With the long-overdue confirmation that George Russell will replace Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes next year, a sequence of other driver moves was triggered. One of these – the recruitment of Alex Albon to replace Russell at Williams – was part of a seismic political shift within the sport, one which may have determined the format of the new power unit formula, due for 2025 (but probably set to be delayed to ’26).
The disruptor in this whole story is Volkswagen. It was poised to enter the original hybrid formula and was a participant in the discussion stages of it, just as it has been this time around. But then ‘dieselgate’ came along. Such was the commercial damage inflicted by that scandal, it’s taken this long to make a VW F1 programme feasible again.
Formula One Management (FOM) decided some time ago that the new power unit formula would be another internal combustion/electric hybrid one. There was very little further discussion on that. The differences in opinion centred around how to make them cheaper and simpler. One way of doing that – which VW heavily favoured – was to abandon the ERS-h which is such a significant part of the massive thermal efficiency of the current power units. VW’s motivation in this isn’t difficult to divine; it’s a complex technology impacting upon the whole concept of the PU and of which the existing manufacturers have many years’ experience. Nullifying the head start of the others would have obvious appeal to VW.