Start, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2021

F1 needs a new engine supplier to check the growing power of its manufacturers

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Formula 1 used to be so simple: the FIA’s sporting arm made the rules and governed them, race promoters – who held the television rights for events staged on their property – applied to the FIA to host world championship rounds and offered start and prize monies based on teams’ crowd-pulling appeal, and teams decided whether to compete, having built or bought compliant cars. The driver who scored the most points was world champion.

The constructors’ championship was more complex, yet still simple to understand: first awarded in 1958 as ‘International Cup for F1 Manufacturers’, points were scored by teams who built and entered their own cars. This requirement was, though, ‘bent’ in 1969 when Tyrrell co-operated with Matra to win the title, but there were no doubts the operation was the de facto Matra ‘works’ team. The combined rule books ran to 20 pages.

Compare these early situations to today. For starters, a commercial rights holder (which began as a teams’ collective before going independent) negotiates with promoters and TV broadcasters, trousers a 30% fee then pays the teams; the rules are the result of hundreds of sporting, technical and financial advisory committee meetings, with some provisions overriding the FIA’s international sporting code, and others not.

Teams collectively have a one-third vote in the process, but can block motions if half vote against them – whether or not the FIA and commercial rights holder are fully in favour. In effect teams can veto all rules changes unless these are motivated by bona fide safety concerns. For the record, the current eye-wateringly expensive and horrifically complex hybrid power units are the direct result of team wish lists…

Honda’s departure cut the number of car makers in F1
Equally, pressure from the teams to ‘let them race’ and not end grands prix under a safety car (or full course yellows) contributed to the debacle in Abu Dhabi. Forget not that all teams, including Red Bull and Mercedes, had a hand in regulatory changes over the past 12 years. Such has been the power of the teams collectively. The combined rule books now run to over 400 pages!

The situation has been exacerbated by the gradual withdrawal of manufacturers, the latest being Honda, thereby forcing independent teams into the hands of (now) three engine suppliers – Mercedes, Ferrari and Alpine (Renault), the latter supplying only itself. Mercedes supplies four teams – its own, Aston Martin, McLaren and Williams – while Ferrari services the Scuderia, Alfa Romeo (run by Sauber) and Haas.

Red Bull, having acquired the intellectual property rights to Honda power units, will share the spoils between the main team and sister AlphaTauri from 2022 under the Red Bull Powertrains moniker. Where during the 2000s there were seven ‘camps’ with each supplying, at most, two teams, there are now four – an average of 2.5 per supplier. In decreasing order these are: Mercedes (four teams), Ferrari (three), Red Bull (two) and Alpine (one).

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Mercedes supplies both Aston Martin and Williams with full powertrains and ‘rear ends’, including the suspension mounting points which determine geometry and supplies a raft of non-listed parts to the former outfit, so much so that the AMR21 is oft referred to as a ‘green Mercedes’ in F1 circles

Mick Schumacher, Ferrari, Fiorano, 2021
Close ties exist between Ferrari and Haas
Ferrari supplies its customers with full powertrains and rear ends; with Haas it goes a step further: a Ferrari off-shoot, based in Maranello and staffed by personnel retrenched as part of Ferrari’s budget realignment, provides contract engineering and design services to Haas. Haas race driver Mick Schumacher is listed as Ferrari’s reserve and there is talk of Antonio Giovinazzi undertaking simulation work for both Ferrari and Sauber.

George Russell referred to himself as a “Mercedes-backed driver” while with Williams and was called up for reserve duty in 2020 when Lewis Hamilton was struck down by Covid. Russell’s reward? A 2022 Mercedes drive.

Thus, there are now two main ‘engine camps’, with Red Bull/AlphaTauri historically aligned – regardless of engine supplier(s) over the years – due to their common ownership, while Alpine is all on its lonesome. The potential for politicking is obvious, particularly with F1’s two biggest outfits holding a potential of 70% of the collective team vote?

Of course, customer teams regularly protest their total independence – they would, would they not? – yet there have been some rather questionable voting patterns; indeed, eyebrows are raised on the odd occasion that a team votes against (or criticises) its engine supplier.

Previously the parts groups were binary: listed parts, those that teams need to hold the intellectual property to, and non-listed parts, sourcing of which was open. But the number of categories has doubled to four in the 2022 regulations. Only one of these requires teams to hold design rights to the listed components, while another relates to tender supply. With two ‘open’ categories, the potential for control of customer teams by the majors is effectively doubled.

Feature: Audi’s winning record across motorsport makes an F1 entry a thrilling possibility
This unhealthy situation is expected to continue through the 2022-25 regulatory period and is unlikely to change unless further engine suppliers join F1, crucially splitting the balance of power at the sharp end. First prize is for both Porsche and Audi to enter – if one mops up the Red Bull constellation and the other acquires a team they are still likely to be called upon to supply customers, thus diluting the powers vested in the majors.

The majors argue that they made substantial investments in F1 and should therefore have a substantial say in running the business, with the implied threat being that they could depart and take their engines with them should regulation changes or decisions go against them. However the flipside is that these investments make it unlikely they will leave any time soon, and should they choose to do so, they would likely sell their teams.

Until then the FIA, now under a new president in Mohammed Ben Sulayem, and F1, under former Ferrari boss Stefano Domenicali, need to stand firm in the face of mounting pressure from the majors, while doing everything in their powers to attract at least one incoming engine supplier and/or a new team.

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...

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  • 36 comments on “F1 needs a new engine supplier to check the growing power of its manufacturers”

    1. I agree (and have thought for most of the 20-odd years I’ve been following F1) that the manufacturers have too much power, but the question is how does the sport unwind things from here? There is no real scope for true privateers in F1 anymore (the Williams and Haas cases are discussed in the article) so it seems that any new or acquired team would need manufacturer backing. I am not convinced that simply adding more manufacturers to the mix would necessarily help matters – when they do manage to put aside their differences and operate as a bloc, as during the FOTA debacle of the late 2000s, the results can be pretty damaging.

    2. I find it odd that with fewer engine suppliers they become stronger, whereas the tyre supplier who has a monopoly in F1 has no power whatsoever and more often than not has been just a puppet for F1’s whims and a scapegoat when something goes wrong.

      As a fan I couldn’t care less if there was only 1 engine supplier. Having more of them adds nothing than just additional monikers to the grid. In today’s world those engines are all products of huge engineering enterprises who have acccess to the same technologies and are supported by computers in the same way. Apart from different branding, with the strict technical rules that we have, the engines have little to no identity.

      Actually, having only 2 engine suppliers, say Mercedes and Ferrari, with each covering half of the grid, would make for an interesting and somewhat meaningful rivalry. They could then make a separate World Engine Constructors Championship classification, which could add a new dimention to the competition.

      1. Coventry Climax
        4th January 2022, 12:13

        You have as much right to call yourself a fan as I do. Yet F1, to my opinion, should be a competition between drivers and F1 car designers/manufacturers. If, like you say, having more than one engine supplier adds ‘nothing’, then to me, that’s the same as saying adding more drivers than one adds nothing, or, adding more chassis than one adds nothing, and I have an inkling that we can agree on that not being the case.
        To watch a bunch of drivers race each other in the exact same cars is what you can do in a plethora of other formulas.
        I’ll state it more directly yet: Any deterrence from the concept of all teams designing and running each and every part of their own car, as well as having free choice of tyre brand, is diluting the concept of F1.
        I’d love to see a free choice of engine format return and a free fuel-type choice introduced.

        1. You have missed the point I made, Coventry, or simply ignored the “why” in what I said.

          This is the “why”:
          “In today’s world those engines are all products of huge engineering enterprises who have acccess to the same technologies and are supported by computers in the same way. Apart from different branding, with the strict technical rules that we have, the engines have little to no identity.”

          To rephrase that simpler: Having different engine manufacturers doesn’t make for a tangible variety in engines any more the way it used to 30 or 40 years ago. A 3.0 V12 vs a 3.0 V8 vs a 1.6 V10 turbo, each coming from a reliatively small engineering group with their own design philosophy – that’s a meaningful variety.

          1. Coventry Climax
            4th January 2022, 19:38

            Maybe I missed your point because your didn’t make it all too clear? Still don’t quite grasp where you stand, actually.
            You say that when Mercedes and Ferrari each cover half the grid, that would be an interesting and meaningful competition. Sorry, can’t agree with that. In your somewhat angry sounding reply to me, you say there’s a meaningful variety between V10, V8 and V6, turbo or not. It’s variety allright, and more than we have now, but it’s actually just old fashioned variety, if we don’t allow for ANY possible configuration.

    3. I would much rather see a “depleted” F1 without major brands and manufacturers (and that would even include Red Bull, no longer a privateer by any means) than having the sport held hostage by the fear of losing the big backing.

      It’s been painfully obvious for years now that Mercedes, Ferrari and to an extent Red Bull have the rest of F1 bent over a barrel. The way Williams drivers would react to a Mercedes coming up with blue flags, compared to how they react to a Red Bull coming up, was farcical – and Alpha Tauri was no different vice versa. It was pretty bad to see this season the amount of political leverage especially Mercedes have, but again Ferrari and Red Bull too. I have no illusions that this could ever change through regulations or caps, but I would hope that at some point the teams dependent on engine manufacturers strike out on their own. Red Bull deserve some credit for their bravey in going it alone from 2023 onwards – albeit with an insane budget. Will they then start handing out favours like Mercedes and Ferrari do? Probably. And on and on this circle goes.

      1. I see scope for change come 2026. If the 2022 formula, as is predicted, leads to more standardised, less innovative cars, then any team can join in without too great a capital expense. If the engines are simplified and more standardised come 2026, same thing. If the aero rules remain consistent and simple for an extended period of time (say, 10 years) from 2022, real change is possible. Will F1 dare?

        1. without too great a capital expense

          Just that £200 million entry fee…

          1. Only up to 2025. From 2026 onwards there will be a new Concorde Agreement, hopefully without the entry fee.

    4. attract at least one incoming engine supplier and/or a new team.

      I’m not sure F1 needs more than 4 engine suppliers; the cost of developing (and continuously improving) such an engine/PU requires a lot of money.
      It should however limit the power of each supplier by adding more teams (12 seems such a nice number) and require that each supplier has at least 1 customer teams (if not then the supplier with the most customers – Mercedes now – should pay that supplier the standard cost of one PUTeamSeason).

      1. Politically it may be necessary to have more suppliers. But competition-wise, it makes no sense, while wins are not open to more teams. For all investment Renault made, they barely have some podia.
        F1 engines are no longer a relatively simple combination of mechanically calibrated of chambers and pistons. It is a complicated computer operated power system integrated with kinetic/eletric power source.
        Very few companies have the talent, money and interest to venture into this. Add to is that most manufacturers are focused in eletric or at least hybrid which not necessarily align with F1 interests or regulations.

        1. another example that traditional manufacturers might not be interested in ICE power unities:
          https://arstechnica.com/cars/2022/01/hyundai-stops-engine-development-and-reassigns-engineers-to-evs/

      2. (if not then the supplier with the most customers – Mercedes now – should pay that supplier the standard cost of one PUTeamSeason)

        I don’t understand this – why would you want a supplier to pay another simply because they have the most teams? Isn’t this another way of penalizing success? Would you prefer they refuse to supply other teams instead?

        1. I don’t want the power of a single supplier to be too big. Thus if they still want to supply four/more teams then it shouldn’t be at the financial expense of the last supplier.

          Would you prefer they refuse to supply other teams instead?

          Yes.

    5. Andy (@andyfromsandy)
      3rd January 2022, 13:10

      If Audi comes in and only supplies RBR and AT that to my mind doesn’t actually solve anything swapping one engine for another but still only to those two teams.

      RBR need somewhere to test current engines for 4 years, hence the powertrains division. After that do they have the where with it all to make a new engine from scratch or was that never their real intention hoping VAG would save them?

      1. Good point there @andyfromsandy, it would just more or less mean they take over the supply of Red Bull, right.

    6. Chrysler Turbine, a revolutionary engine.

      1. Rover Turbine, ditto ! So what.

    7. Part of the problem is allowing an engine manufacturer to also have a team and customers. Another part of the problem is F1 insisting on having an engine format that makes it difficult to produce the necessary power while insisting on a fuel flow restriction. Another part is having such a high Minimum weight requirement.
      My experience in life is sometimes there is a problem that is impossible to fix, no one knows how to fix it. Nothing can be done. Then along comes some sort of additional cost that will be imposed unless things change. Then the tune that was “No, we can’t change, we don’t know how” becomes “Yes, of course we can change, in fact we are changing.”

      1. I believe the minimum weight requirement is there to prevent some high-end team from putting laps over lesser teams simply by spending more. If the performance differential is not too much, F1 should look into bringing it down…

    8. The problem is that F1 has decided that in order to attract manufacturers, the technology needs to be road-relevant for those manufacturers to be interested. That means relatively “simple” racing engines that could be built relatively cheaply by experienced garage mechanics are no longer possible. Manufacturers are interested in hybrid technology, battery technology, and hydrogen technology. None of that comes cheap, and to do it on a scale that F1 requires is insanely expensive. F1 is in a Catch-22 situation, they need the manufacturers because the show is now too expensive to be run by independent teams, but the manufacturers require the show to be relevant to their road car operations which further moves them towards technology that independent teams can not support.

      That is part of the problem with being the pinnacle of something: it is very, very narrow at the top.

      1. @g-funk)
        “[…] F1 has decided that in order to attract manufacturers, the technology needs to be road-relevant for those manufacturers to be interested”.
        Did F1 assume that that is true or rather did the manufactures themself made it understood that this is their point of interest?
        From what I remember it is the latter which is the case. If F1 decided to go back to conservative 3.0L normally aspirated engines – would that make Audi or Porsche interested in moving to F1? I think that question has already been answered at some point.

        Either way, your Catch-22 point remains valid and I absolutely agree with it. At some point it may make more sense to decide on a spec “simple racing engine” for the whole series just like IndyCar having the spec Dallara chassis and be done with it. Oh, and the engine would sound like every fan’s wet dream as well ;)

        1. @amian You’re absolutely correct. It was the latter. The manufacturers made it clear they wouldn’t join unless there was road relevance and so F1 made the changes to attract the manufacturers who said they would join if F1 made those changes. Whether F1 could have attracted engine manufacturers without having road relevant technology is an open question however. I suspect Audi or Porsche would also be interested in hybrid technology just not to the extent that F1 went. But that is just conjecture on my part.

        2. amian, mind you, doesn’t IndyCar also suggest that, even if you have a “simple racing engine”, it’s no guarantee that manufacturers would flood in anyway?

          After all, it’s not exactly as if an IndyCar engine is particularly complex engine, whilst the regulations there have also remained static for around a decade now – yet, even with the series actively lobbying for new engine manufacturers to join for years, they’ve come up empty handed time and time again.

    9. PU contracts should be made public so that the extent of the power held by the manufacturers is clear for all to see.

    10. I would love to see them allow for different configurations of engine again.

      Something I really miss is the variety of sound we used to have in the days when we used to have a dozen different engines types on the grid. I’ve so many memories through the 70s/80s/90s of standing trackside & hearing so many different sounds with the various configurations & how even if you had 2 suppliers using the same engine configuration there would be big differences.

      It gave the sport an extra splash of colour which made it that bit more interesting. It’s something that you really miss today when attending a circuit, Especially when you remember the times like this…..
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MAr5oGSIJRI

      1. Thinking about it. So much of the cost cutting & performance equalisation ‘in the name of the show’ of the past what 15-20 years has taken away so much of the colour, flavour, character, fun & interest the sport once featured. I mean with the testing ban fans have been robbed of the opportunity to go & see the cars for cheap on a more regular basis.

        Your lucky to be able to afford to attend the one time a year they may visit your home country now, With testing we were often able to go watch cars lapping circuits at least once (Often more) a month & not paying much (If anything) to do so. Helped you feel so much more connected to the sport & gave you a far greater appreciation for just how utterly amazing these cars are as there’s nothing like seeing them from trackside.

        I mean just imagine how cool it was to be able to go & watch this once a month or more.
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MjvEybhWXkw
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4qU26iUWXw
        https://youtu.be/7jKeqGL-6Xk

        1. @roger-ayles , Absolutely right, now that there are price caps why not open up the PU regs, we had 1.5L V12s in the past so why not 1.6L V12s or I 3s, 4s etc. combined with bigger or smaller motor-generators if they can boost performance or weigh less. I always refer back to 1966 when Jack Brabham saw the opportunity to cobble together, with the help of Australian motor-parts maker Repco, a 3L V8 that was similar in weight and size to the 1.5L outgoing motors but with much greater torque (if not power) and reliability, with which he won another WDC despite many teams and journalists derisory view of the concept.

      2. Coventry Climax
        4th January 2022, 12:41

        Yep.
        We’re all going to or watching the registration of a concert with a band of musicians that all play the exact same instrument.
        We’re all watching a play or movie with the same type and brand of robot for actors.
        Boring.

      3. Something I really miss is the variety of sound we used to have in the days when we used to have a dozen different engines types on the grid.

        Oddly, that was something I loved about the first couple of years of the Hybrid engines. There was a massive difference in the sound of the 3 PUs, such that you could tell which was powering the car approaching before you saw it. When so many were complaining that the new engines were not loud enough, I was loving the new sound.

    11. People talking about standardising Formula 1 just want to turn this category in to a control category but in doing this it will no longer be Formula 1.

      What Formula 1 needs to do is say here is the amount of energy you have for a race and bring whatever engine, power unit, power source you want to bring. Maybe 4 cylinder engines or hydrogen powered vehicles with fuel cells will be raced. Maybe Rimac or Tesla will try to build an electric F1 car that could last the distance of a 300km+ grand prix while still being fast enough to compete.

      As for engine manufacturers. I really don’t think the issue is how much political influence but rather the fact that there is no dictator in charge like the old days when Bernie ran things and he told teams / manufacturers what to do. If F1 bought in a customer engine option (Cosworth for example) that would run on e85 and could have 150kg of fuel or 100kg of fuel with 8MW of battery capacity for these lesser funded teams. Another option could be to get rid of the battery and have a simple 4 cylinder engine with a lighter weight vehicle (640kg like the old days).

    12. Rudy J.A. Schmitz
      4th January 2022, 0:58

      Königsegg can build a decent engine…

    13. As we keep saying on here, there appears to be very little logic for an OEM to enter F1, let alone remain in the coming years. It still surprises me that VAG/Porsche are seriously considering entering a Formula that uses an ICE at the core of its Power Unit.

      If major markets are going to forcibly ban ICE (UK/Europe) in the next 13 years or so, I’d expect other countries (or states) to enforce similar restrictions. Unless exemptions will be made to ICEs running synthetic fuel, then it is totally pointless.

      F1 needs to take stock and really think about what it wants to be. I sincerely believe that it will manage to retain its current fanbase and attract new fans if they revert to a naturally aspirated V8/V10 formula. Perhaps it sounds ridiculous, but, if OEMs have little reason to stick to the ICE by the end of the decade, why would they involve themselves in a sport that costs them a fortune with little or no return? Once again, this statement is purely based on the notion that EU and UK will ban ICE by 2035.

      Utilising an independent engine manufacturer, and possibly Ferrari, to supply V10s will create the possibility of light, nimble cars that offer a visceral experience, which can only be a boon for “The Show”. Emissions produced by the NA ICE units can be offset by various means, as these represent a minute percentage of F1’s overall emissions. Noise will be a problem, specifically on street circuits that run on existing city roads. However, I’m sure exemptions can be made for this as well, providing there is a will.

      Pipe dream? Without doubt.

      1. If major markets are going to forcibly ban ICE (UK/Europe) in the next 13 years or so, I’d expect other countries (or states) to enforce similar restrictions.

        Most plans are to ban brand new, pure-ICE cars. Hybrids will still be allowed for quite some time, which does keep the F1 ICEs relevant to some extent, and battery and motor technology will become more and more relevant and important.

        1. @drmouse

          I did not know that. I was under the impression that all new ICE engines will be banned, at least thats how I remember reading it.

          Good to know.

    14. F1 needs much more change to become good sport again

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