There are going to be new engines in Formula 1 in 2014. No amount of propaganda is going to change that. The deal is done and hundreds of millions of dollars have already been spent on developing the new V6 turbo engines. Anyone who suggests that the whole thing is about to be called off is utterly deluded, or up to mischief.
The question that is being asked in F1 circles, therefore, is not whether the new rules will go ahead, but rather which teams are going to be using which engines. There are 11 teams in F1 at the moment and in 2014 there will be only three engine suppliers, so it does not take a nuclear physicist to work out that each manufacturer will be supplying three or four teams. This is good because it means that the manufacturers will be able to recoup some of their investment that has been made in the research and development phase of the new engines. The prices of the customer engines is going to reflect the money that has been spent, although the manufacturers insist that in a fairly short space of time those prices will come back down again, as their investment eases back.
Ferrari will be using its engines for its factory team and for Sauber, but is out looking for other customers. The word is that Scuderia Toro Rosso will be switching over to Renault, presumably because Red Bull, which provides the primary funding for the Italian team, will work a deal with the folk in Paris for the two teams it owns. The problem with this is that it would give the French manufacturer a total of five teams if one adds Toro Rosso to Red Bull Racing, Lotus F1 Team, Williams F1 and Caterham.
There are some agreements kicking around about the limit of engine supply per manufacturer, but it is not clear whether these extend into the new formula. Perhaps five teams will be deemed to be acceptable. Perhaps not. If not, then something has to give and thus it will be a case of looking at which teams are worth most to Renault, not just in terms of money, but also taking into account success and larger industrial partnerships. In this respect Renault will look favourably on Red Bull Racing and Caterham, albeit for very different reasons.
In theory, it might be possible for Renault to supply more teams than is currently the case if the company decided to share its F1 engine technology with partner Nissan, and its Infiniti subsidiary. There has long been talk of such a deal and Infiniti has made much of its technical involvement with Red Bull Racing, in addition to the sponsorship arrangements that exist. The real question is whether or not Renault wants to dilute its image of being the high tech supplier of F1 expertise, for the greater good of the Renault-Nissan alliance. Carlos Ghosn explained all this in some detail in Brazil last year saying that Renault preferred to keep the technology “glow”, while gaining marketing value from the Infiniti sponsorship. It is a bit of a both, but they both gain enough for it to be deemed worthwhile.
The other question is one of development. An engine maker with five teams would have more data and thus be at an advantage compared to an engine maker with three teams. Having said that, Ferrari’s customer engines have only ever won one single victory (Sebastian Vettel’s celebrated win at Monza in 2008 with Toro Rosso) and so teams that want to win tend to make different choices. For those who are climbing the ladder in F1 a Ferrari deal can be useful to get them to the level they need to get a manufacturer of their own (as Sauber did before the BMW deal came along).
Mercedes has had a rather different approach and indeed the company has been embarrassed by its customers for several years now, notably McLaren and Brawn GP. The view in the company has been that a Mercedes win is a Mercedes win, but some would prefer to see the Silver Arrows of the works team doing the winning.
The speculation of late has been that Force India is angling for a Ferrari deal in 2014, which is why it is taking an inordinate amount of time for the team to make a decision about who will be its driver this year. Jules Bianchi is a Ferrari protege and the Italian teams wants him to be race-trained and so would like him in a Force India this year. The team appears to be angling for a subsidised Ferrari deal for 2014, which would be useful in the circumstances.
If a Mercedes deal were to become available, the most likely team to make a grab for it would be Marussia, because it is already in a technical relationship with McLaren and needs an engine for 2014 because Cosworth is not going to be there, thus one can see Mercedes, McLaren and Marussia using Mercs; Ferrari, Sauber and Force India with Ferraris and the rest with Renault.
There is little doubt that some of the teams are scouting about for other manufacturers. This is one of the reasons that the new formula has been created, in an effort to bring in more automobile companies. McLaren might like to one day build its own engines, but the company says that this is not going to happen in the short- to medium- term, while other companies are believed to be looking at the sport and considering if it is a good idea to get involved. Manufacturers tend to come and go from F1 depending on how they are doing (both inside the sport and in the car business as a whole) but all of them know that when it comes to selling products in Asia F1 is amongst the best bets at the moment.
And, if one looks at the sale of luxury cars in Asia at the moment, and the projections for the future, one does ask why is it that there are not more car companies in F1?
Perhaps they are thinking about such projects but intend to wait until 2014 and then swoop in and grab the best brains from the existing firms and so do the job of designing an engine at a fraction of the cost, being able to pick up the knowledge of what NOT to do at a cost that is well below the budget required by the pioneers.