The argument for a change in engine regulations for Formula 1
March 31, 2011
There have been some rumblings around the new engine regulations which are to be established for F1 from 2013 onwards. The proposal appears to be that a small (1.6 litre) four cylinder hybrid (ie with a KERS type system) replaces the current 2.4litre V8, this has provoked negative responses from a number of F1 luminaries, not least Mr E himself, who has claimed that the development costs will repel engine manufacturers from F1 and will also reduce the attractiveness of F1 as a TV spectacle and so TV companies will also pull out. The first part of his argument is based on sound logic, I remember Bernard Ferguson, the former Cosworth Commercial Director, saying to me that the biggest cost in F1 was obsolescence and so, as far as engine manufacturers were concerned, the fewer and less radical the rule changes the better. In an era where F1 is battling to reduce its cost base surely continuity of engine supply is one area where costs could be contained by sticking with the current format for a further five years, or for however long the next Concorde Agreement is going to be in force? The second part of Bernie’s argument is also persuasive, there is nothing quite like the sound of an F1 car, and if you put 22 of them together at the start of a race it is an incredible sensation akin to putting your head in the speaker of a PA stack at a Ramones concert (which a friend of mine did try for ninety seconds – the typical length of a Ramones composition). The sound is amazing, although I have to say that my most enduring memory of F1 is going to Silverstone in the late seventies and hearing the flat 12 Ferrari before it became obsolete – that high-pitched scream sounded totally different to the Cosworth powered competition, today the cars sound incredible, but they all (to my untrained ear) sound pretty much the same. However for me the sound is very much part of the spectator experience (try being in a garage when they start an engine up and you forgot to put in your ear-plugs – not recommended), which is not something that has been at the heart of the F1 business model, in fact, apart from the corporate market, spectators haven’t really been anywhere in the F1 business model. So I’m not sure that the TV viewing experience would be that much poorer for different sounding engines.
But the real clincher for me was when I recently gave an F1 talk in Geneva and someone had said to me that his fourteen year old son was mad on cars and so he’d taken him to the Geneva Motor Show a couple of weeks before. I asked, what kind of cars is he interested in, Ferrari? Porsche? No, came the reply, he’s really into electric cars and doesn’t care about the make. The big danger is that current F1 merges seamlessly into historic F1 without us noticing. The internal combustion engine is on the way out and it doesn’t matter who you talk to in the automotive industry they all agree, we are moving into an area where the hybrid will transition us into electric cars and other low emission solutions. The iceberg waiting for the F1 Titanic is that it suddenly becomes very outdated and totally out of step with the new generation of fans that it needs to attract to remain viable, and of course without the fans you don’t have the TV and without TV you don’t have the sponsors. So my vote is for change, it will cost more in the short term, but it will cost far more in the medium/long term if we don’t do it.