Is the Formula 2 engine too unreliable? — FormulaNerds.com

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Théo Pourchaire is currently second in the 2022 Formula 2 championship, but he may have just lost his chance to win the title through no fault of his own.

Pourchaire was devastated after his retirement from the Feature Race at Spa (Image credit: Formula 2 on Twitter)

This problem was just another in a long line of problems that beg the question: are Formula 2 cars too unreliable?

The problem

Pourchaire was running eighth on the third lap of the Feature Race at Spa when a mechanical problem forced him to retire.

Defending rival Felipe Drugovich clinched a second-place finish, cementing a 43-point gap between them. With three laps to go, it’s an almost insurmountable gap. Many have speculated that this race is the end of Pourchaire’s championship hopes.

It’s not the first time, even this season, that Pourchaire has had a problem with his car. In Jeddah, second round of the championship, a mechanical problem places him at the back of the grid during qqualifying, and a separate issue saw him withdraw from the Feature Race the same weekend.

Where is he from ?

Mecachrome provided Formula 2 3.4 liter V6 engines since 2018. Since then, more than ever, drivers have been plagued with mechanical problems.

In the first eight races with the new engines, almost every driver stalled on the grid at some point. This caused F2 and F3 PDG Bruno Michel to admit that the number of issues was “too high”, and updates were made. But while some issues were resolved, others continued.

Later that season, Arjun Maini, who melted a pipe on his car right after replacing that part for the same issue, spoke about the issue. He said: “They kill our careers like that, destroying them completely.”

In 2020, the DAMS car driven by Sean Gelael and Juri Vips had six mechanical DNFs in 12 races. Fellow DAMS driver Dan Ticktum was also impacted by a similar issue. He was disqualified from a win at Monza for an uncontrollable fuel tank problem.

François Sicard, CEO of DAMS said at the time: “These issues cannot continue in such a championship, with the necessary budgets to participate and be competitive. All the teams on the grid have had far too many problems beyond their control since the start of the season. Global reliability is urgently needed.

Despite Sicard’s (and others’) call for action, nothing was done. Other pilots continued to suffer and pay tribute that the engines were not up to snuff.

Challenges

It’s easy to think it’s not that bad. After all, that’s motorsport, isn’t it? Unreliability plays a huge role in series like Formula 1, where each team makes its own car.

But several factors unique to Formula 2 (as a power series) make these reliability issues a serious problem. For one thing, most drivers pay over a million dollars for a place on a Formula 2 team. They don’t get paid to drive these cars, they (or their sponsors) put in a significant amount of money in play to have a chance of getting good results.

Another factor is the importance of results in Formula 2. It is the closest category to Formula 1, and everyone pays attention to it. But most of the time, people pay attention to results, not the factors behind them. The results obtained by the drivers in Formula 2 will determine the rest of their career. And no one wants an unreliable engine when you’re racing with such high stakes.

F2 Reliability
Armstrong was unable to start the race from pole in Monaco in 2021 due to a mechanical problem on his car (Image credit: Getty Images)
Marcus Armstrong

Marcus Armstrong, for example, suffered a number of mechanical breakdowns beyond his or his team’s control in 2021. He failed to start Sprint Race 2 in Monaco – a race he had to start from pole position. Later in the season he retired from leading Sprint Race 2 in Abu Dhabi, losing a potential second victory.

Armstrong finished his second Formula 2 season 13th in the standings. He was then kicked out of the Ferrari Driver Academy for 2022. That doesn’t mean he would have stayed with the Formula 1 team and had a realistic chance of a seat had he won those two races. But it’s worth pointing out that if he hadn’t suffered those setbacks, he would have finished several places higher in the championship.

Driver thoughts

After Pourchaire’s issue at the Feature Race at Spa, FormulaNerds asked the top three if they thought reliability was a big deal.

They agreed that the unreliability is a by-product of that era of Formula 2. But all three simultaneously admitted to having suffered from reliability issues themselves at some point during the weekend. Doohan and Drugovich even reported having trouble with the car during the Feature Race itself.

Doohan’s comments

“It’s obviously not ideal, because at the end of the season everyone looks at the stats,” Doohan told FormulaNerds. “Everyone looks at the results on paper and at the end of the year unfortunately few people remember that DNF for a reliability problem or a mechanical failure. So it’s something you have to live with and really hold your head up high.

“Today, I didn’t really want to talk about it much, especially on the radio. For some reason I was in third gear, had low power and it wasn’t pulling, so I had to either shift into second or briefly shift into fourth. It was something we thought we had to deal with. I was a little worried but didn’t want to say anything on the radio to upset the engineers as there’s not much to do but crack up.

“So I’m happy that honestly it held up, but that’s just the era we’re in. We’re in mechanical cars and unfortunately those things can happen.”

See also

Ralph Boschung
Spa F2
The top three in the Feature Race at Spa (Image credit: Getty Images)
Drugovitch’s comments

Drugovich said, “I pretty much agree. I don’t know if they showed anything, but I had a big problem on the formation lap. I had no power either. For some reason the engine needed a spin or something to clean up, and I think after the start luckily I got a really good start. But still, on the Kemmel straight, I felt it wasn’t perfect. So from the 2nd round, it was fine, but I was very scared and I was very worried.

“But yeah, asking that kind of question, I think it’s not nice to see so many cars breaking down and having problems, but there’s nothing we drivers can do, we just have to deal with it. “

Lawson’s comments

Lawson, who won the Sprint Race and finished third in the Feature Race, said he ran into a problem during qualifying.

“From my side, we had a similar problem to Jack in qualifying, that’s why we start sixth and not higher.

“It’s frustrating to have them, and I think like Jack said, you come to the end of the year and you look back and calculate all the points you missed and that can definitely change your result. But I guess that’s what it is.

The future

Formula 2 is due to receive a new engine in 2024. The plan is to implement a sustainable fuel that can be tested for use in Formula 1 when the new regulations come into effect in 2026.

Details of the new engine contract have yet to be decided. But new engines not arriving until 2024 mean there will be at least one more season where drivers will have to deal with an unacceptable number of reliability issues.

As far as Pourchaire’s title fight goes, he’s still mathematically in contention. But to win he would need Drugovich to finish outside the points several times, which the Brazilian driver has done only once so far this season.

Although it’s not entirely fair to say that if Pourchaire loses the title that the engine is solely to blame, it’s a conversation worth having. These young riders put everything on the line to try and get results good enough for someone to notice. They shouldn’t have to worry about retiring through no fault of their own every other race.

Of course, bad luck is part of motorsport. Even at the start of their career, Formula 2 drivers know this. But it’s also in the interest of the series to have engines that can run well enough that the riders can rely on not having one problem or another every weekend.

Feature image credit: Getty Images



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