Will Gray

Engine strategy crucial

Will Gray

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The restriction to eight engines per car has added another strategic element to F1 this season - and with each engine beyond the permitted eight incurring a 10-place grid penalty the new element of engine change tactics is getting serious.

Formula One engines are made up of around 5,000 separate parts, 1,500 of which are moving at a very rapid rate. The maximum 18,000rpm limit is way above the levels reached by an average road car, and creates incredible stresses on the engine during its lifetime.

At this maximum speed, for instance, the valves in the engine will move up and down more than 300 times per second, putting massive stresses on the materials used to produce them.

To limit failures, teams want to limit the usage of their engines as much as possible and the complex eight-engine rule has allowed them to do that this season. Friday practice is exempt from the rule, so only Saturday practice, qualifying and the race are covered, but teams are allowed to switch engines between races and even during a race weekend (as long as it is before qualifying)

The rule effectively means seven engines must last two races and one must last three - and with different tracks putting different levels of strain on the engine (Monza is 70 per cent flat-out compared to Monaco which is 42 per cent) it is interesting to see how the different teams have chosen to play out these tactics.

Lewis Hamilton used his first engine for two races then ran his second in three - China, Bahrain and Spa - before fitting another new engine every two races until Belgium (a high-strain circuit), where he used his engine just once before replacing it for Monza.

It meant he knew he was safe for Monza, but left him arriving at Singapore with two engines that had both already been used at the most engine-damaging tracks on the calendar.

Brawn duo Button and Barrichello, meanwhile, both used their first engine only once, in Australia, then switched to their second for two races so that they could use their third for the three races that included the low-strain Monaco event - meaning that after Britain they had used four engines, but one of those had only been used for one race.

After that, the two title contenders took different tactical directions.

Barrichello used his fifth engine for three races - Germany, Hungary and Valencia - then used his sixth for just one race in Belgium before taking his seventh in Monza. Button, meanwhile, used his fifth in Germany and Hungary and his sixth in Valencia and Belgium before also taking his seventh in Monza.

That meant that coming into Singapore, Barrichello had two engines in his garage that had completed just one race each - Australia and Spa - while Button had only one - his engine from the opening race in Australia.

Considering the pressure they are under, Formula One engines still fail rarely and before the Singapore race there had been just 12 permanent and irreparable engine failures in the season.

Sebastian Vettel had suffered the worst, with four Renault engine failures in his Red Bull, while BMW also had four across their two cars, the Mercedes in Sutil's Force India had blown twice, the Toyota in Rosberg's Williams once and Raikkonen's Ferrari also had one failure.

With engine usage getting tight, mid-weekend tactics came into play at the Belgian Grand Prix, where Red Bull's Mark Webber began using his sixth engine of the season during free practice but then replaced it with a fresh seventh engine for qualifying and the race, tucking the old one (which had been used for just one session) away to use again another time.

Toyota did a similar trick in Monza, with Trulli's engineers using his seventh engine, which he had run in Spa, for practice then going to an old engine for qualifying and the race rather than risking running the same engine for Spa and Monza.

BMW, meanwhile, fitted old engines rather than new ones to their cars after both their engines blew in qualifying.

Spa and Monza were the two most testing tracks for engines, with around 70 per cent of the lap run at full throttle, but there is still a tough race to come with Suzuka having 67 per cent of the circuit at full throttle - and it is here where the teams who have played their strategies carefully could gain an advantage.

Statistics for engine failures are correct as of after the Italian Grand Prix. Click here for information on further engine failures from the Singapore Grand Prix.

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