The hustle and bustle between the automobile manufacturers and the Formula 1 authorities looks set to take a new twist in a few days when the car manufacturers present their plans to continue with the current 1.6 litre turbo V6 hybrid turbos, but with the price being substantially reduced, to aid the small teams. If rumours are to be believed this will be a significant reduction. Much will depend on exactly what is included in the customer packages, as gearboxes and other paraphernalia can add to the basic cost, but it looks like the price will come down from around $25 million, to a much more affordable $13 million. The decision has been taken because the manufacturers do not want to have invest in completely new engines, as anything new costs a great deal more money. As part of the package it is expected that some of the elements of the power unit will become standardised. There is speculation that this could include elements of the power units. It is clear that the internal combustion engines (ICE) will not be standardised, but there are arguments that some of the other elements could be. The engines consist of four elements in addition to the ICE: the power source (read battery), the turbocharger, the Motor Generator Unit – Heat (MGU-H), which takes power from the turbine shaft, thus converting heat energy into electrical power, and the Motor Generator Unit – Kinetic (MGU-K), which takes recovered kinetic energy dissipated during braking and converts it into electricity and then adds additional drive to the crankshaft. The MGU-K is limited to 120 kW per lap, while the MGU-H is free. The MGU-H controls the speed of the turbocharger. This is valuable technology, but the MGU-K could be standardised quite easily, as it is already restricted and thus not really being developed. The turbocharger itself might also become standardised, while it is unlikely that the manufacturers would want to provide common energy stores as batteries are key for the industry. A great deal of the efficiency in these engines comes from the software that balances how, when and where the recovered energy is used. Overall, these combine to makes some of the most impressive engines in the history of the industry, with unheard of thermal efficiency figures and impressive horsepower numbers for the amounts of fuel being used. This progress can continue even if there are standard MGU-K and turbochargers. The key point is to keep the technical development in areas that the industry can use, much of which is in the software.
Bringing down the cost of the engines will not, however, solve the political problems that the sport has. The small teams will still be looking for more prize money, while the Formula One group and (perhaps) the FIA will still want to break the stranglehold on political power that the manufacturers currently hold. If they continue to fight for an independent engine supplier, then conflict will remain inevitable. The problem that Formula One and the FIA have is that we are now in 2016 and so negotiations must soon begin with regard to the commercial deals that are needed for 2020 and beyond. If the manufacturers stick together, then the others will have to compromise or risk not having any competitors in 2021. It won’t come to that, of course, as there will be a compromise along the way, but that compromise must involve the teams getting more and the commercial rights holder getting less.