The engine duopoly that undermines F1
Thus F1 nds itself held to ransom by just two suppliers: Mercedes and Ferrari. That situation is made all the more critical by both operations having parent companies with the nancial and political clout to dictate terms. And make no mistake: they do. During those six intervening years engine prices have shot up 300 per cent, albeit for what are, admittedly, exquisitely crafted, green technological masterpieces, while testing has been slashed to a third of 2009 quotas.
The tragedy is that F1 should have anticipated it after the manufacturer exodus of 2009. But, rather than encouraging independent engine suppliers to join, it typically put short-term expediency ahead of long-term strategic planning. Cosworth’s return was brief, after they produced an engine to suit a budget-cap regime that never materialised. F1’s masters then formed the ‘Strategy Group’, offering prime seats on board to those very entities able to rock the boat.
That said, F1 appears to have adopted some rather extreme measures to alienate itself from current and prospective suppliers, since the sport’s commercial rights holder has been openly critical of both the sound and technology of engines that cost their makers upwards of £100m annually to supply and service, and three times that to develop.
Folk speak wistfully of the era when Cosworth supplied 90 per cent of the grid with their legendary V8s. Bernie Ecclestone’s Brabham team, for example, won the 1981 title with these units, and he has said he believes a return to commercially available power units for independent teams could be the solution.
This, though, overlooks one salient fact: Ford bankrolled and subsidised the engine, basing its ‘Win on Sunday; sell on Monday’ product campaigns around F1 (and other motorsport) success. Without such backing, no independent engine company could supply units to the grid without incurring enormous losses.
This matter strikes at the very core of F1’s hybrid engine concept, designed to attract manufacturers – not alienate them. Why has there been so little interest at this level? True, there was talk that Audi may enter the fray, but the mere fact that F1 may have been on the German brand’s radar does not imply it will hit the grid, diesel-emissions scandal or not. After all, one of the concepts recently pushed by Audi is a lunar vehicle incorporating e-tron/ quattro technologies, yet it does not follow that the four-ringed logo will adorn agship dealers on the Moon or Mars any time soon…
However, backers need not necessarily be motor companies, simply entities with the desire to promote their brands using F1’s enormous global platform. Peter Sauber blazed the trail with Petronas branding, followed by Alain Prost with Acer – albeit both with Ferrari engines – so the concept has successful form. Indeed, as they proved, otherwise identical units could well carry different badging – this having been PURE’s business model.
And yet partners are increasingly reluctant to embrace the sport, as McLaren can attest. They have sought title sponsors for two years now and, again, F1’s commercial controllers must question why brands conspicuously avoid adorning the anks of grand prix racing cars.
There must be good reason, and it is likely to be related to recent decrees (supporting documentation for which has been seen by this author) that garage backdrops are not to be televised if they bear branding, or to the trend towards selective coverage of dominant teams. Add in constant criticism from up high, and is there any wonder so few brands wish to enter F1 as engine suppliers or badging partners?