F1’s budget-engine plan could work

6

I may be the only human who wasn’t too keen on the idea of a V6 turbo hybrid engine for Formula 1—I was pretty clear about that a couple years ago when it was announced. Is it the future of road cars? Is electric what we’ll all be driving? Is it “road relevant”? So what if it is?

The bigger questions should have been, will it produce great racing? Will it be affordable for teams? Will it improve F1? Now it seems that F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone has had enough of the F1-as-an-incubator for manufacturers and is looking at providing a unique engine solution for 2017.

As I mentioned here, Ecclestone’s call for a V8 was intended to force the teams to start having a dialog about the issue and not just talking. Now he wants a low-budget, competitive engine with KERS—as I mentioned—and it must be affordable.

Reading Adam Cooper’s story about Force India’s Bob Fernley, I believe there is a way to gain parity across two engine formats. Let the manufacturers keep their finicky V6 turbo hybrids while offering a more affordable V6 twin-turbo or V8 that can run on merit:

“I think the principle of maintaining the V6 hybrid is absolutely correct and proper,” Fernley said. “From the manufacturers’ point of view it’s very beneficial both for their marketing and technical programmes. I don’t see any doubt that the hybrid has a long term future in F1.

“What Bernie is looking at is that the independent teams will be offered a ‘parity’ engine, possibly a V8 with KERS, at a half of the price at least of what we are paying today. Of course, as an independent team to be able to cut our costs down by half and have parity with the V6s is attractive. It doesn’t disadvantage us, we’re still putting on a great show.

“If say Cosworth brought in a V8 with a KERS system it would be a very, very good unit. The advantage to that is we’ve got an independent supplier, and there’s nothing wrong with that for the health of F1. I think Cosworth and Renault are the two operations that can do it.”

Mercedes can lift and coast their way to titles but what if we had another engine that was every bit as efficient and only 10% of the cost? The big question now is how does the series ever begin to find parity for two different engine specifications in F1? How could we possibly handle that?

The FIA does it every year with the World Endurance Championship (WEC) and it produces great racing. Why is the Balance of Power (BoP) such a anathema in F1? It has been there before when the series ran normally aspirated engines against turbos. Fernley said:

“At the end of the day the teams cannot survive on the current cost base. So I think Bernie’s initiative has got tremendous merit. Whether it causes a few issues in terms of discomfort in determining where parity is… Well there is already discomfort between where Mercedes are and where Renault are! You’re always going to have that.

“I don’t think it devalues F1. We run with different chassis, so why can’t we run with different engines? We’ve done it in the past, and sometimes it’s been successful and sometimes it hasn’t, but we haven’t got parity today.”

He’s right, we already have a parity issue between Renault and Mercedes and having a Cosworth running a V8 or twin-turbo V6 with KERS would be no different. The series needs to make changes because it’s become a sprint racing series producing lift-and-coast endurance type racing that pales in comparison to the actual endurance series, WEC, who is producing flat-out sprint races for six hours or more.

When a 17-year-old like Max Verstappen calls his engine a nightmare and says that he was running in safety mode for much of the Bahrain Grand Prix in order to finish, that’s just not F1. I’m sorry but it isn’t.

Hat Tip: Adam Cooper

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@_canuck_

The biggest problem is that the engines are too slow, all they need to do is increase the fuel load.
In a few years with development maybe they could run flat out .

MIE

The issue is the cost of these units. The cost is in the constant development (the previous generation V8’s were so much cheaper because they had been ‘frozen’ for a decade or so, and all the development costs had been paid off years ago. Any new engine no matter what it is (V8, V6 twin turbo, etc.) will require development to bring its performance and efficiency up to a comparable standard to the current generation of hybrid power units. If it isn’t developed to this level it won’t be competitive so what is the point? The manufacturer that spends the… Read more »

Coji

But will the cost be greater than or less than the cost of purchasing additional components of the power units when one or more of the systems fail? Also, at what point would the upfront cost of development be surpassed by continuing purchases of those addition MGUs?

MIE

There is no reason why the cost of the components used within F1 should be much higher than their road-car equivalents. The materials are similar (now that the really exotic materials have been banned), it is just the development cost is amortised over a few tens of units rather than hundreds of thousands of units. So long as the manufacturer has estimated their reliability correctly (and so produced the right number of spares), the additional units should not be massively more expensive. If a new engine for a road car is a few thousand pounds, the cost to produce an… Read more »

jakobusvdl

I’m with you Dave, I can’t see how initiating development of another power unit is going to save anyone money at this stage. Even if they brought back last years V8 ERS units, the teams using them would still be up for a new chassis and aero, plus it would be necessary to improve those old units to get power and torque compatibility – at cost and risk to reliability. It’s worth checking out some of the Motorsport magazine podcasts, either the formula student on the new F1 rules or one of the Pat Symonds interviews discusses the fact that… Read more »

Junipero Mariano

I agree that road relevancy is WEC’s job. F1 should be about being the fastest circuit racers period using the latest technology available. But the sour taste that many people have about hybrid technology could be alleviated by Formula One showing off how much performance can be gained from it. I think where they screwed up is pushing efficiency through the fuel flow limit, which almost laughable in a sprint race. Efficiency is for endurance racing, hence the name. If they wanted to be efficient, just lower the fuel load. That way a driver like Hamilton can hold back just… Read more »