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F1 Racing - - CONTENTS - DI­ETER RENCKEN @Rac­ingLines

Di­eter Rencken on engine costs

For­mula 1’s cur­rent engine for­mula took six years to not fi­nalise. Con­ceived by the Max Mosley ad­min­is­tra­tion in 2008 and slated for in­tro­duc­tion in 2013, it was de­layed un­til 2014 be­cause the goal­posts moved af­ter Mosley’s de­par­ture. In the process, the ar­chi­tec­ture switched from in­line-4 to V6 and cer­tain ‘per­for­mance-dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing’ tech­nolo­gies were dropped in the in­ter­ests of cost sav­ing. Yet this has proved to be the most ex­pen­sive power unit change in F1 history, while post-2014 changes to the con­cept have opened the door to it be­com­ing more costly still.

The ‘hard hy­brid’ (as op­posed to the ‘soft’ KERS-sup­ple­mented V8s) 1,600cc turbo for­mula was in­tended to ap­peal to and ap­pease the fears of the six car man­u­fac­tur­ers (plus Cos­worth) then in F1. There were high ex­pec­ta­tions, too, that a more road-rel­e­vant engine con­cept would en­tice VW and a Korean brand to en­ter the sport.

As it tran­spired, the hoped-for en­trants stayed away and half the man­u­fac­tur­ers (plus Cos­worth) walked, leav­ing Mercedes, Fer­rari and Re­nault, with Honda mak­ing an awk­ward re­turn a year af­ter the de­layed switch to hy­brids. Mosley and Bernie Ec­cle­stone had failed to force com­mit­ments to com­pete from man­u­fac­tur­ers, and so a con­cept aimed at road rel­e­vance was in­tro­duced with­out most of them.

In 2011, Fer­rari and Mercedes in­sisted on a switch to V6s on the ba­sis that they had no plans to build high-per­for­mance in­line-4 road-car en­gines, and there­fore there was no mar­ket­ing ku­dos. Mercedes, though, now pride them­selves on of­fer­ing the most pow­er­ful in­line-4 2.0-litre turbo in the in­dus­try…

The cur­rent for­mula ex­pires at the end of 2020, prompt­ing the FIA to con­vene a meet­ing of F1 engine man­u­fac­tur­ers (non-com­peti­tors were also in­vited) to con­sider what comes next. The meet­ing, held at the end of March in Paris, was at­tended by rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the FIA, FOM, Fer­rari, Mercedes, Re­nault, Honda, VW and Alfa Romeo, plus in­de­pen­dent en­gi­neer Mario Ilien.

So far so good, save that no in­de­pen­dent teams, who pay through the nose for the ex­quis­ite power units the man­u­fac­tur­ers pro­vide, were rep­re­sented. Yes, man­u­fac­tur­ers are well placed to frame the tech­ni­cal spec­i­fi­ca­tions of what­ever for­mula is adopted, but what use are fancy giz­mos if they put half the grid out of busi­ness?

Man­u­fac­turer pri­or­i­ties are sim­ple: an en­gi­neer­ing plat­form that com­bines a test bed for road-car tech­nolo­gies with a per­for­mance­based mar­ket­ing pedestal that pro­vides a mea­sure of prod­uct rel­e­vance. Bud­gets are im­ma­te­rial, for once brands are com­mit­ted to the pub­lic spec­ta­cle that is For­mula 1 they spend what­ever it takes to be suc­cess­ful, or face ridicule. Hence engine de­part­ment head­counts of 600-plus.

Con­trast that with the in­de­pen­dent team wish list: cheap, re­li­able en­gines with 70kW more than the rest (or, at the very least, power par­ity), prefer­ably not only sup­plied free of charge by man­u­fac­tur­ers, but ac­com­pa­nied by sub­stan­tial mar­ket­ing bud­gets – in other words, be­ing paid by man­u­fac­tur­ers to race with the best engine on the grid. That is just how Wil­liams and Benet­ton won their ti­tles.

A pipe dream? Seem­ingly so, for not even McLaren or Red Bull Rac­ing achieve that via their Honda and Re­nault part­ner­ships. While all com­mer­cial boxes are ticked by McLaren’s deal, the power unit is the laugh­ing stock of the field; Red Bull have ac­cess to a rea­son­able engine, al­though the team cover power-unit costs through a badg­ing deal with TAG Heuer.

Force In­dia, fourth in the 2016 stand­ings, pay full price ($25m) for their sup­ply of Merc units, thus cars and kit do not fea­ture the three-pointed star. The costs are cov­ered by a pink liv­ery deal with wa­ter com­pany BWT, which il­lus­trates the lengths in­de­pen­dents go to in their quest for bud­get.

Ul­ti­mately, there is a dis­con­nect be­tween the man­u­fac­tur­ers and their cus­tomers, the in­de­pen­dent teams. Hence the pres­ence of Ilien at the engine meet­ing is a pos­i­tive sign, for ide­ally F1 needs an in­de­pen­dent engine com­pany to keep the man­u­fac­tur­ers hon­est. How­ever, as Cos­worth and Craig Pol­lock’s PURE project engine com­pany can at­test, in­de­pen­dent sup­pli­ers were ‘in­volved’ last time round, and where are they now?

The won­der is that all par­ties are con­sid­er­ing a change of engine for­mula. The stag­ger­ing de­vel­op­ment costs for the cur­rent engine have now largely been amor­tised, while the units them­selves are mostly re­li­able de­spite out­puts of close to 750kW. They are also su­per-eco­nom­i­cal, con­sum­ing half the en­ergy for a given lap time when di­rectly com­pared with the old-iron V8s. Talk about road rel­e­vant.

Surely the an­swer is to re­tain the present ar­chi­tec­ture, but sim­plify the more so­phis­ti­cated hy­brid sys­tems. That would en­able prices to be dropped to around $11m per two-car an­nual sup­ply, which was the tar­get all along.

By 2020, the ‘new’ F1 V6 PU could be side­lined

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