By Adam Tate, Associate Editor
It emerged over the weekend that those in attendance at last Friday’s meeting of FIA officials and auto manufacturers agreed to abandon F1’s 1.6 liter hybrid power units in 2021 for a simpler engine formula. It effectively granted FIA President Jean Todt’s long held wish to ditch the complex and impressive current engines for an undetermined formula set to fulfill the unlikely wishlist of cheaper, louder, and more powerful.
Louder is one thing, that would be met with resounding enthusiasm from most in the sport, especially the fans. Cheaper too, could, could just be possible. But more powerful will be hard to hit when the current Mercedes and Ferrari units are nearing the 1,000 horsepower mark. Todt has already ruled out a return to V10 or V12 engines for the future with the remark that society will not tolerate them. A move to a V8 will likely be seen as equally out of step with the times when 2021 rolls around. That leaves the sport sticking with a V6 or a four cylinder turbo, either with some form of simplified; i.e. dumbed down hybrid drive train, or without one at all. For a sport that is meant to be the peak of automotive technology, the move is severely short sighted.
As much as many in the racing community and the general automotive sector don’t want to admit, hybrids and electric cars are rapidly shifting from the future, to the present. If F1 wants to retain any semblance of road relevance, they simply cannot afford to jump off the boat just as it is gathering steam.
All four current F1 engine manufacturers: Mercedes, Ferrari, Renault, and Honda were represented, as well as the Volkswagen Audi Group in the form of Lamborghini CEO and former Ferrari F1 Team Principal Stefano Domenicali. VAG’s presence at the table garnered most of the headlines and attention, but Todt was the true center of it all as he eagerly set the pieces in motion to dismantle the current status quo and somehow got the representatives from the manufacturers to agree with him.
The current regulations were introduced in 2014 to take the sport in a more environmentally friendly direction. After several years of development, the power units are reaching horsepower levels not seen since the V10 era and doing so with over 30 percent less fuel. They achieve a remarkable 50 percent thermal efficiency that several years ago would have been deemed impossible! They are the most complex and efficient internal combustion engines on the planet and F1 has done nothing to promote how remarkable they are. Instead all Bernie Ecclestone did was complain about the noise. Manufacturers complained about the complexity, drivers complained about saving fuel. They were locked in place last year by an agreement between the manufacturers and the FIA in order to lower costs, increase the noise, and bring about parity of performance more in line with what the sport saw at the end of the 2.4L V8 era. By the time 2021 rolls around the engineers will have easily delivered on these promises and be ready to tackle an even greater challenge, an even more advanced power unit.
We live in changing times, with technology that is evolving ever more rapidly to meet a dynamic and shifting world. F1 can choose to be a part of those times, to look towards a more sustainable, high tech future or it can lead motorsport down a retrograde path, one that could take the sport we love perilously close to irrelevance. Make no mistake that as it stands Formula One is the second most popular sport on the planet, topped only by soccer. But in a world facing the increased risks of climate change and limited resources, there may come a day that many fans and companies can no longer afford to financially or morally support a sport spending billions on dated technology for millionaire drivers to burn copious amounts of rapidly scarcer fuel. F1 can chose to put its collective head in the sand and fall victim to such a future, or it can embrace the challenge of the times and find a way to remain relevant and entertaining for generations to come. Here is to hoping that they choose the latter, but caving to pressure for a less advanced power unit isn’t a good first step.