Some strange things have been happening in F1 circles in recent days, with subtle shifts going on in the way things are being done. Bernie Ecclestone suddenly declared himself a fan of social media and the F1 company is now doing a lot of stuff that was unthinkable six months ago. At the same time, Jean Todt appears to have understood that things need to be changed and has been working hard on getting the teams to agree on an engine fix that will suit everyone. It is not what Bernie wanted, but he seems to have given up on the idea of an independent engine because the only real support for the idea was coming from Red Bull and it is very clear that the Austrian company would flip-flop to the other side of the argument if they could find an engine manufacturer.
The best way to do that is for the sport to be stable and to play up its credentials to car manufacturers. There is a statistic floating around at the moment which really makes the point: if the levels of efficiency in F1 engines were applied to road cars across the board, the average fuel consumption on a road car would be 165 mpg. Now, if F1 was plugging this point, and could boast that the racing was more cost-effective, Red Bull would have an engine supplier. The fact that F1 is failing to deliver its strongest message is not surprising given the lack of promotion that is now institutionalised, but increasingly other players are “going freelance” and doing their own thing. Shell, a major backer of Ferrari, recently unveiled its own rather too cute-looking high-efficiency petrol-burning concept car in China, to draw attention to the fact that there is a lot of mileage left in conventional internal combustion engines. Shell says that it could take decades before electric vehicles will help to bring down emissions and that more work needs to be done with conventional machinery. Shell has no plans to manufacture the car and was simply showing what could be done.
The chassis regulations that have been agreed make very little sense to me and it is clear that Mercedes has had a think about it and is now trying to stop the changes going ahead. Of course it is in their interest to keep the status quo, but actually they are right. The aerodynamic rules don’t need to be changed. Convergence will happen if you leave things as they are. Changing things will play into the hands of the big teams (which defeats the argument that Mercedes is simply trying to cling on to its current competitveness).
The key thing for me, however, is that there seems to have been a shift in thinking amongst the big players in recent weeks. There is more of a willingness to compromise from Ecclestone and the FIA seems to be a little more willing to put up a fight. The question is why? Is it, perhaps, due to a meeting that took place recently between Jean Todt and CVC in New York? Or is it because the potential buyers out there realise that the only way for the game to go forward is to get deals in place with everyone before they do a deal? And those wishing to sell have accepted that this is the only game in town at the moment.
It will be worth watching how things develop. There will be an announcement later today about the engine deal that has been agreed, once the World Motor Sport Council has added its rubber stamp.