Well we’ve been waiting for the F1 strategy group to make a strategic decision – well any kind of decision really (granted they had consensus on banning driver helmet changes) – and here we have it. Jean Todt has thrown his lot in with Bernie Ecclestone and forced through change. Traditionally the French President in this forum has refused to back any change without consensus, so the FIA’s 6 votes have been with the naysayers, this is because Todt’s philosophy for F1 is one of change by consensus.
At a recent meeting of the strategy group, Jean Todt fulfilled his threat to force an engine cost cap on the manufacturers for 2016. Even with the customer teams behaving as instructed by their power unit supplier, this meant Bernie and Jean outvoted them by 12-6, and a simple majority is enough for regulation changes for 2017.
Ferrari of course have the ‘God given’ right to veto most things F1 if they so please, even over decisions presented to the World Motorsport Council. So as was threatened, Ferrari vetoed the 2017 cost cap which would have seen the charge made to a customer for a V6 hybrid power unit halve from the current million euro price tag.
Back in 2009, Ferrari veto’d another cost control regulation and so the matter was escalated by Max Mosley to the ‘Tribunal de Grande Instance’ in Paris. Interestingly, the tribunal whilst recognising Ferrari’s veto rights, ruled that they should have been exercised during April’s meeting of the World Motor Sport Council. In other words, Ferrari failed to follow proper protocol’s for using their veto.
Sergio Marchionne did not make the same mistake as his predecessor and deployed the Maranello block on proceedings in a timely and appropriate time. The FIA responded stating, “In the interest of the championship, the FIA has decided not to legally challenge Ferrari SpA’s use of its right of veto.”
But it appears Jean Todt and Bernie are still one step ahead of Sergio.
In response to the Ferrari veto, the FIA will now invite tenders for a ‘budget’ F1 engine to be available for all teams in 2017. Firstly the FIA will “initiate a consultation with all stakeholders regarding the possible introduction of a client engine, which will be available as of 2017. Following this consultation a call for tenders for this client engine, the cost of which would be much lower than the current power unit, could be undertaken,” said the FIA statement.
“Supported by FOM, the FIA will continue in its efforts to ensure the sustained long-term development of the championship and look for solutions enabling it to achieve this. It asks all of the teams to make a positive contribution to the success of this approach through proposals and initiatives in the interest of the Championship and its continuation over the long term.”
For those who have been following Formula One more than five years, a sense of deja vu may well be descending upon you. The previous stand off between Ferrari and the FIA, led to threats by all the manufacturers to leave the sport. The bone of contention was again cost control and Max Mosley had pushed through regulations for 2010 which would see a budget cap in place and for those adhering to this spending limit, a greater degree of freedom in the car design regulations would be offered.
Such was the seriousness of the proposed breakaway, Kimi Raikkonen who was employed by Ferrari at the time stated, “I work for Ferrari and we are one big family. It is my work and it is the place where I want to race. Whatever they do, I will do the same with them. We are one family and we do things together,”Fernando Alonso commented at the time”.
Fernando Alonso had similar feelings: “I don’t know if this will be my last time in Monaco,” he told reporters. “If the big teams and the big manufacturers leave Formula 1 then I don’t want to race with small teams, because it is not any more F1 and there are many other categories.”
The FIA and Bernie have leaked the idea that the new F1 budget engines could come from Indycar, a slap in the face for the F1 engine builders. Further, that it would be balanced to compete with the V6 Turbo Hybrids.
But Chris Berube, the programme manager for Chevrolet Racing stated at the weekend, “Just because there’s suddenly speculation that F1 may use the same engine displacement for a low-budget formula in 2017 doesn’t mean our IndyCar engines are compatible with F1’s formula, nor that General Motors will suddenly be interested.
“If we’d wanted to be in F1, we could have been there”.
Add to this, the brand Chevrolet is due to disappear from the European road car offerings in 2016.
So could Honda offer up their Indycar power unit? This would be a nonsense, particularly if these budget engines were balanced to deliver similar performance to the new V6 hybrid turbo’s.
Interestingly, Bernie has been talking up a Cosworth return over the past week or two and Cosworth co-owner Kevin Kalkhoven has now confirmed he is in talks with Formula One, though makes it clear Cosworth do not have the funds to develop this through to full implementation and supply.
So the threat of an imposed budget engine being available for 2017 by the time the regulations are finalised in March next, appears rather remote. But were Todt and Ecclestone to pull this off, the big question is will, what will the response of Ferrari and Mercedes be? Ecclestone has talked up three car teas in recent years so with Ferrari and Mercedes supplying 7-8 customers in 2016 with power units, are we about to hear talk of another manufacturer’s breakaway from Formula One?