There has been some discussion of late, from those with suitably vested interests, that the new engines in 2014 will be too expensive and that the sport should stick with its 2.4-litre V8 engines. This is a cheap option and with the teams unable to agree on how to cut other costs, and unwilling to commit to a budget cap, it is a logical thought process for the short-sighted, or those who are frightened that they will be unable to compete in a new formula. In the old days teams were more open-minded. A change was viewed as an opportunity to move up the grid, rather than a possible way to slip backewards. Nowadays, it seems, teams are always voting for the status quo because they know what to expect, rather than trying to do something different and new. If this is allowed to happen it is a very poor reflection on the people running the teams. How can F1 hope to be seen as innovative and inventive if the people running it do not want to change?
The current engines are now six years old and were, in any case, originally designed to have the same basic architecture as the 3-litre V10s that preceded them, and which date back into the 1990s. In the name of cost containment engine development has been frozen since 2007 and since the start of 2009 each driver has been able to use only eight engines in a season. Aside from the KERS systems that came in 2009, the engines – once the key element in F1 – have been largely irrelevant and the difference between success and failure has been decided by aerodynamics, which has little or no real use for the motor industry – or anything else come to that. Yes, engineers are very clever to pipe air around their chassis, but how can this help the road car world?
The status quo is good for teams that have had to buy their engines from the manufacturers, and good for the manufacturers because they can get a better return on investment by flogging the same old stuff over and over again. Teams are now concerned that development costs of the new 1.6-litre turbos in 2014 will make their engine bills more expensive. The engine manufacturers want to keep the easy money flowing in and so they are saying that the engine costs will go up, but if one looks at it over a five year period, then they will cost the same as they do today.
Really? So if engines cost more in 2014 and 2015, presumably, in order to achieve this claim, they will then have to cost less than they do today in 2017 and 2018. This is not really logical, apart from the fact that if the sporting departments of the automobile manufacturers are clever they will use the new rules to get their budgets from different sources than they do today. At the moment the manufacturer budgets tend to come from marketing because the sport offers a car company the opportunity to show the world that it can be competitive in Formula 1. In the future the F1 budgets might come from the mainstream research and development, because the F1 cars will be developing something useful, and the marketing people will be able to kick in money as well because the racing will be casting the company in a nice “green” light.
In theory, therefore, there should be more money available for the engines and therefore less need to insist that customers pay daft sums.
The key point here is that when the FIA was dreaming up these rules a few years ago, they went to the manufacturers and asked them what they wanted in the future in F1. The rules for 2014 are a reflection of the desires expressed. There may not be any new manufacturers involved in 2014 engines at the moment, but there are certainly companies thinking about it.
Those who seek to delay or even stop the new turbo engines are doing so because they like the nice cosy environment that exists today. The FIA has been mindful of the economic situation and has already compromised on 2013 and switched to V6s because it is more logical.
The new rules should increase the opportunities of the teams, if they can convince car manufacturers to come into the sport, and if they are really smart they will get free engines and sponsorship on the back of such arrangements. This should be possible for teams like Red Bull, Williams, Sauber and Lotus F1, all of which show winning potential using customer engines. It is also what happened back in the 1980s when F1 switched to turbocharged engines. In 1979 the majority of the grid used the cheap and cheerful Cosworth engines. Ferrari has Ferraris, Renault had Renaults and Alfa Romeo was still kicking around with (funnily enough) Alfa Romeos.
By 1983 Williams had Honda; Brabham had BMW, McLaren had their own Porsche-designed TAGs, the other marques remained (and some had taken on customers) and there was also the ambitious Brian Hart with his own turbos. The problem at the time was that the rules allowed for rather too much development and so costs went berserk in terms of electronics and fuel development. However there was a new influx of manufacturers when the turbos were phased out and cheaper normally-aspirated engines appeared in the 1990s.
While the big players came and went, they worked wonders for the sport. F1 grew enormously in that period and became much more popular as a result.
The skill of the rule-writer is to create regulations that make the sport attractive to the manufacturers, even at a time when the global economy is not strong. You can batten down the hatches and hang on (as some are proposing) but the sport is not moving forward. Ten years ago F1 had a lot more manufacturers involved: Mercedes, Renault, Ferrari and Cosworth were all there, but there were also BMW, Honda and Toyota and even the old Peugeot engines were still being used under the Asiatech banner. F1 is weaker without manufacturers, particularly when the supposed promoters of the sport do no promotion at all but are there simply to take the money.
Some would say that the reason some of the car-makers left was that they were not successful enough, but there is also a decent argument that it was because F1 did not give them what they wanted. So the key to success in this respect is to write the rules that the manufacturers want to see.
The first thing, obviously, is exposure, but if all they are doing is plugging the name, it has less value than if they are showing the world new technologies. They also want their engineers to learn about F1 attitudes. What every car company these days needs are engines that will meet the ever-tightening global fuel economy and emission standards. The cost of building and developing road car engines is incredibly high, which is why we are seeing more and more partnerships between companies in terms of engine development. In part this is because the automotive industry is slow-moving by nature. When you get a bunch of thrusting F1-trained engineers involved in mainstream products, things speed up. Honda used this theory to great effect back in the 1990s. And speed means lower development costs because one is not paying engineers to sit around and ruminate endlessly. History shows us that wars and other competitive environments are the best way to move technology forwards. The car companies know this and so they want to compete if there is something worth developing. Hybrid technologies may strike a chill for the hot-hearted racers, who believe that gasoline is there to be burned, but the world is changing and unless they change with it, they will become dinosaurs.
Surely a company like Ferrari, built on the concept of innovation and excellence, should be driving ever faster forwards, trying to build hybrid supercars, that do things that no-one has ever dreamed of doing before? If not, then someone else will…