When the new era of Formula 1 was ushered in, amidst all of the back patting, it was applauded that a micro 1.6 liter six cylinder turbocharged hybrid unit would have the ability to equalize the competition while also saving fuel, trumpeting the manufacturers new green technology, thus impacting the amount of fuel consumption. It was a hard, off F1 concept to swallow then and even harder now. Bernie Eccelstone didn’t like it and said so.
To date none of these engines from Mercedes to Renault have been capable of pushing their present engines to 15,000 RPM’s, they were built for that, but due to the fuel consumption rules can only run them at somewhere around 11,000 RPM. No driver has seen that maximum number in the two seasons the rules have been applied? Is this still Formula One?
How do the drivers see this? Mark Webber said recently, “When I quit F1 I said to someone about the current cars, ‘we’re qualified, we’ve come through the ranks, so that effectively we’re qualified to fly F18s, but now we’re flying passenger jets. Talk to drivers who started in Formula 1 around the same time I did: we all came away from the first F1 test thinking ‘I’m not too sure about this,’ which is completely how it should be and that resonates with the fans. But I definitely don’t have all the answers…”
Anyone who has been around Formula One long enough will know what to expect from Bernie Eccelstone and that’s anything, no one ever knows. But, know this, whatever the diminutive 84 year old Machiavellian ring master does or says, it’s always done for a valid reason, his reason, his agenda. He is not senile nor out of touch. He would like for people to believe that, but it just isn’t true.
The new hybrid engines were not part of his agenda, he never really wanted them, but then he has lost some of his power due to the CVC Partners sale of F1 stock. Eccelstone can easily proclaim that F1 needs to, no, has to go back to the v8 Formula to save itself. This, of course, isn’t true but it makes headlines and gets the fans excited. He shoots for the moon but will settle back down right where he wanted it to be. Eccelstone senses that he’s in a position to claw back some of the power he’s lost and it appears he has the ability to do it. It’s the 1,000 HP engine.
This go around, Bernie has latched on to the fact that the V6 Hybrid is not that popular among the fans and he has an opportunity to “Fix” it. ‘It’ being engines that make more exhaust sound, have more horsepower and are harder to drive. That’s honest. All of the fans would love to see an 18,000rpm v8 as well, but that isn’t going to happen. The manufacturers are in the way and Bernie knows this.
He also knows that the television rating fall is in no small part due to the subscription fee he charges the international networks to broadcast. Some of these companies couldn’t afford Bernie so viewership fell. It isn’t all on the power-plants, but enough green technology is, so they have to take some heat for it as well.
Meetings in Geneva back in January discussed the future of Formula 1 and how small teams like Manor and Toro Rosso shouldn’t be in the state in desperation to spend every cent on a power unit. The conclusions from that meeting were, as usual, inconclusive. The manufacturers held firm to their plan, which is that they continue down the path they’re on. Unfortunately, no customer team can really afford these hyper-expensive power units, at least so far. Eccelstone knows this as well.
Eccelstone is fully aware that no manufacturer is going to go back to a V8 or even a V6 twin Turbo, so what’s the next step? 1,000 HP. That’ll do the trick. But somehow they have to be packaged differently to keep fans excited and Bernie can provide that excitement.
Here’s how I see Bernies Power-plant end game:
Future units should be less expensive, but still have the same turbocharged, six cylinder hybrid system used currently. Teams are spending a steep $7.7 million on each unit, which have proven not to be the most reliable and yet the team’s spend a total of $38.5 million for each season, that’s only for the power units.
Bernie has told us if the changes proceed, it wouldn’t be until 2017 where the goal would be just to ramp up the current units to about 1,000 horsepower by increasing the fuel flow rate, higher revs and minor tweaks like increasing fuel allowance beyond 100 kg. The result would make the cars harder to drive, hopefully a compelling sound for the fans and a cheaper alternative for small teams which in turn would make the competition even more fierce than it is today. Which is to say, Ferrari just arrived at the party. No one else is even close to Mercedes.
But what about after 2017? Don’t think that 1,000HP is going to happen unless they redesign the internal components of the engine. Pistons, exhaust, drivetrain, you name it, to handle that much HP an internal redesign is what it will take. Oh, and drop the cost of the units as well so the customers can actually buy them. Mercedes has already offered to sell it’s hybrid unit to any team, another red herring to slow down Bernie’s momentum.
Eccelstone can also get concessions like wider tires and a slightly wider track, the cars go faster and they become harder to drive. But they stay within the confines of the manufacturers wishes of a V6 hybrid. Don’t expect that much change by 2017, but you never know in F1. It doesn’t hurt that other manufacturers are now interested.
In case you haven’t heard, it’s prime time for VW to enter the sport as well. The CEO of the German automotive company has just recently stepped down (He and Eccelstone hated one another) while Herbert Diess is set to takeover in October, the new CEO is fond of racing and would most likely be interested in further development. All of this mean we could see yet another team join the sport. Again, what better time than 2017 when the field is allegedly on equal terms?
The token system will be minimized and the development of in-season power-plants will grow. With the amounts the teams are spending now, Eccelstone will make the case that they can standardize many of the components, thus reducing some of the costs in the existing power-plants in order to speed up the balance of power. He has a point, there are many components that can be standardized and in-season testing is possible with a reduction in the cost of the power-plants. This will happen.
What does Bernie get? A bigger seat at the table. He will strive to regain some of the power he once had from CVC Partners, a major shareholder in F1. He’ll broker these many intramural deals for a price, more power. Much like Ron Dennis trying to regain control of McLaren.
What do the drivers say? “We are all up for going faster and having more power. It creates adrenaline at the end of the day and that is why we do it.” These words are from Daniel Ricciardo who would welcome a miracle ruling that would benefit Renault.
The current power units have shown the detrimental impact lean funds and little interest can do to a team that struggles more than it makes progress. Look at Caterham, a team that had been in Formula 1 since 2012 now is nothing more than an empty factory. They were forced to auction off everything when they couldn’t complete the 2014 season.
To switch to a higher output power unit that would be less expensive would be the best decision the sport can make for the tough times where teams have to sacrifice competition to make it to end of the race, while also benefiting from a fans point of view as we all enjoy to see drivers struggle with more power.
Eccelstone is trying to regain power while looking to be the hero. Who cares? If he gets what he want’s and the fans get what they want, all is well.
We’ll see at the next meeting of the Formula One Strategy Group in a scant two months.
Bernie gets richer and that’s OK as well.