Jean Todt’s FIA has been getting pushback from some of the teams and the current commercial rights holder regarding the plan to introduce 1.6L 4-cylinder power plants in F1 for 2013. Bernie Ecclestone has made claims that the unique noise generated by the current V8 is one of the prime things that keep people coming back for more, while Ferrari has taken every opportunity to indicate that 4-cylinder engines do not fit F1 or Ferrari’s DNA. So, why the disgruntlement with the new engines? And what are the implications of moving forward despite Bernie and Ferrari’s condemnation?
What’s the Stink All About?
First, lets establish what the condemnation is based on. Ferrari seems to be down in the mouth about all things F1 these days, from the current aero regulations to the future engines. While they make grandiose claims that F1’s DNA is in engine and chassis development, not in aero, they seem to be throwing the return of real engine competition under the bus. And Bernie’s dismissal of the new engines may be prompted by his concerns over the potential of loosing teams who are not willing to develop the engines due to lack of relevancy to the products they sell, or due to the high cost of said development.
Right now, the current engine manufacturers are making their plans whether to stay or go, because not only are the new engine rules coming into effect in 2013, the current Concorde agreement expires at the end of 2012… which will release the current teams from any contractual obligation to race in the series.
So maybe that puts this whole verbal spat between the FIA, FOM and the teams into a different light. The new engines are being used by the teams as a bargaining point in their negotiations to sign on with Bernie for 2013 onward. Clearly this is making Bernie a bit uncomfortable as evidenced by his pressuring the FIA to allow current V8’s to continue to run in 2013 with equivalency rules, much like the V10’s were allowed to stick around for a year past their scheduled demise. The FIA seems willing to consider it, but the team bosses are coming out against equivalency rules that they deem unworkable. Maybe just because they want their bargaining chip to be as valuable as possible.
Blazing a New Trail
It seems clear that the FIA’s intent in bringing forth these new regulations is to have the engines in F1 be more relevant to engines that mainline manufacturers are putting into their road cars, as well as having a more environmentally friendly technical package. The FIA hopes that this will help draw manufacturers like Toyota and Honda back into the fold, while possibly attracting interest from other makes that are not currently represented in the series.
But the concerns that non-participating mainline manufacturers have with F1 go beyond the environmental image and road relevance. They are also concerned with the astronomical cost. Adding to the current cost concerns are the potentially huge costs of developing an entirely new power plant that meets the FIA’s power and longevity requirements while also being cost effective enough that they can supply these engines to other teams at a fixed cost.
Ignore the Noise?
So, with the FIA signaling that there will be no change to the 4-cylinder spec for 2013, what is the potential ramifications? There could be less team signatures on the 2013 Concorde. But the signatures that matter most are the signatures of the engine manufacturers. With only Craig Polluck’s new company, PURE, currently stating their intent to manufacture one of these engines and Ferrari’s insistence that they are not interested in F1 with these engines, this has the potential to be the puff of wind that brings down Bernie’s house of cards. Is it likely?… probably not, but the potential is there because of the massive budgets teamed with massive egos that currently populate the sport.