When Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone mentioned a return to V8 engines that would sport 1,000bhp, the paddock shuddered and many fans weighed in on the thought of changing from the current V6 hybrid engine format.
AUTOSPORT even ran a story on why this would be bad for the sport. They made very cogent arguments as to why it would be more difficult than simply shoving one of the old V8’s onto the back of a new car. The tooling and technical details would be expensive. The teams would still have to design and produce a V8 that could handle 1,000bhp.
What we may be missing—or maybe we aren’t, I’m just being heavy-handed with my comment here—is that the comments made by Ecclestone is a call back to the way things happened in the past in order to effect change in F1.
In the old days, when Max Mosley was at the helm of the FIA, F1 would be mired in a technical format issue or stumped on a direction for the future but Max would work with his technical delegates and devise a plan for change.
Knowing that most teams would resist any change—especially those who were currently successful with the established regulations—Mosley would offer a draconian change to F1 that would have the teams and suppliers apoplectic.
This was by design as Mosley knew he had to ask for a mile in order to get what he originally wanted which was a half-mile. Ask for way more than you actually want knowing that both sides would eventually arrive somewhere in the middle. It was classic Mosley.
Ecclestone said last week in Bahrain:
“It’s no good talking to these people. They will have to be told,”
His point could be proof that the F1 Strategy Group is not very effective as a body that determines future changes and the future direction the sport will move in. Ecclestone has always maintained that the sport needs a benevolent dictator and it had one in the Ecclestone/Mosley combination.
The point in asking for 1,000bhp V8 engines is to get the teams to move—and move they did. First to blink was Mercedes boss Toto Wolff who said:
“I think there are pretty easy ways to increase the horsepower – this is increasing fuel flow,” said Wolff. “Then it’s a question: what do you want to market? Does it make a big difference between having 950bhp and 1000bhp?
“If you want to increase the fuel flow by 10kg or 20kg etc an hour, then you are going to have more than 1000bhp.
“But then you need to redesign crucial components of the engine, you need to make them more reliable and that again involves a lot of development costs.
“I think we all understand we want a spectacular formula, not only on the chassis side but also the power-unit side.”
Ecclestone gets the plot…he always has regardless of what his detractors have been saying via social media. He understands the cash flow and the process. If you were under the impression he is out of touch or doesn’t “get it”, you are seriously underestimating his intelligence. He “get’s it” but he’s also working in a sport that is owned by multiple entities and the days of the iron fist of Ecclestone in the velvet glove of Mosley are long gone.
By telling the sport that it will be returning to V8’s, Ecclestone has now forced a dialog that will most likely end up as a 900-1,000bhp V6 turbo with some hybrid components—an evolution of the current format that brings sound and performance back to the sport.
Ecclestone knows F1 needs to change and he also knows that these new engines, regardless of how expensive they are to build, must be affordable to smaller teams. He understands that the pendulum has swung too far toward being all about the tech and losing the plot of entertaining racing:
“F1 isn’t just technology, but enjoyment too,” Ecclestone said. “We need to think about who buys a ticket, goes in the grandstands and wants to see a great sporting spectacle.
“It’s money doing the rounds: the public pays for tickets, the organisers cash in and pay us, who then forward the money to the teams together with TV rights.
“But if TV audiences shrink and the public at GPs do too, then it becomes a problem.”
The fact is, Ecclestone is pulling a Mosley on the teams and placing markers down in order to get them to do something and move off of dead center with a format that is leaving the sport in complete disarray. Sure, no teams wants to simply return to where they came from but simply staying the course with the current format is a sure way of killing it and Ecclestone knows the series has to change and change quickly.
Time will tell but my hunch will be a new format for 2017 based on a V6 turbo with 1,000bhp and KERS. The MGU-H component and ERS is a very expensive element and while it is a technological marvel, most F1 fans are completely unaware of the technology and in some ways, if you can’t see it or hear it, then what’s the point?
Road relevancy? Whatever. F1 is not simply a testing lab or track for car companies. It is a racing series first and a manufacturers involvement may become a proving ground for its tech but it can’t be the prime mover. Racing must come first, road car relevancy second. Besides, if you really want road relevancy, then enter the WEC.
Hat Tip: AUTOSPORT