There have been two days of meetings about the future of Formula 1 in Geneva and it seems, although the people involved are tight-lipped that progress is being made and the result is a positive one for the sport. Hallelujah! The details are not entirely clear, but it seems that all parties have agreed to cut the prices of the power units to customers, as has been reported, and they have agreed to make sure that everyone who wants an engine will get one. There will be some changes to the power units in 2018 (but not before) but the details are not yet finalised, but when that is settled the rules will stay in place until the end of 2020. I am also hearing that there will be only three gearboxes per driver per season, in order to reduce the costs. It remains to be seen whether there will be any announcements about all of this, but it would be a good idea to start the new season off on a positive note. One of the biggest problems of F1 in the last couple of years has been the negativity that has come from the sport. This has been picked up by the fans and that is not a good thing. However, the other day, Toto Wolff of Mercedes made avery interesting observation to the German media.
“In the last season,” he said, “we generated $3 billion in advertising value, which means that this is the sum of money that we would have had to invest in TV and print advertising in order to achieve a similar result to our commitment in F1.”
That is mightily impressive, particularly when you look at the team’s budget, which is around $500 million a year, although this total is not the real cost to the company because that is obviously offset by money that Mercedes gets from sponsorship revenues, television money and all other revenues that come from the business, notably the fees for engine deals and, of course, merchandising. So they are getting useful technology and advertising. Ferrari is getting the same and the signs are that the Italian firm is making a profit out of F1.
And let us not forget that the technology is extraordinary. The automotive industry has spent more than 100 years trying to improve the thermal efficiency of its engines. Thermal efficiency is a measure the energy that goes into an engine and the energy that comes out in a different form. This has crept up slowly for more than a century but the best engines were only at about 35 percent two years ago. The F1 power units have hiked that to almost 50 percent today, and there is no way that this cannot be described as as anything other than a revolution. The sport should make more of this incredible achievement. In time these advances will seep through into production vehicles and I hope that when other car companies start to understand this, they will rush to join the F1 circus. The pioneers have paid a lot in terms of R&D but the technology will spread quickly now and that means that newcomers will be able to catch up, if they are sensible. I also hope that the manufacturers involved will stop being stubborn and will apply the same platform engineering thinking in F1, as they use across their product ranges, allowing for the same technology to be used twice or three times using different brands. Let’s see Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Chrysler in F1. Let’s see Alpine and perhaps Audi, Porsche, Lamborghini and Aston Martin as well. It is simply logic.
And then, if we have this, the sport can start to roll forwards again, attracting new people and new inspiration…