Back in 2013—and even before that—Ross Brawn worked diligently to help Formula 1 determine the new path forward regarding engine regulations. As part of the F1 technical group that was charged with defining the way forward, Brawn had sold his Brawn GP team to Mercedes and he knew that the pockets were much deeper and Mercedes fully committed to winning but they, like Renault, wanted to move the formula into the hybrid era. Brawn knew he had an opportunity, as with most regulation changes, to turn the tables on a dominant Red Bull and usher in a new era of Mercedes domination…which he did before leaving the team.
Now on the other side of the fence, he is now charged by Liberty Media to effectively undo his Mercedes world domination plan by finding a way to systematically remove the key ingredients which, combined with Mercedes money well, have contributed to their baked-in advantage for four seasons. He is effectively having to use his super powers for good instead of evil.
The initial reaction to generically proposed engine format changes for 2021 were not well received by Renault, Mercedes and Ferrari. Brawn understands that but he’s not working for a team any longer, he’s working for F1’s commercial rights owners and he has to find a way forward.
To those ends, there was a very interesting article at Autosport in which Brawn summed up the entire issue with the current engine format in one sentence. It’s taken me paragraphs to try and explain this but he does it much more elegantly than I. Emphasis in this next quote is added by me to highlight his succinct phrase.
“What I think we should try to achieve with the new engine is componentry that is economic to change whenever you want,” said Brawn.
“If we go towards a different design of turbocharger, a homologated turbo, and it costs $2-3,000, why would you bother to even worry about limiting the number you use?
“It is not worth it in terms of the scale of the racing.
“But when your turbocharger is as expensive and complicated as it is now, then that’s why we have the limitations.
“The engine is an incredible demonstration of engineering competence, but it is not a great racing engine.”
I’ve been taking incoming mortar fire since 2014 on my position against the current hybrid engines and I have tried to explain that they are incredible engineering feats but, as Brawn puts it more eloquently, they simply aren’t incredible racing engines. Period.
The interested amongst you may find Porsche’s involvement in initial meetings as very important. VW have always been dipping their toe of interest in F1 but have always felt that the sport was heading in the wrong direction. Even when the FIA’s Jean Todt bent over backwards with hybrid engines to be more appealing to manufacturers, it didn’t work. Too expensive and the racing suffered.
“It has been interesting because Porsche have been in the meetings and they have been able to add their opinion because they have seen both sides,” said Brawn.
“And they have been able to add that understanding of what went on, and it did become too much of a technical exercise.
“Sportscar racing has its fan following but even in the environment where the fans were not the biggest thing, it faltered and it failed.
“In this environment, where the fans should be the biggest thing, we can’t afford to have that sort of failure where we get so extreme we lose contact with the fans, because only a very few people can afford the technology and excel in the technology.
“We are four seasons into this technology and we are still getting so many grid penalties.
“All credit to Mercedes. They have done a fantastic job. But no-one else can catch up. That is the reality.”
Brawn gets it. He understands that the current hybrid engines may have moved the sport to an 80% manufacturer contest and 20% driver contest which begets weak, lackluster racing. Red Bull recently tried to make a move to get rid of the three-engine rule for 2018 and Ferrari scuttled that idea. Why? Because Ferrari knows that reliability is an issue for Renault and that’s a big leg up for them if they have better reliability. That’s what I would do too but isn’t it, at the end of the day, silly that this is what we’re calling racing?
Shouldn’t real racing be more than engineers battling brains and crafting regulations and rules that favor their innovation over another team? This isn’t Samsung versus Apple and even if it were, at least in that analogy, the customer wins with a far more exciting mobile phone and better UX. F1 isn’t delivering a better UX. Brawn knows this and I will be very interested to see if he can keep Mercedes, Renault and Ferrari all in the series while radically ramping up the user/fan User Experience (UX).
Hat Tip: Autosport