Back in 2013, I was very concerned over the engine formula the FIA was approving for the 2014 season. The decision was driven—if press reports are to be believed—by pressure from Mercedes and Renault to move toward a hybrid format or they would leave the sport.
What happened was what I was concerned about, the technology forced three teams out of the series and ended up with a completely dominant Mercedes. I said at the time that the Mercedes performance advantage was a baked-in advantage that would remain until the regulations changed again in 2020.
For those comments, I was rebuked and received a few emails with choice words suggesting my ignorance and worse. A few emails back and forth and I was still considered a luddite who couldn’t be more wrong. Fair enough, I said, let’s just see how it plays out, shall we?
Here we are in 2018 and today’s story from Renault explains much of what I said in 2014. This comment is coming from a team who threatened to leave the sport should it not adopt the complex hybrid formula.
What Renault has discovered is that there are two worlds in Formula 1. The first world with Mercedes and Ferrari and the second world with Renault and Honda as well as some of the customer teams. Renault’s Cyril Abiteboul believes they are the best in the second tier saying the were:
“topping the second world, but we want to be part of the first world”.
“The success or not of Renault will say a lot about the health of the sport,” said Abiteboul.
“If a car maker like Renault, who in my opinion has the right people and right infrastructure, is not capable of moving from the second world to the first world, it says a lot.
“If we can’t do it, no one will be able to do it. So, we are freezing the positions as they are.
“I don’t think it’s healthy to have a sport where there is no capacity to change the positions and to have any new entrants coming, and so on and so forth.
“We need to look at Renault’s progression, and limitation in our progression, as a clear sign of all the things that need to be done to change F1.”
The article goes on to quote Paddy Lowe at Williams and more about Renault’s feelings over cost caps but the granular issue remains.
What I suggested back in 2013 was not the mere rantings of a lunatic fan or an unmeasured assessment of the choices the FIA were making. What we had was a serious case of group think. The hybrid engine and development token system were, effectively, a program created to reward the manufacturer who hit the ground running with the best version of the hybrid power unit and then lock that advantage in for the duration of the regulations.
If that were not the case, the FIA wouldn’t have decided to do away with the development token system—which they did—and allow unlimited development for the balance of the regulations (2021). What that allowed was Ferrari to get closer to Mercedes and Renault to get somewhat closer to both. It still didn’t solve for the fundamental issue of Mercedes having a baked-in advantage over Ferrari and Renault. Honda was always going to be on the back foot having entered the series mid-way through the regulations period.
So now Renault is willing to suggest there’s an issue with the current regulations, which they advocated for, due to being part of the 2nd world of F1. On one hand, I can certainly empathize with them but on the other hand, I find that a patronizing statement as some fans, like me, were saying this back in 2013 and 2014 and yet Renault marched forward by pressuring the FIA to make the change to hybrids under threat of leaving the sport. They were fine with the hybrid complexity, costs and even a development token system that would freeze them, effectively, with what they had on the first race of the 2014 season and few opportunities to engineer their way out of any performance disadvantages.
Only now do they feel there is an issue with F1? After five years of enduring the obvious and attempting to giftwrap the series and its issues, we are now willing to suggest there may be an issue? Fans have had to endure this for five years and listen to publications and broadcasts tell us we are not true fans if we don’t appreciate the hybrid tech, road relevance, high-tech constructs such as HD tires and DRS, complexity and sustainability of the hybrid and pleasing reduction of the “noise” of the former engines.
Color me reactionary but I’m not prepared to let F1 slowly unravel its issues at a pace that absolves them of the errors they’ve made while still maintaining that I was off my rocker to even disagree with the direction they chose. Somehow I am the luddite and malcontent and they are simply making a few changes in 2021 to tweak an otherwise amazing set of regulations.
Sorry, my issues with the 2014 regulations still stand and Renault’s comments above are an endorsement of my concerns, not an indictment of my dedication/commitment to the sport and ability to recognize social responsibility, sustainability or road relevancy. Let’s just call it what it is/was—manufacturers needed a reason to invest heavily in F1 and a road relevant turbo V6 was something they could sell to the boardroom. We’ll invest in F1 if we can use it for R&D on a current engine format we are looking to exploit and produce.
I will say that Renault are correct. They know how to make engines and they know how to win titles. They have a very brilliant engineering group and F1 has become an incubator and rapid prototyping format for them. They are unable to make the leap into the first world, as are Honda, and that needs to change. The Mercedes baked-in advantage is an issue and only Ferrari have been able to get close.
Renault should be in a series that allows for them to engineer their way to the front and the current hybrid regulations aren’t allowing for that. The FIA would use cost as a reason to be cautious of unrestricted development and they have limited the number of engines to three this season to prevent it.
In the end, Renault will have had seven years to develop the best V6 turbo they could for their road relevance. I hope it was worth it because it cost F1 a lot of viewers and fans. As a fan, I still love F1 but I’ve been watching since 1972 so my historic love of the sport has kept me in the game even while the sport tried hard to label me as an outlier and malcontent who doesn’t care about the planet. That’s not true at all but that’s the message they sent to fans like me. I’ve been told that people my age aren’t important to F1 and that the sport should mirror the culture and current trajectory of road car electric vehicles or hybrids.
Perhaps. But keep this in mind. Jean Todt, Chase Carey, Sean Bratches, John Malone, Ross Brawn and Charlie Whiting are all older than I am. Are you positive that people my age aren’t important to the sport and sustaining it—and in my case, promoting it?
Hat Tip: Autosport