Just because someone important makes an assertion – and it is then repeated by many others – doesn’t make it true.
There is a current polemic in Formula One circles, which broadly states that manufacturers come and go from the sport on a whim – and therefore their contribution is somewhat marginal. Of course, this is driven by a certain Bernie Ecclestone and has been emphasised by the desperate plight of his ‘son and heir’ Christian Horner – who has been forced to plead with these monsters for months for an engine supply agreement.
Ecclestone has been increasingly frustrated about being unable to get his own way since the appointment of Jean Todt as president of the FIA and the formation of the F1 strategy group. Despite the strategy group being Bernie’s own ‘love child’, he perceives the manufacturers therein are ganging up against him and controlling the way their customer teams vote both here and on the F1 commission.
Having failed to force Mercedes and Ferrari to cut the cost of their V6 Turbo Hybrid power units, Bernie and Jean launched down the path of threatening these two giants of the sport with a ‘new budget’ F1 engine design and supply – that would allegedly compete in terms of power with the new breed of hybrids.
Mercedes and Ferrari duly lined up the troops for the F1 commission vote and the unicorn engine proposal was thrown out. In response Todt decided to get his FIA to provide Ecclestone and himself a mandate to do as they please – for the good of Formula One.
The budget engine has divided F1 fans with many citing Ecclestone’s assertions that manufacturers should be less important because they come and go from F1 as they please.
Yet is this really the truth?
Ferrari has been in the sport since its inception in 1950. This historical commitment to the sport, rightly or wrongly, means they are provided with an annual stipend in the region of $100m.
Mercedes dabbled in F1 for just two seasons in the 1950’s, but joined the sport proper in 1994 as an engine supplier. Their association with Mario Illien and Ilmor produced what is now known as the Mercedes AMG High Performance power trains division.
So Mercedes have now completed 22 consecutive years of service to F1.
Renault are the third most successful engine manufacturer in Formula One, and since they joined the sport in 1977 have won more races than any other engine manufacturer. Since 1977, Renault have been absent from F1 for just the 1987 and 1988 seasons. They have been ever present either as a supplier of engines or with their own works team. They also have two constructor world championships.
Of the four current manufacturers, Honda may be considered the flakiest. They entered F1 as a works team in 1964 and left in 1968. From 1983 they supplied engines for independent teams, then in 1993 the Honda name disappeared, but they continued within the sport under their association with Mugen as an engine supplier.
The Honda name returned in 2000 powering the BAR and Jordan teams, then in 2006 Honda entered as a works team. Leaving the sport at the end of 2008. The brand returned in 2015 in partnership with McLaren. This means over the 52 years since 1964, the Japanese manufacturer has been part of Formula One for 31 years.
In fact, with the exception of Ford, these four manufacturers make up the back bone of what Formula One has been. 81% of F1 races won have been won by engines from Ferrari, Ford, Renault, Mercedes and Honda.
To suggest the current group of manufacturers just come and go from Formula One, is ridiculous given the facts. Once again, F1 games are being played by the sport’s CEO who continues to damage its reputation week on week and month on month.
If Ecclestone and Todt do get their way and a new independent manufacturer is allowed to produce the budget engine, two possibilities remain.
Firstly, the budget engine will not match the power of the hybrids and so the races will become two tier affairs – as defined by different engine specifications. The grand prix circuits of the world have seen this before, it was called Formula One and Formula Two.
Secondly, if the budget engine is allowed to compete with the hybrids of the manufacturers, then the manufacturers will leave Formula One leaving behind a glorified GP2 series of events.
The manufacturers are not incidental to Formula One – they are the backbone of the sport, and the current four have more than served their time and earned their dues.
Of course watching Mercedes winning everything is boring, but that’s not Mercedes fault. Of course it takes two to three years for Ferrari and the rest to build hybrids that can compete – but neither is that Mercedes fault. The demonisation of Mercedes for winning reveals the lack of creative thinking to prevent these periods of dominance which have been happening since the late 1980’s.
Engine dominance is nothing new in Formula One as the following list of the last 30 years winners demonstrates
Each era of dominance averages out at just over 3 years.
There are a plethora of tools at the disposal of FOM and the FIA to ensure these periods where one manufacturer is dominant are shortened. But changing the regulations repeatedly is not the solution and bad mouthing those manufacturers who are fundamental to the DNA of the sport is also painfully stupid.
The simplest solution to preventing eras of dominance is by ‘success handicaps’. Not race by race, but year on year. Forcing the winning team to run their cars for a season car with incremental ballast is both a cheap and effective solution.
Yet the purists don’t want this artificial interference with racing, so we go round and round in circles – never solving the problem – with era after era of dominance in Formula One.
Nothing has been done to solve the problem of Mercedes lead over the rest for 2016, so we can but hope Ferrari run them close. That said, TJ13 post season analysis demonstrated the red team have made no progress during 2015 on Mercedes 1 lap pace, and given that Saturday is when the race winner is in effect decided – even were Mercedes to pick the wrong tyres under the new Pirelli system, their advantage looks big enough to cope with this and still win.
A team race analyst told TJ13 they believed Mercedes will predominantly pick the softest of the three compounds on offer as one of their tyre set choices. This should guarantee pole position and overtaking in the races will be no easier in 2016 than it has in 2015. The potential excitement will come because other teams will using the harder rubber. Mercedes may then have to reveal the true pace of their car and at race after race make more stops than others – but isn’t this as artificial as ballast?