The FIA are inviting tender applications for an 'alternative engine' for F1 from 2017. The specification of which is up to 2500cc with 6 cylinders in a V configuration, supplemented by up to two turbochargers. The specifics surrounding fuel supply, ie common rail or direct injection, fuel flow and/or fuel weight limits aren't known at this time but it is believed as long as the cost and power objectives (8 million per season and 670kw, roughly 860bhp) are achieved it does not matter how the fuel is delivered. Furthermore, the engine won't be required to have KERS/ERS.
The FIA are specifically targeting a new 'independant' manufacturer, stating:
"C. The candidate declares to be entirely independent of a major car manufacturer."
This rules out the current crop of engine manufacturers switching, making the likes of Ilmor, Mechachrome, AER and Cosworth the front runners. (It's believed that Cosworth have ruled themselves out whilst Ilmor and AER have applied)
I do fear for these manufacturers though, as just like the budget cap proposed split regulations of 2009/2010, there is a distinct wiff of foul play. Firstly, the FIA proposed that the current engine manufacturers reduce their costs, in order to level the playing field. It was suggested that 12m be a 'fair' maximum figure for the hybrid units which currently run to somewhere in the region of 15-20m, depending on supplier. However, Ferrari chose to use their veto, blocking any such move, something supported by Mercedes who both know that at the current rate of development and money already invested isn't enough to recoup their costs. Afterall, why should the manufacturers support the costs of all? when their initial investment plans scheduled til 2019 is a stable model. Secondly, who is suggesting the powerunits are too expensive? and why are they in F1 in the first place if they can't do simple arithmetic? They knew what was coming....
I'll agree in comparison to the 7-8m per season the teams paid for the V8's the hybrid units do seem expensive. However, the same was said when F1 moved from the V10 to the V8 and even then Bernie wasn't happy (This article always springs to mind: http://www.autosport.com/news/report.php/id/49650) Although we are still light on cost information for the V10 (I'll look into that) suffice to say the jump to the V8 was fairly significant but, just like the move to a V6T it was one of necessity in terms of relevance.
Now I do find myself struggling with this one but I do agree, at least on some level, with Bernie that they are a little expensive, especially if we look at it inline with economic increases in our own lives. Forget the cost of commodity items like that tin of beans down at the supermarket lets use a Volkswagen Golf GTi as our benchmark...
2006 - GTI (3dr) - £20,360
2015 - GTI (3dr) - £27,135
That's a 33.28% increase in 9 years, granted it is in a market that is now flooded with GTi wannabes, which perhaps if it was still the only product in its class would likely have risen a little more, considering the likes of the Focus RS are over 30k.
Secondly, some of the costs we see banded around aren't just for the powerunits, these are complete package prices, lest we forget if you buy from Ferrari you get their powerunit, gearbox and suspension, a considerable saving on the production of your own. Williams, Lotus, Red Bull, Toro Rosso and McLaren all buck this trend producing their own components and will sell their products to others. Manor's move to Mercedes powerunits next season sees them enter a partnership with Williams, with the latter providing their gearbox and suspension. Whilst in recent seasons Red Bull Technology provided Caterham with theirs and Force India used McLaren gearboxes and suspension.
For the 2016 season it will most likely look like this:
|Mercedes AMGF1||Mercedes HPP||Mercedes AMGF1|
|Williams Racing||Mercedes HPP||Williams Racing|
|Red Bull Racing||Renault (Unbranded)||Red Bull Technology|
|Force India||Mercedes HPP||Mercedes AMGF1|
|Toro Rosso||Ferrari (2015 PU)||Red Bull Technology|
|Manor F1||Mercedes HPP||Williams Racing|
Moving back to my main point, who is going to buy this 'alternative engine'? It may be cheaper but will it be able to hold a candle to the development curve of the hybrid units? How will it be homologated? Will the new manufacturer be prepared to put their own money on the line to chase performance?
In the case of who will buy it lets take a look at the grid, Mercedes, Ferrari, Renault and Honda will all have 'works' teams going into 2017. Mercedes HPP currently power Williams Racing, Force India and Manor F1. Manor F1 a team that really need some financial stability may have enjoyed the cost savings from the 'alternative engine' but have just signed a long term deal with Mercedes. Force India are another that have hinted for some time now that costs are a sticking point for them, however they won't want to give up performance and are currently in the throes of trying to align themselves with a Mercedes partner: Aston Martin. Williams are a possibility, they have over the last decade made several engine changes to reposition themselves, however, with Toto Wolff still owning shares in the team (although with Lance Stroll joining Williams as a development driver, talk is his father Lawrence may look at taking those shares) it might be a difficult board meeting. Furthermore, the team has enjoyed considerable success over the last two seasons and enticed some interesting sponsors along the way, further fortifying the reason to stay put.
Sauber are with Ferrari because they offer a level of stability that they desire, with a switch to the alternative engine requiring them to either purchase or develop their own powertrain. Haas has entered F1 with the express intention of building the chassis and being supplied the powerunit / powertrain. Furthermore, they've enjoyed quite a unique relationship with Ferrari on their entrance to the sport and so I cannot see them moving anytime soon.
Lotus will become Renault and as such won't be looking at the alternative engine, just as McLaren are committed to Honda.
This leaves us with the Red Bull teams, out of favour at Renault, Red Bull are tempted to splinter off with their own Renault based hybrid unit, making them the perfect candidate, as they build their own gearboxes in any case. Furthermore, as they have Toro Rosso it would give the new engine supplier two teams to work with and the opportunity to recoup/help with development costs. This is a major issue for any none automotive backed supplier, as proved by Cosworth during the latter stages of the V8 era. Seen as an alternative option they supplied the new teams: Virgin Racing, HRT and Lotus Racing, which as we know, one folded early on and the other two changed names. Meanwhile as Lotus Racing became Cateram via Team Lotus they also negotiated a deal to use Renault V8's / RBT powertrains leaving just Marussia nee Virgin Racing with the Cosworth. This put a huge strain on both Cosworth and Marussia who were now left to bear the cost of developing concepts run by the 'big three' Renault, Ferrari and Mercedes, something that put them at a clear disadvantage, as others ran more complex EBD and then 'Coanda exhaust' solutions.
Whilst I don't have a problem with the use of two powerunits in F1 (as it just gives me more to explain ;)) I do foresee plenty of issues in terms of their equivalence. Firstly, we have a major issue in terms of weight, the hybrids are already 60kg's heavier than their predecessors, which is part of the issue in terms of the racing we are seeing. Add to that they were also KERS powered, with systems weighing in around 40kg's and you're suddenly looking at a 100kg deficit. You can argue that these new V6 twin turbos are going to be considerably thirstier than the hybrids which will mean carrying more fuel, but as know that is only a starting target and will burn off during the race. How about we chuck some ballast on there I can hear you say, that's all well and good but that can be used to improve performance and in that quantity you'd have to get pretty specific in terms of its placement. On top of this we have the dynamic performance of one of the most critical control elements in any racing series: tyres. Will Pirelli be asked to supply the teams running the alternative engine a different tyre? I doubt it, which due to the differing loadings could also offer up some intriguing results.
As usual I've circled around the subject and we are back at the start, who is going to buy the 'alternative engine'? There are only a handful of candidates: Red Bull, Toro Rosso, Force India if their Aston Martin deal falls through and they are actually out of contract, Sauber if they fancy a punt at saving money and improving performance, afterall they could always buy a Red Bull powertrain and lastly McLaren, if their 2016 campaign is as poor as this one they may cut their losses, I'd doubt it but it remains a possibility. The other problem is what happens if the alternative engine proves to offer a substantial gain over the hybrids? You've just alienated the core of Formula One...
As an aside, I want to get this off my chest but it doesn't really fit in with the rest of the article. The powerunits ARE NOT FROZEN, even though it seems many believe that to be the case. I'm sick of seeing comments about this, suggesting that no-one can ever catch up to Mercedes when there is actually a way of catching up that the V8 format didn't have. The V8's were homologated, unable to be changed unless it was deemed to either save money on manufacturing costs or rectify a safety issue, the problem is the V8's were rudimentary in comparison to the V6T's. As such the scope to create performance comes from various facets, requiring development in every element...
The homologation matrix employed in F1 since 2014 offers manufacturers the chance to make up ground they have already lost, although it clearly allows Mercedes to make improvements too. This year the token deployment system also allowed manufacturers to develop their powerunits throughout the season, something that may be allowed during 2016 too and something we haven't seen in F1 for a decade. The homologation matrix was drawn up in co-operation with the engine manufacturers to allow a sliding scale of development over a 5 year period, with the window to find performance closing year-on-year. An equitable solution IMO, especially seeing as we have seen how Ferrari have been able to use this to close the gap already. IF you want to see the gap narrowed Renault and Honda have to deploy more resources and spend more money, put simply that is how Mercedes and Ferrari have found themselves in the position they hold.