NOVEMBER 26, 2008
Building up the pressure
The FIA wants Formula 1 teams to come up with a sensible scheme for cost-cutting in the mid-term and it seems to be intent on forcing the issue if there are no concrete proposals agreed with regard to engine supply. The federation continues to talk about the possibility of a standard engine, despite the fact that several of the automobile manufacturers have made it very clear that they will walk away from F1 if they are not allowed to produce their own motors. They may be willing to accept what would, in effect, be homologated units based on the same basic blueprint, but standard engines made by an outside supplier seems to be a no-no, that is being supported only by teams that are currently at a power disadvantage and have nothing to gain from remaining with the current frozen engine rules. They are now arguing that it is necessary for the teams to agree an equalisation programme to make sure that everyone has a better chance of winning. Understandably, other teams do not like this idea as it is clear that horsepower is a key element in differentiating the teams, or at least it was in 2008, notably with Sebastian Vettel's unlikely victory at Monza.
The threat of an outside supplier is a serious worry for some as they believe that taking away the ability to build engines would damage interest in the sport, as it is the technology of Formula 1 that sets it apart from lesser championships around the world. There may be ways in which relatively standard engines would continue and manufacturers would be given freedom in other areas, such as energy recovery systems, but there is then the argument about whether or not this would really save money as any freedom to develop systems that will make the difference between winning and losing is going to be exploited to the maximum by the big high-spending teams. That is simply inevitable and the only way that this can be controlled is by restricting the money supply by means of a budget cap. This remains a sensible way to go forward but getting the teams to agree to that is not the work of a moment.
Threatening standard engines is a big risk at a time when some of the automobile manufacturers involved in Formula 1 are wondering if the investment in the sport is needed. FIA President Max Mosley has said that the sport cannot afford to lose any teams and as there is little sign that there would be anyone to pick up the manufacturer teams if the carmakers did pull out, the apparent push for standardisation of engines can only be seen as a risky strategy which could provide the excuse that the motor industry executives are looking for.
The key player, as ever, is Ferrari and the Italian manufacturer has made it very clear that it does not believe that standard engines are acceptable.
There are reports that there are four or five bidders for the F1 engine supply deal which is being offered by the FIA. There is no guarantee that any of them will actually happen but an announcement is due at the end of this week. This may well be used as a way to get the teams to come up with a suitable solution to the problem before the FIA World Council meets again on December 12, at which point a decision should be made if anything is going to happen in time for 2010.