Patrick Head: F1 engine ‘too expensive’

I don’t want to overplay Patrick Head’s comments but I was a little surprised to see him actually call Formula 1 out on their exorbitant power unit costs in an interview with BBC. According to the site, former Williams F1 engineer, Patrick Head was quoted as saying:

“Head says that Formula 1 should be more about the drivers and entertainment than demonstrating the benefits of hybrid technology.”

The reason I find that interesting is not because it isn’t true but because he has been a proponent for the greening of Formula 1 in the past. When he resigned from the F1 team, he moved into the Williams Hybrid Power division—which was later sold—and there are comments he made endorsing the move to hybrid in F1. It seems he’s had a slight change of heart on the issue.

There have also been comments from F1 pundits that the new regulations are the result letting engineers run the sport versus people focused on racing and entertainment. The regulations become burdensome under their own weight and create a vortex of specification and incredibly expensive and exotic systems and materials.

Head suggest the very same notion we’ve been saying for some time regarding road car relevancy and hybrid power—the road car industry is doing hybrid technology just fine thank you:

“I think it should be more about the drivers and more about entertainment on the track, which sounds like saying the easy thing, but the road car people are doing a perfectly good job on hybrid anyway at the moment.”

Head sees Formula 1 as entertainment, not a proving ground for road car technology. This is where we cross that fine line of technical innovation to improve the competitive nature of the team’s car—which sometimes acts as a knock-on effect that can trickle down to road cars—or trying to showboat a technology even if the desire is to garner interest from future manufacturer participation or cultural appeal in certain demographic segmentation within the marketplace.

Is it all too interwoven to separate as Head has just done? One could argue that the initial build will always be expensive but over time the cost of replication comes down as R&D is not needed to perpetuate a design rather than dream it up and then build it. The economies of scale over time so to speak.

However, Head does make a very cogent argument for lower-cost entertainment when he says:

“You could produce 800hp for 2 million euros a team each year. I think the teams are having to pay about 10 times that amount.

“It’s a very expensive way of powering Formula One cars.”

Would Honda be returning to Formula 1 if the challenge was to make a 2 million Euro engine? Maybe not but then does that really matter if the entertainment value is higher and more teams able to participate due to lower cost to entry? A tough question with no simple answer—well, maybe it is a simple answer. Time will tell if these expensive, exotic, flatulent sounding power units will be the future of F1.

Hat tip to Dan Paddock and the fine folks at RichlandF1 for the transcription.

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