Following an FIA working party on Formula One engines, the FIA announced there would be a new engine formula introduced in 2013. This was to be a 1.6 litre, in line 4 cylinder turbo with electrical recovery systems incorporated.
Ferrari and Mercedes were not enamoured by the proposed move to such a power unit, whilst Renault threatened to withdraw from the sport unless the new engine formula was adopted.
Eric Boullier defended the French manufacturer’s position at the time: “The tendency for the road car market, especially Renault, is to go for smaller engines with more hybrid technology to make fuel savings. Formula One can’t become just a show,” added Boullier, “we have to be seen as motor sport pioneers and technology is part of that. This is the only way for Renault to communicate their know how and make sure they can use the opportunity of being in F1 to promote car sales”.
Martin Whitmarsh, the then McLaren team principal, was skeptical: “With hindsight we got it wrong, because the intention of the 2013 formula was to see if we could attract more manufacturers. Plainly we didn’t”. Whitmarsh did accept the global recession may have been partly to blame.
More negotiations ensued and finally an agreement was reached that satisfied Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault. The implementation of the new power unit would be delayed for a year and revised to a 1.6l V6 turbo with ERS.
Clearly, one of the most significant expenses in Formula One is the occasional shift to a new engine formula, something not lost on Cosworth’s Mike Gallagher back in 2011. “There’s a big concern on our side because the new rules have no cost restrictions applied. So the manufacturers can spend a huge amount of money and we would have a space race around the new engine formula, which was never the idea.”
Prophetic words indeed.
Having utterly failed to deliver a V6 hybrid power unit capable of competing with Ferrari and Mercedes, Renault appear to be happy to now U-Turn on their previous position and claim the new power unit regulations are “not fit for purpose,” according to Cyril Abiteboul who tells motorsport.com: “If you ask me about this particular set of regulations, how important they are, we should not be precious. I am not completely convinced that we have the engine regulations that are completely fit for purpose for the model of modern F1.
“[I am talking about] for the show, for the cost for the manufacturer, for price for the team, also noise and serviceability and so on and so forth”.
Abiteboul accepts that hybrid technology is here to stay, however he believes the regulations are too complex starting with, “the token system, which is extremely confusing, and the penalty system, which is extremely confusing. I don’t think we have something brilliant.”
Ferrari, Mercedes, Honda and Renault have been tasked with finding solutions to the current engine formula problems by January 15th. The primary issue is cost to customers, however Ecclestone will be keen to see solutions producing more noise – which in itself ironically mitigates the efforts of F1 engineers to produce “pioneering technology.”
Renault are now clearly happy for more of a revolution than evolution of the current engine formula regulations set to run until 2020, because the gap they have to bridge to Ferrari and Mercedes appears to be wide and set to take quite some time. Yet any significant overhaul of the power unit architecture will of course see the manufacturers once again spending big on R&D.