Things getting dicey in war of words over 2017 engine changes

Will the engines be changed for 2017? Probably not but will they be tweaked or will some of the technology be changed to improve Formula 1’s outlook on the future?

I found this story from Sky Sports F1 of particular interest if you read between the lines a little. According to Red Bull’s Christian Horner, the teams were supposed to come up with significant changes to the 2017 engine specifications.

The story rightfully says the changes were to include, “…a reduction in the cost of customer supplies, a guarantee to supply all teams, performance convergence, and improving the noise of the engines”. Typically, they use the word “noise” so I will supplant that with what it really is and that’s, “sound” of the engines.

Have they made progress? Horner says they haven’t made any meaningful progress.

Horner:

“As we sit here now, we are not anywhere near having met any of those criteria and I think unfortunately what will happen, as is often the case with these things, time will run out at the end of the month and nothing will be achieved and nothing will change,” Horner said at the Chinese GP.

“There is one more attempt in the Strategy meeting and the Commission meeting at the end of the month to discuss and table the concerns and where we’re at, but failing that regulations will inevitably stay as they are.”

Now here is where the story gets interesting. Ferrari and Mercedes have rebuked Horner’s comments and as the two manufacturers who have split the world between themselves, effectively, as they supply a majority of the grid with power, they have a knife in the fight. You have to read between the lines in both Ferrari boss Sergio Marchionne and Mercedes boss Toto Wolff’s comments. Let’s start with Ferrari.

Marchionne:

“We have gone miles in terms of engine supply. “We have found a way in which the four engine manufacturers can continue to supply the sport on a way that may not be the most economically advantageous, but it does provide continuity for the other teams and I think that’s important. So hopefully that will get through.”

So it isn’t the most economically advantageous for customer teams? It may provide continuity but it certainly hasn’t for Red Bull who was denied a current Ferrari engine supply. One like Haas F1 enjoys.

Wolff:

“We’ve offered much cheaper engines and actually met the targets we set ourselves,” Wolff said. “We have structured an obligation to supply – which we don’t like particularly, but we have offered it to not run into a Red Bull situation again – and all that is on paper.

“But then it comes down to the detail of the contract and obviously not everybody is happy. He [Horner] isn’t happy, but it’s about finding a compromise.”

Matching targets set by themselves isn’t exactly breaking barriers on reduced-expense engines if you consider the customers were paying $8-10 million for engines and are now paying $20+ million. Again, was there not a compromise that could have seen Red Bull with a Mercedes engine supply? Apparently not as they were denied a Mercedes as well as Ferrari.

Maybe Red Bull wanted an unrealistic deal and were demanding too much from Ferrari and Mercedes for their engine supply. Maybe they were petulant in the way they treated Renault but regardless, something went down on the, “gee, we better not give Adrian Newey our engine” front because the FIA had strong language in these proposed changes that they had to guarantee to supply the entire field, not just some. At least that’s what it seems like from the outside reading press reports.

Then there is the closing commentary about the current engine format in F1 by Ferrari—which, keep in mind, were adamantly against the hybrid power unit in the early days when the FIA were trying to get this format approved.

Marchionne:

“On the larger issue of simplifying the powertrain, I think we need to be careful that we don’t end up turning the sport into something that it’s not supposed to be,” he said.

“This is supposed to be the leading edge of automotive experiences and so the powertrain needs to reflect the development of the industry itself.

“I am happy with the way in which the powertrain has developed today, it doesn’t meet everyone’s objectives – Red Bull has got a different view – but we are of the view that we need to continue in this fashion and it’s a view that’s shared by the other engine manufacturers.”

One could take the first sentence and leverage that the hybrid has done exactly that, made F1 something it isn’t. If you subscribe the idea that F1 isn’t a R&D lab for Ferrari or Mercedes to perfect their road car hybrid engine niggles and design and much more an entertainment racing series, then you may take exception to his comments.

If you feel F1 is very much in existence for this reason and that’s to make better road cars, then his words will resonate with you. You may feel that F1’s DNA is all about road relevancy.

For me, F1 has always been about racing and innovation came into the sport as a way to go faster and win races and in doing so, as a manufacturer who may be participating, you would sell more cars because your brand was winning.

Gone, apparently, are the days when Ferrari said they sell cars in order to go racing. It seems they race in order to sell cars. Sure, that may have been grandstanding by the old man back in the day when he uttered the teams reason for selling cars but has it gone too far the other way?

Some fans feel the manufacturers have entirely too much control and F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone would agree with those fans. Other fans feel the hybrid engine and manufacturer investment in F1 is very important to the series, and the world, and the FIA’s Jean Todt would agree with those fans.

Who do you agree with and why?

Hat Tip: Sky Sports F1