Will Gray

Tech Talk: Will engine issues haunt Ferrari?

Will Gray

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Engine usage plays an increasingly important role towards the end of the season - so could Ferrari's troubled times early in the season come back to haunt them in the title run-in?

The increase in races this season has put more pressure on engines than ever before. Teams have just eight units for the year and must now eke them out for 18 events. Some of the leading contenders in the title chase are now coming dangerously close to using up their allocated amount - and it is Fernando Alonso who has most to worry about.

Ferrari started the season with some terrible engine issues. They were forced to make a precautionary change on both cars after the very first qualifying session in Bahrain and although those engines are still 'in play' for a practice session or the final race, realistically they are now already past their 'use-by' date in terms of performance. After that, Alonso suffered an engine failure in Malaysia during the race and another on the very next day of running, on the Friday in China.

These problems, which were backed up when Sauber also suffered failures on their Ferrari units, were so bad they were given specific permission by the FIA to modify their engine design after the Chinese Grand Prix - something teams can only do on reliability grounds.

Since then, those problems have gone - but the early failures mean that Alonso in particular is facing a nervous time in the remaining races.

The title-contending Spaniard had already used up his full allocation before last weekend's Japanese Grand Prix and will now be running on 'used power' in every remaining race. In contrast, the McLaren and Red Bull drivers each had one unused unit remaining going in to Suzuka.

Teams can rotate engines as they wish, but generally speaking they consider each unit fully used after three races - and even before last weekend's race Alonso had already reached this limit on three of his engines. That left him two others that had been used in two races each and just one that had been used in only one (in Belgium).

Ferrari is able to carefully monitor the engine and control its performance thanks to the integrated Shell Track Lab team at the circuit, but the problem Alonso now faces is firstly that used engines are proven to be not as powerful as fresh ones and, worse, they are more fragile so he may not be able to push so hard or put up the kind of defence he did in Singapore without the engine giving up.

Ferrari, however, are confident they will be able to control this issue and that the remaining circuits are of a type that will not present a major challenge for the engines.

They expect to be able to supervise the use of their engines, bringing the more 'tired' units back into service at times when there is less stress on the engine.

At worst, they hope, it will merely limit the practice time Alonso has out on track - and indeed, providing he has no more failures, he should make it through to the end of the year without going beyond the 'three-race' limit on any engine or having to take a 10-position penalty to put in a new unit.

But Korea is still a relative unknown and after that the penultimate race in Brazil, right where it could be most crucial to have peak performance, is known to be tough on engines, despite Ferrari's confidence.

And that is when the early season issues could return to have a crucial effect on the title battle...

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