Bernie Ecclestone strode into the paddock in Bahrain and threatened to ‘kick ass’. He confronted Toto Wolff over Mercedes intransigence over engine regulation changes and was accordingly caught on camera.
This time of year is traditionally one where big debates are taking place over future regulations. The final horse trading for next year’s regulations used to be locked in come June.
Yet the FIA have changed the deadline. Technical and sporting regulation changes for next year had to be agreed by March. The engine’s will be developed for 2016 according to the original schedule as laid out by the FIA, with a reduced number of development tokens available to each manufacturer – and homologation being required before the first race of the season.
It’s not clear at this stage whether Bernie’s strong arm tactics worked in Bahrain, but Eric Boullier of McLaren is now welcoming regulation changes for 2017. The Frenchman believes the Honda crisis will be over by the end of this year and MacHonda will then be able to fully exploit any changes for 2017.
“Any changes we support, because we are ready and especially in two years we would be more than ready to fight,” Boullier told F1i.
Yet there is a long road ahead for Ecclestone who announced that the new regulations for 2017 would create “a spectacular new formula”. Yet the most detail which has emerged ahead of the next F1 strategy group meeting is that 1000 Bhp engines will not be vetoed.
Toto Wolff was far more circumspect and pragmatic when commenting on Ecclestone’s plans.
“There’s a governance in place and for 2017 it needs a simple majority in the F1 Commission to change the rules,” he said. “This is the reality, so if you’re being hard line and blocking everything then you are going to be run over”.
Give a little, appear reasonable and the accusations about “killing F1” will appear the rants of a madman.
“So at least let’s stay on the table and discuss in a sensible way what we can do and what is for the benefit of the sport and for the good of the sport. This is what we are trying to do. There is a financial and commercial reality linked to that. If it costs massive additional development or financial costs then clearly we will make that point but I think you need to be open-minded in entering those discussions.”
Monisha Kaltenborn’s latest comments suggests even in the F1 commission, Ecclestone will be marginalised if the changes required to bring about a ‘spectacular new formula’ changes proposed equate to a rise in costs.
Whilst the rhetoric is ‘all for change’, all four engine manufacturers agree the V6 Turbo’s are here to say – even Renault – whose partner Red Bull Racing is arguing for a change in the power units again.
Mercedes and their customers together with Ferrari, Sauber, Haas and Manor are most likely to vote together to restrict Ecclestone’s ambitions.
Ecclestone has to find a way of playing divide and conquer – and to do that he needs to be able to offer something to a block of this vote.
At present Bernie’s cupboard seems rather bare and the F1 strategy group stacked against him.
It looks as though we shall be treated to a wealth of promises that big changes are coming in F1. But will the brightest of the fireworks promised, be just followed by impotent damp squib announcements of incremental change.
Toto Wolff sums up the current attitude of many Formula One team principals. “For the commercial rights holder it’s important to have not one team running away with the championship and having close battles for the lead, because utmost battling for the lead is what is important for the spectators. We had more of that [in Bahrain] and more of that in Malaysia. We tend to be between very lows and highs … I wouldn’t say everything is solved. We had a good race [in Bahrain] but I would say the sport is in good shape.”