There is a bit of stirring going on in Formula 1 circle sat the moment over the question of engines. Bernie Ecclestone has always been against the engines that are being planned for 2014. He has made various different criticisms, such as noise and cost. From what I hear from engineers the noise will be fine. As for cost, one cannot really take seriously such complaints from a man who organises that more than 50% of the revenues of F1 leave the sport…
However there has long been the feeling that Ferrari is not very keen on the idea, but then again who cares when Ferrari has negotiated itself a nice extra slice of the action and does not give a stuff about the teams.
The bottom line is that all those arguing against the new engines a vested interest interest in maintaining the status quo. The FIA is not intending to change its plans again. The rules were designed after much consultation with the automobile industry and are a reflection of the desires that the car companies expressed. There may not be any new manufacturers involved in 2014 engines at the moment, but there are certainly companies thinking about getting involved.
The logic is hard to fault. The V6 is the second most common engine in production these days (after the straight four), but is becoming increasingly important as the space available for engines in modern cars reduces. There is vast demand for hybrid technology.
Current F1 engine technology is of little interest outside F1 and engine development has been frozen since 2007 in an effort to keep down costs. Aside from the KERS systems that came in 2009, the engines — once the key element in F1 — have been largely irrelevant and the difference between success and failure has been decided by aerodynamics, which has little or no real use for the motor industry.
The biggest potential bonus for the manufacturers is that the sporting departments should be able to get their budgets from different sources, and thus may not need to charge customers as much.
At the moment the budget comes largely from marketing because the sport offers little in the way of technical value. However, money from mainstream research and development will become available if F1 offers technology that the industry wants. The new regulations should also increase the chances for the teams to find new manufacturers and thus open the way to free engines and even sponsorship to support such programmes.
This should be possible for teams like Red Bull, Williams, Sauber and Lotus F1, all of which have recently shown winning potential using customer engines. This is what happened in the 1980s when F1 switched to turbo-charged engines, which allowed former Cosworth customers such as Williams, Brabham and McLaren to get engines from Honda, BMW and Porsche (TAG). The sport grew considerably in this period and the FIA hopes that the same will happen again.
F1 is weaker without manufacturers, particularly when the supposed promoters of the sport do no promotion at all, but are there simply to take more than their fair share of the money.
Another element often forgotten is that manufacturers use the sport to change attitudes inside slow-moving car companies. Giving engineers exposure to F1 mindset is very helpful as it helps to speed up the progress of mainstream products. History shows us that wars are the best way to move technology forwards, but motorsport competition is the second-best option.
F1 companies like to portray themselves as being at forefront of technology, the new rules mean that they can be.
The writer has covered every grand prix for the last 25 years