Formula 1 heading for an engine crisis?

THERE are whispers in Formula 1 circles that Grand Prix boss Bernie Ecclestone is worried that there will not be enough engines for all the F1 teams in 1998.

With Renault planning to pull out of the sport and other manufacturers refusing to expand their supplies beyond one team, Ecclestone has done his figures and discovered that there may not be sufficient manufacturers available for the existing F1 teams - let alone any new F1 operations.

A few years ago F1 had a number of small engine companies which were capable of supplying motors if the big manufacturers could not supply all the teams. Since then, however, Ilmor has become the Mercedes-Benz engine-builder and John Judd's Engine Developments has a long-term deal to work with Yamaha. Brian Hart is still going but looks likely to either have his engine badged next year or simply call it a day and retire.

The engine supply problem has proved to be such a problem that teams such as TWR Arrows and Lola have taken steps towards building their own engines.

Ecclestone is hoping that any gaps in F1 engine supply will be filled by new manufacturers such as BMW, Honda or the Korean car companies.

Traditionally - being a market economy - if there is a demand for engines in F1, someone will very quickly appear to service the need. This has been the case in the past with companies such as Repco, Weslake, Megatron and Mugen. The only difference nowadays is that competitive F1 engines are enormously expensive and time-consuming to build.

The current engine formula of normally-aspirated 3-liter engines is frozen until December 31, 2000. This was decided by the engine manufacturers in June 1994, although there were talks at the time of reducing F1 engines to 2.5-liters.

Changing the engine formula could be achieved rapidly if the current engine manufacturers agreed on a new set of rules. It is not in their interest to do so as a new formula might convince new companies to come in. This happened at the end of 1953 when only Ferrari, Maserati and Gordini were running serious F1 programs. The new 2.5-liter formula - which ran between 1954 and 1960 - attracted Mercedes, Lancia, Vanwall, BRM, Climax and even Bugatti.

Any new engine formula would also help the governing body to restrict horsepower outputs and might be considered more attractive by engine-makers as 2.5-liter engines are more logical in a world where the motor industry is constantly under attack from environmentalists.

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