Renault is threatening to pull out of Formula 1 if the much-discussed new 1.6-litre, four-cylinder turbo engine formula for 2013 is not soon confirmed by the FIA. Many people in F1 believe the new formula will be put off for a year or two, and some hope the FIA will relent and opt instead for a turbo V6. Following more than a year’s discussions with the teams and engine suppliers, the FIA is expected to make a decision on delaying the new formula by the end of the month.
Renault is the only enthusiastic supporter of the tiny turbo concept, which has failed to attract interest from new manufacturers. Both Ferrari and Mercedes-Benz prefer V8s or at least V6s, and everyone is worried about the costs of building and developing new engines. Still, FIA president Jean Todt is a big proponent of the small-capacity turbo and with Renault’s strong support he may insist on that formula. McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh has been deeply involved in formal talks about the new formula and discussed the matter in Montréal.
“I think the traditionalist who believes we need large-capacity, normally-aspirated engines has to accept that they may not be attractive to car companies in this day and age,” he said. “So there was some logic in the thought that we need a solution that is attractive to them. Unfortunately, with hindsight we got it wrong, because the intention of the 2013 formula was to see if we could attract more manufacturers.
“Plainly we didn’t, and we failed to do that because we came in at the end of the largest recession the automotive sector has ever had. We also gave them too short a timeframe to develop a new engine. I don’t think it’s worth criticising anyone over it. That’s how it transpired.
“The important issue for F1 is that we find a formula which is attractive to the car industry. We should have a model that averages [involvement from] three to five manufacturers, and inevitably they will rotate.
“We have to accept, respect and not despise the fact that the manufacturers are here to sell cars. If F1 is to be the ideal platform for product exposure and differentiation of their brand we need a formula that is relevant to them and to the needs of society.
“We’ve got to ensure that F1 continues as the technical pinnacle of motor sport. It has to be technically advanced, relevant, entertaining and differentiated. It’s not an easy task, but we have to work hard to achieve that.”
Whitmarsh personally would prefer a turbo V6. “We need great-sounding engines, it’s a core asset of our sport. But there’s no reason why you can’t have forward-looking technology and a great sound. I personally feel we’ve got to seek a compromise. If it were my call I’d probably go for a turbocharged V6. I think more and more cars are going to be turbocharged.
“We’ve got to have high revs. A vee engine suits the structure of an F1 car and we’ve got to have that unique sound. It might be different from today’s cars but I think it can still be fantastic.”
Eric Boullier (above), managing director of the Lotus-Renault team, said that if Renault continues in F1 it wants to put its main effort into supplying multiple teams. “Renault is pushing to supply maybe four teams. We’ve told the FIA that is our goal. Renault has decided to focus on being an engine supplier and as such we are pushing to bring new technology to F1. This is the only way for Renault to communicate their know-how and make sure they can use the opportunity of being in F1 to promote road car sales.
“The tendency of the road car market, especially for Renault, is to go to smaller engines with more hybrid technology to make fuel savings. F1 has to move forward. We need new regulations and new technical challenges for our engineers.
“Formula 1 can’t become just a show,” Boullier added. “We have to be seen as motor sport pioneers and technology is part of that. But we need to please our fans as well.”
Cosworth’s Mark Gallagher said: “There’s a big concern on our side because the new rules have no cost restrictions applied. So the manufacturers can spend a huge amount of money and we would have a space race around the new engine formula, which was never the idea. Everyone agreed that wasn’t the idea, but unfortunately that’s what happened. So we’ve also said to the FIA that a delay might be the right thing to do. I think all the teams, not just our customers, don’t need to be spending more money on engine technology.
“We want clarity. If it’s a 1.6-litre motor, fine, we’ll be there. If not, we’ve got a V8 that we can continue with. We’re agnostic. We don’t have to have a V8 or V12 or an in-line four. If the F1 rules required a single-cylinder two-stroke, we’d be there. The FIA president has said he’s listening and taking in everything we’re saying. We just want a resolution.”