F1 manufacturers discuss potential revisions to engine regs
The F1 manufacturers in Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault, discussed the future of the engine regulations in the championship.
In many ways, Honda's departure from F1 rang several alarms, the announcement raising concerns about the value of manufacturing engines within the championship, as the internal combustion engine - in all its forms - begins to lose relevancy, and justification for the investment of funds becomes harder to find for mainstream automakers.
Some changes have been ratified to make F1 a more worthwhile expense for manufacturers, but with the news of the Japanese auto giant's departure, discussion has resumed over further steps that could be taken to increase the sport's worth for manufacturers.
One proposal has been a cap on engine spending, similar to the one recently imposed on development in other areas. Other steps to make F1 more attractive to automakers seeking to become involved in the sport as solely an engine supplier, as Honda was, have also been considered.
Speaking on this, F1's current engine manufacturers gave their two cents, with Toto Wolff of Mercedes encouraging the sport to market its technologically-advanced engines as what they are: marvels of engineering, Cyril Abiteboul of Renault sharing a relevant anecdote, and Mattia Binotto of Ferrari advocating for a spending cap.
Here's what team principals said on that topic:
Binotto: "What can we do to improve? Certainly the engines are very expensive today. The cost of the development is very high and I think if we compare to what it has been years ago, it has increased a lot. We need to control those costs, we need to try to reduce them. We just changed the regulations, as a matter of fact, tried to freeze as much as we could the engine developments, tried to reduce dyno running for the next years, which is certainly a step forward, eventually not sufficient.
"I think now we will have the opportunity of brand new regulations in 2026 and I think that by designing the new regulations, we need not only to decide what will be the technical choices or the technologies we intend to develop but to look at the cost of the product itself. I think when we were drawing or we decide for the 2014 regulations we’ve been much focussed on the hybrid format, much focussed on the technologies, making sure that somehow F1 was a platform of innovation – but we completely forgot the cost.
"And I think that in the last years the cost of the power unit has been certainly too high. Now, I think that it will be an important discussion that eventually we need to accelerate, try to understand the vision for the power unit format of the future, because it’s cost, it’s technology will be a key element again to attract new OEMs and if we can even eventually anticipate for 2026 I don’t know actually. I think the time is very short but we need to certainly accelerate the discussion and understand the format for the future."
Wolff: "We have had a really successful spell as an engine supplier to McLaren but made the decision at the end of 2009 to buy a team because we saw more marketing value, better return on investment by owning a team – so we’ve seen those both sides. How the business case went for power unit manufacturers. It’s certainly not how it should continue in the future. When I joined Formula 1 with Williams in 2009 I remember the power units that they utilised, they cost US$20million and more. Today we have an obligation to supply at the price that is much below that. With the hybrid introduction, like Mattia said, it was an engineering exercise: what kind of engine can we actually develop?
"And we didn’t realise that we would have a fantastic engine with, today, more than 50 per cent thermal efficiency that doesn’t exist in any other sport. We started to message around it in 2014 with, chief Bernie, that this is really all not good for Formula 1 and the noise is not enough and somehow you can’t sell your product by talking negative about it. So, we’re still lacking the messaging that these engines are fantastic hybrid technology but they’re much to expensive. So we need to introduce a spending cap for power units that’s clear, like we’ve done on the chassis side in order to make it more sustainable and in order to attract other OEMs in the future."
Abiteboul: "For Renault, it’s exactly the situation that we’ve experienced in 2015 when we asked ourselves whether to get out completely or get back in completely as a works team because, for us, at that time it had not got any better. There is simply no business case to support the positioning as engine supplier only given the cost of the technology and the very poor marketing reward you can get out of that whether you do a good job or a bad job.
"Having said that, you can imagine some teams that can be good at partnering with engine manufactures such that engine manufacturers do not need to buy into a team – but I guess that would also take a bit of different thinking than the thinking that is currently in place at Red Bull. Let’s be honest, we’ve tried that, we failed, that’s why we had no choice but to do what we are doing, which is running and owning a works team ourselves."
F1 chose not to alter the engine formula in the 2021 regulations long before they were delayed to 2022, choosing instead to reassess in 2026. Now, however, there are concerns that a lack of more immediate action could be detrimental. On this matter, the manufacturers also spoke, offering their opinions once again.
Here's what the manufacturers said on that particular topic:
Wolff: "I don’t know the specific reasons why Honda left – because there certainly will be many layers that led to this decision and I think return on investment is probably the most important one. Should we have changed the regulations? The problem is that if we would have changed them earlier it would have meant an additional investment for all of us, which wouldn’t have been sustainable, and after a couple of years, three-four years, you’re starting all over again. Where we all came together: Honda, Ferrari, Renault and ourselves was that after 2025 would be the right time.
"Certainly, a cost cap and some kind of freeze needs to be introduced earlier – bearing in mind that we need the status where all engines are about equal. We don’t want to have a situation where we’re freezing power units and there’s big discrepancies in performance. But going forward, we need to all sit on a table, discuss what is the right technology for the real world; how can we simplify technology in order to spend less and then have a new format that everybody buys into from 2026 onwards."
Binotto: "I think that the time was not mature enough to change completely the format earlier. I think we took main actions in the meantime, still tried to manage the situation, which have been cost reductions through the measures of dyno reduction and somehow partial freezing of the power unit itself in the next seasons. I think convergence was one of the other matters, which I think is somehow happening and will happen in the next years. If we would have changed eventually it would not have happened in the timing, which again I think that was should a good reason not to change at the time.
"And we should even not forget that anyway the regulations for the power unit are changing still. We’ve got E10 fuel for 2022 and we are pushing for a more sustainable fuel before 2026, so I think that in terms of sustainability there is much we are doing for the power unit and for F1 from now unit 2026 and we have adopted measures, as I said, for containing costs and I think convergence will happen. So it’s not true that simply changing earlier would have been the right move because again I think in terms of what’s useful for automotive eventually it was too early to understand."
Abiteboul: "I don’t think we need to live looking back and we can’t live regret. I believe Formula 1 needs to be in control of its own agenda and have its own scheduling without being under the hook of any particular individual, and I’m not talking just about Honda, I am talking about any company in the sport. We are 10 teams; we have a number of manufacturers. But equally we need to move forward. I think that what matters most is that we define what is the right technology for the next generation. There are many technologies that are emerging. We see that the automotive world is full of doubts. A few years ago we were never talking about hydrogen. It’s a new thing up and coming.
"Will it be adequate or appropriate for F1, who knows, I don’t know. I think it’s important to pause a bit, wait to make the right decision. But having said that maybe one thing that we could do is do a group that could be a joint group of people, of experts, between all manufacturers, just like we worked on breathing systems for COVID. It was amazing to see actually this collaboration between teams. That’s something we could do to do some advanced research, advanced study for the next generation of power unit to make sure that it is right in terms of show, in terms of cost, in terms of competitiveness and in terms or marketing platform, and we should do that sooner rather than later."
[This story was written by me for FormulaRapida and edited by Darshan Chokhani]