Peace In Our Time? Maybe...


Is there one more act still to play out in the F1 engine drama?

The F1 strategy group meeting on Monday and the F1 Commission the following day seems to have brought a resolution of sorts to the vexed question of engine prices to independents. There has been agreement from the power unit manufacturers to supply independent teams for 12 million euros (down from between 18-24) per season from 2018. The attempt at getting refuelling back onto the agenda was batted away (again) and so, as things stand there will be no independent engine and no refuelling.

The moderates in the argument have prevailed, giving pretty much the outcome that people like Toto Wolff had always insisted it would. Jean Todt has got what he sought – cheaper, cost-capped engines for the independents and a guaranteed supply for the whole field. On the surface, we’ve now arrived at where F1 was trying to get to when Sergio Marchionne invoked Ferrari’s veto back in October – but this time he’s agreed. It’s believed that in the detail of what was ratified on Tuesday there is enough cost-saving to the manufacturers that Marchionne can suffer no loss of face in having agreed to what he apparently objected to a few months ago – because it’s not exactly the same. But the one player in the whole drama who does not seem to have had his aims met is Bernie Ecclestone, who was looking to use this as an opportunity to introduce a (non-hybrid) engine independent of the manufacturers that could be regulated to be as competitive as needed – and in that way regain the control that he’s lost with the advent of the hybrid formula.

You may recall that in December 2015, the FIA issued a mandate to Todt and Ecclestone that apparently allowed them to overrule anything they thought was necessary – and that they would take whatever action they thought appropriate by January 31. In theory, if Todt agreed, Ecclestone could still push his alternative engine through on that basis. But that would be to declare war on the manufacturers – and court heavy legal action from them. It’s difficult to envisage the consensus-driven Todt going along with that, even if Bernie is outwardly confident. “If they don’t like it we can go to arbitration,” he said a few weeks ago. “We’d win easily.” Not everyone shares that view.

Another probably disappointed at the outcome so far will be Red Bull. The concept of an independent engine – quite possibly designed and built by its friend Mario Ilien – would be its route to a competitive power unit. As things stand, it can no longer claim to be in the position of being forced out because no-one will supply it an engine. That supply is now guaranteed – but not the choice of which manufacturer it might be. So once the current Renault contract expires at the end of this season, it has no guarantee of a competitive engine. Only of an engine.

From the archive: Interview with Jean Todt (August 2014)

The plan is for the cost-capped engines of 2018 to remain in play until the end of the current commercial agreement between the sport’s owners and the teams – so for three seasons up to the end of 2020. After that, the teams – or some of them – are free to set up their own championship if they don’t like this one. That is the implicit threat of the manufacturers if Bernie somehow pushed through his equivalency engine regardless. So, does he try to do it anyway and reckon on the manufacturers not having the gumption or consensus to deliver on that threat? And could he get Todt to risk agreeing? If not, Bernie’s bluff will have been called.

You may also like