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MAY 21, 2011

Analysis: Todt faces more 2013 engine opposition


FIA president Jean Todt is scheduled to meet representatives of F1's manufacturers in Barcelona today, where he is expected to face more pressure to rip up the FIA 2013 engine regulations and continue with the 2.4-litre V8s currently in use.

Bernie Ecclestone made it plain some time ago that he is against the 2013 engine changes and Ferrari's opposition is well known. Officially, the Scuderia's sporting director, Stefano Domenicali, said yesterday: "On the road car side we are a manufacturer that produces a very specific car with a very high number of cylinders. But, in our co-operation with the FIA we are discussing it and I think the discussion is still on. We need to consider the level of investment that the new project needs. A lot of things have moved on in a couple of months."

What is believed to have changed is that there has been high-level discussions between Ferrari and Mercedes-Benz about the potential spend on new engines for 2013 and an unwillingness to go down that road.

Cosworth articulated similar concerns in Barcelona yesterday, when the company's head of F1 business, Mark Gallagher, said: "The one aspect of the 2013 regulations that concerns us, and it's a significant concern, is that when we look at our customers and we consider the future from the point of view of Cosworth as a business in F1, we know that our customers do not have an appetite to spend more money on F1 engines, so we believe there is a responsible discussion to be had about the costs. The regulations, as currently drafted, do leave a number of options to spend a great deal of money."

While Gallagher's observations are certainly true of Virgin Racing and Hispania Racing, Cosworth's other customer team is Williams, whose Chairman, Adam Parr, made it clear yesterday that he is behind the FIA's 2013 engine regs.

"We think the new engine formula is fundamental to the future of the sport," Parr said. "If Formula 1 isn't about new technology and leading what happens on the road and elsewhere, I'm not sure exactly what it is about. We believe it is essential."

While you might have expected Williams, currently without manufacturer backing, to be against anything requiring heavy spend, the company has invested heavily in hybrid power, sees that as an important part of its business future and Parr also feels that generating sponsorship at a time when F1 is running multi-cylinder gas-guzzling engines is increasingly unviable.

Williams has recently been linked with a possible future engine change to Renault, which admits it is looking for a fourth team to supply (as well as themselves, Red Bull and Team Lotus) and it seems that at the moment, Renault is the sole engine manufacturer keen to go the low capacity turbo route.

Renault's Jean-Francois Caubet said in Spain: "Renault is very clear on this point. We are fully supporting the FIA. It makes a lot of sense for a carmaker like Renault to be road relevant. I think it is a key point for the future of F1. We conducted a long study on what would be the future of the road car market and we think that in between five and six years probably 60 to 70% of the total car market will be hybrid or electric. In terms of price we don't think there will be a huge difference between the current engine and the future engine, except probably the battery."

Those, then, appear to be the battle lines, with Todt saying in Turkey that the engine regulations were nothing to do with the commercial rights holder (Ecclestone and CVC Capital Partners). He also pointed out that they were not 'his' engine regulations, rather ones that had been proposed by F1's engine manufacturers and voted for by the F1 Commission and the World Motor Sport Council, which included Ecclestone.

A point worth making, however, is that when the small capacity turbos were proposed, two of the key reasons were the road car and 'green' relevance and also the feeling that they would attract more manufacturers into F1, principally perhaps VW, but in reality that has not happened.

Parr's fear about attracting sponsors in the current environment has some currency but there is also a feeling that a 'green' package applied to the current engines - perhaps a fuel efficiency formula applied in association with a more powerful, better-marketed KERS, would also be workable, and cheaper.

Today's meeting and the June World Motor Sport Council proceedings could well prove to be spiky...