The 2012 season is far from over and yet attention is already turning to 2014 and the return of the turbo to Grand Prix racing. And for most teams in the pitlane, the question of how much a supply of the new units will cost remains a thorny issue.
At a time when even the better-financed outfits are exploring ways of keeping costs down, the timing of the new formula is unfortunate. In the current V8 era engine budgets are lower than they have been for years, thanks to the freeze on development and reduction over time of the number of units per season.
The latter restriction will be maintained into 2014, with only five engines per driver permitted without penalty.
However, the engines’ makers are facing huge development costs, and they are insisting that it will be impossible to keep supply prices down to current levels. In addition, the increased emphasis on the associated energy-recovery systems will result in extra costs for the teams.
With Cosworth and PURE unable to get projects off the ground without guaranteed customers, only Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Renault are in the frame for 2014, and between them they will have to supply all 12 teams. Renault already has four, so logic suggests that Mercedes and Ferrari will inevitably have to deal with Marussia or HRT. But creating that extra capacity with a brand new engine in time for the start of 2014 could be a stretch for all the manufacturers.
An additional concern is that one manufacturer could start 2014 with a significant advantage and development restrictions will then mean the others will struggle to catch up.
But the real worry is how much of a dent the turbos will make in budgets.
“At the moment a lot of details are unclear on the technical side and also the price,” says Sauber CEO Monisha Kalternborn (below). “We have also very clearly said that we don’t want to go back to those times many years ago when Formula 1 engines were so horrendously expensive.
“Now that costs have really gone down a lot we don’t want to take three steps back again with this new engine and end up at the bad point which was there many years ago.”
Red Bull Racing’s Christian Horner also has concerns about the impending change: “I think that it’s important that the engine doesn’t become the crucial, single performance-differentiator.
I think that would be particularly unhealthy for Formula 1 and for the engine manufacturers involved.
“In terms of the cost of supply, and the difficulty with introducing new technology and advanced technology such as the 2014 engine, it comes at a price.
“And I think all of the independent teams are very eager to know what that cost is and what the impact of that price will be. I don’t think it’s the right market for F1 to see an increase in costs. I don’t think that’s ultimately sustainable. But hopefully it won’t have an impact on the fiscal side.” Adam Cooper