Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone has revealed that controversial environmentally-friendly new engines which are due to be introduced to the sport in 2014 are likely to be scrapped. He says the move will save the teams as much as 30% of their projected budgets, which will help them stay in business during the economic downturn.
The new engine regulations are understood to be at the heart of the decision by British driver Lewis Hamilton to move next year from McLaren to Mercedes. The change in engine regulations was expected to give Mercedes an opportunity to improve performance as it would be a fresh start for the teams.
The new engine regulations were developed by F1's governing body (FIA) and involve replacing the current 2.4-litre V8s with more environmentally- friendly 1.6-litre turbo-charged V6 engines. The plan is strongly opposed by Ecclestone.
"I listened to the noise of the engines in (Ferrari's headquarters at) Maranello the other day, the new engine and the old engine, and even (Ferrari chairman) Luca di Montezemolo said it sounded terrible and didn't like it," says Ecclestone. He feels FIA president, Jean Todt, "will get rid of it. I think Luca is also saying we should suspend it for two or three years. I think it is sensible to get rid of it and stick with what we have got. It is much cheaper than the new one. It probably could be 30% of the price."
The Formula One Promoters Association (FOPA), which represents all of the circuits, last year threatened to drop F1 over fears that the new engines could make the cars sound so different it would drive spectators away.
The circuits dropped their threat after the FIA agreed to raise the power of the engines from its original proposal of 1.6 litre, 4-cylinder engines. "I blame the FIA for this stupid engine formula," says Ecclestone. "It really wasn't his (Todt's) fault, (former FIA president Max) Mosley started the engine and then he got carried away... Todt really hasn't interfered with us. He has been travelling the world and seeing all the different federations but he hasn't bothered us."
Ecclestone also reveals that Todt has asked him and the teams for an increase in the fees paid to the FIA so that it can use the money to move into a more prestigious headquarters and give it a stature comparable to FIFA and the IOC.
The FIA gets fees from several sources in F1. The biggest is an annual amount of €7.7m from the F1 Group which is run by Ecclestone and manages the rights to the sport. The FIA is also believed to get an additional sum of around €250,000 per race if there are more than 16 such as this year when there are 20.
In addition, the FIA gets fees from the teams and it wants to raise them. This would see the entry fee for the teams increasing from €309,000 to €500,000 plus €7,000 per constructors' championship point. Had the new rate been implemented this year, world champions Red Bull Racing would have paid €4.859m rather than €309,000 to enter the 2012 season.
The FIA's annual budget comes to around $60m and Ecclestone says, "They are getting about $35m from Formula 1...I think they would be happy if they could get $50m."
Despite being a notorious cost-cutter, Ecclestone sympathises with Todt. "I think it is nice if we have a federation that is seen to be strong and impressive. They can't demand money from us because they have got no right. It is a case of whether we want to make a contribution to help them build the FIA. If they really need the money, we probably will help."
The writer is the co-author of Formula Money and an expert in the business of F1