F1 tabled a vote on the format it was to introduce a reverse-grid Saturday race at some grands prix last year.

Now it wants teams to green-light a format that has a qualifying session in place of the usual second free practice session on Friday, which would set the grid for a sprint race that would take place on Saturday.

This one-third distance event would award reduced points for the top eight finishers and set the grid on Sunday.

F1’s idea needs a ‘super majority’ of 28 votes from 30 across F1, the FIA and the 10 teams to be pushed through.

It is unclear how much support the idea has. Mercedes blocked the reverse-grid proposal for multiple reasons, chiefly that it left big teams disadvantaged and went against F1’s DNA of using qualifying to set the grid.

The new idea would give the biggest teams the opportunity to score more points, so Mercedes may now be favour.

However, it also runs the risk of increasing team costs and causing problems with spare parts and engine allowances – which could put more teams, especially smaller ones, off it.

Portuguese GP set to be confirmed

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Portuguese Grand Prix Race Day Portimao, Portugal

As expected when the last version of the F1 calendar was announced, Portugal’s Algarve circuit is primed to take up the ‘TBC’ slot one week before the Spanish GP.

The race was believed to be agreed weeks ago but organisers held off confirming it as the country had just entered a national lockdown.

That measure was said to have buoyed officials into thinking it would make a grand prix in May possible.

Concerns over how viable this would be led F1 to consider a back-up proposal of adding a second Bahrain race after the season opener, shifting the currently scheduled second round at Imola back one week and eliminating the ‘TBC’ slot entirely.

George Russell Williams Portuguese Grand Prix 2020 Portimao

But though Portugal remains on the UK’s ‘red list’, and F1 personnel would not receive an exemption from this, the race is set to go ahead.

It will mean anyone who travels to Portugal with the intention of returning to the UK will either need to stay out of the UK for 10 days – which means not returning until mid-week after the Spanish GP – or face a quarantine spell in a hotel.

F1 teams and key personnel would be expected to stay out between the Portuguese and Spanish races anyway, and could even extend their stay on the continent without returning to the UK before the Monaco GP at the end of the month.

Teams are expected to be informed of F1’s decision and exact plan on Thursday.

Feb 08 : Why Hamilton has only signed for one year
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