The recent talk of F1 engines got me thinking about who will be using what engines in 2014 (or whenever it is that the new Formula 1 begins). One can say that there is not much doubt that Ferrari will use Ferrari and Mercedes Mercedes, which sort of makes sense…
Red Bull will logically go on using Renault as the relationship has been very successful, even though Renault does not get much coverage as the name is rather hidden under Infiniti stickers. There has long been talk of a deal with Volkswagen but several teams have been chasing that without much success. The signs are that Lotus and Williams will be the other partners of the French company, while the future deal with Lotus Renault GP (aka the old Renault F1 team) is far from clear.
Ferrari will presumably keep its usual coterie of Sauber and Toro Rosso and does not want to do more, while Mercedes is rumoured to be discussing engine supply deals with Marussia Virgin Racing and Force India may get a new supply deal if the money keeps appearing on a regular basis as it is a good place for Mercedes to train up young drivers. Mercedes is supposed to be supplying McLaren as well, although the word is that the Stuttgart company wants a pile of money for engines in the future, which is not something that McLaren is used to having to pay for… One might add, however, that a continued Mercedes deal makes no real sense for either party as McLaren is building its own road car engines and needs eventually to have its own racing ones as well. It can hardly use Ferrari engines and Renault is not really the right image, so it is fair to say that McLaren is on the lookout for something else. From the Mercedes point of view, it is not a good idea to have McLaren regularly beating the factory Mercedes team. This does not look good to the bean counters with fancy suits in Stuttgart.
Cosworth and PURE are shopping for teams. Although the folk at Cosworth are talking up the future, the one element missing from the picture seems to be horse-choking wedges of money and with investment needed NOW they must decide if they are willing to take risks. There is an interesting relationship between Judd and Group Lotus, the nominal sponsor of Lotus Renault GP, with plans for a Lotus engine in IndyCar. That is an interesting idea but an F1 engine is a rather bigger undertaking and Group Lotus might not be wise to spend its piles of bank loans on developing an F1 engine.
One scenario that has often been discussed is the idea of another takeover of Cosworth by a manufacturer (the previous one having been Ford) and there has been some speculation that McLaren might go down that route, a move that could be either be done officially with a purchase, or unofficially by poaching all the good people and housing them in a new facility, with the longterm goal being a McLaren F1 engine. This has to be the next major ambition of the company, even if short-term funding is a bit of an issue because of all the money that has been sunk into the MP4-12C road car. This seems to be selling well but it may be a few more years before McLaren is ready to properly invest in an F1 engine programme. So what is the best thing to do?
Odd though it might seem, PURE could be a good option. Behind Craig Pollock lurks the French government, which is keen to snuffle up as much new technology as can be developed by its boffins in the “Val de Silicone” to the south-west of Paris, where there is a serious cluster of high technology companies such as Airbus and Snecma, which sounds like a nasty sneezing accident, but is actually a topline engine company, which grew out of the splendidly-named Gnome & Rhone company. Snecma was merged with electronics firm Sagem a few years ago to create the fragrantly-named Safran. Also in the area is the Renault Technocentre and the vast CEA nuclear research centre at Saclay, not to mention Renault Sport F1, Citroen Sport and ONERA (the Office National d’Etudes et de Recherches Aérospatiales) at Meudon where they design rockets and such things.
Given this amount of brainpower and a few intelligent hirings, PURE should be able to produce a decent engine and this can be badged by any of the customers, so it could be that McLaren will look to PURE as an interim stage before moving on to its own engines in the mid-term.
Group Lotus might also like the idea of this route and any new manufacturer might also like to hide behind such a project, as Mercedes did with Ilmor 20 years ago.
The other things that should be considered is a return to the sport of Honda. That may not happen in the short term but the new rules are just the sort of thing to get them excited at Honda R&D. The recent earthquake and tsunami has done a lot of damage to the Japanese economy and so things may be delayed but one should not overlook the possibility. The other thing worth considering is the potential for new engines from the developing world, or at least money to fund old world projects. One can see a good case for such a deal involving Jaguar (now an Indian company), while one can imagine that there are Chinese and Middle Eastern folk who would have similar ambitions, particularly as the need for new hybrid/electric technology is a great opportunity for newcomers to make an impression on the world’s car market.