What ever happened to the perennial round of stories suggesting Infiniti were keen to build a Formula One engine? This old chestnut was wheeled out year on year – much to Renault’s disgust – whilst simultaneously the Red Bull Racing team powered by their French engine roared to championship after championship.
The last we heard about an Infiniti engine, was a speculative piece written by Michael Schmidt prior to the 2014 Austrian GP.
Schmidt claimed that Red Bull were already significantly involved with the production of the new V6 PU batteries and that the Renault turbo charger was in effect sub-contracted out to APC Pankl, an Austrian technology collaboration.
Red Bull were said to be talking to AVL, the world’s largest independent power train development company who are also Austrian based. It was AVL’s ‘rolling road’ used for a test by Toro Rosso early last year which hit the headlines following Renault’s poor showing in the winter tests.
Schmidt concluded, “Infiniti would contribute a portion of the budget and may contribute knowledge about electric motors from the parent company Nissan. It is planned that the engine will also be called Infiniti.”
It was revealed recently during a TJ13 podcast that Red Bull are developing out a recently acquired factory unit on their Tilbrook site in Milton Keynes. Interestingly, the first stage of the ‘Unit 9’ modification was to lift the original floor and then excavate to a depth of around two stories.
Amongst the staff in Milton Keynes, these works are believed to be creating the building suitable for “Adrian’s boat project.”
Other speculation is that the subterranean excavations will provide a relatively quiet and secretive location for Red Bull to develop a Formula One engine.
However, the comments of Luca Cordero di Montezemolo last week have cast doubts upon any kind of Red Bull F1 engine project, as the ex-Ferrari man claimed, “Red Bull, they have imploded — a mutual friend told me that Mateschitz is thinking of selling and is trying to convince Audi to come in”.
However, the FIA’s bold plan to attract new engine manufacturers to the sport appears to have failed with the exception of Honda. The reason – the cost of developing a competitive V6 Turbo hybrid power unit is prohibitive even for the world’s largest auto manufacturers.
A feasibility study examining an F1 Audi programme was prepared by Stefano Domenicali in 2014. The bottom line reported by Autosport was that the VW group would need to invest 1 billion euros to get an F1 project off the ground.
This presumably was to fund a start up F1 team and engine, so acquiring Red Bull’s facilities, machinery and staff would mitigate this number somewhat.
Audi of course have a highly competitive hybrid engine developed and racing already in the WEC. But it is a diesel engine.
Further, Audi would be lacking the crossover knowledge of how to integrate a hybrid engine into a Formula One car, which is the key to Mercedes AMG F1’s success. After all, Williams, Lotus and Force India all have under the FIA regulations identical engines.
Were this the F1 V8 engine era, Audi could be confident the appropriate skills would be within Red Bull Racing. Yet the difference between Toro Rosso and Red Bull Racing this year is simple. Daniel Ricciardo. Whilst the beaming Australian may have the talent to become an F1 world champion, there are other ways to acquire his services without forking out several hundred million to Mr. Mateschitz.
There has been a whirlwind of wild speculation around Audi joining Formula One since Ferdinand Piëch resigned as chairman of the VAG group two weeks ago. However, VAG has its own troubles at present; and even if the immediate attention of the groups senior executives was not to halt falling margins, would Formula One really be on their radar right now?
Were Audi to consider buying Red Bull Racing, Mateschitz would see the start of 2017 as the ideal point of exchange, following the expiry of the Renault Red Bull engine supply agreement.
This is a tight deadline to begin designing a Formula One engine meant to hit the track in anger in just 21 months, and even the VW board were ready to press the button today, exactly what engine should they begin to design?
Ecclestone claims he has agreement for a radical new Formula One in 2017, but what does this mean? With the regulations for the year after next only to be finalised in March 2016, can Audi have confidence that what they sign up to now – is in fact what will happen?
Honda discovered the playing field on which they entered F1 shifted at the last minute, as in season development suddenly became open.
The latest rumour on Audi’s imminent entry into F1 comes from Motorsport-Total, who report a sum of 300 million Euro has been discussed for a complete buy-out of the Toro Rosso team. Dietrich Mateschitz has apparently even offered to stay aboard as a sponsor for a limited time.
Dr. Marko however says, that patience is needed. “Volkswagen Group have to sort out now, who the new boss is. Only then they can decide what they want to do in terms of motorsports.” The Red Bull consultant also re-iterates Mateschitz threat to leave F1. “If we don’t have a competitive engine in the near future, then either Audi is coming or we are out,” said Marko.
Considering the current wrangling at the German auto manufacturing company, these decisions could well take months – if not years.