Aston Martin’s presence at recent meetings between the FIA and Formula 1 manufacturers has raised questions about whether the marque could be considering an entry into the elite motorsport series from 2021.
The FIA’s engine Working Group met in early July to shape the future engine rules of F1, with Volkswagen/Audi Group representatives also present alongside those of current F1 teams and Aston Martin and Cosworth executives.
Sources with knowledge of the organisation have indicated that if the VAG Group was to enter F1 it would be with the Porsche brand, rather than Audi.
But the presence of Aston Martin is interesting. The company is small in comparison with other manufacturers orbiting F1 and is currently involved via its sponsorship of the Red Bull Racing team. Aston has earnings of £593.5m in 2016, compared to £2.7 billion for Ferrari, its main rival as a small volume luxury car brand.
Aston CEO Andy Palmer is a huge supporter of F1; he brought the Infiniti brand into the sport with Red Bull when they won four consecutive world championships and once he moved to Aston he was quick to partner again with the team and to encourage the joint development of a super car, with input from Red Bull design genius Adrian Newey.
Palmer told Autosport before the Hungarian Grand Prix that Aston could well enter F1 in the near future – but only if the costs are contained.
“There’s always that question, would you want to enter as a team?,” said Palmer (below, with Christian Horner and David Coulthard) to Autosport.
“Our major competitor is Ferrari, so in that sense there’s a rationale in being involved in some way.
“But for a company that’s only just moved to making a profit we don’t have the 350-400 million a year that you have to spend on F1.”
“If – and it really is the big if – there is a cap put on the number of people or the amount of money that you can spend on developing a new engine, and it’s at a reasonable level, we have a good reason to study it.
“At the moment there are lots of opinions, and it’s still morphing into whatever the final idea will be.”
The meeting, which took place on July 5, allowed the FIA to take a wide range of views from current and prospective F1 teams in order to formulate the future F1 engine regulations. The next Working Group is scheduled for September before the World Motor Sport Council meets on September 21.
“[The meetings are] definitely going in the right way,” continued Palmer.
“Clearly everybody accepts that you need more theatre in F1, you need more noise, you don’t want to restrict too much of the performance, but you have to bring the costs of entry down.
“I don’t think there’s anybody in the room that disagreed with that. But the debate is, ‘How?’
“The FIA will say, ‘Why don’t you remove this?,’ and half the crowd will say, ‘No you can’t do that.'”
A return for Cosworth?
Cosworth’s representation at the Working Group has catalysed rumours of a return to F1 for the historically prolific manufacturer. Furthermore, Aston’s development of the Valkyrie road car – which Red Bull Chief Technical Officer Adrian Newery is working on – uses a Cosworth engine.
“We obviously have a good relationship with Cosworth, and if you’re trying to create a relationship which says ‘Valkyrie, F1, by the way when you buy your £150,000 Aston there’s something in the bloodline,’ then obviously it makes sense to try and bring it all together,” said Palmer.
“That doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t consider for example Ricardo [supplier of the Valkyrie gearbox], who were at the meeting, or Ilmor, who were at the meeting.
“We were all listening. We’ve talked about what might be with various parties, but we haven’t decided.
“Hopefully it will be clearer in September, and that will allow us to make a proper decision.”
Palmer maintained that sponsorship is never enough and Aston wants to get involved with more than just a logo.
“I’ve never been a fan of just simple sponsorship. I always try to get some degree of authenticity, and the more authenticity the better really,” he said.
Cosworth’s last competed in F1 with Marussia in 2013 and CEO Hal Reisiger told Autosport that the company is optimistic regarding a return.
“We think we are well suited to come back into F1 if the engine regulations should change, and the compelling change has to be with the heat energy recovery [from the turbo] because that is the most expensive and time-consuming element,” he said.
“If F1 wants a new engine supplier for 2021 there will have to be some changes on that front.
“We would typically start in 2018 [for a 2021 comeback]. I know there is some discussion about moving it ahead by a year, and that would mean working really soon.”
The Formula E option
Aston’s sportscar operations are, of course, cheaper and more representative of its work on road cars than F1 could be. At the 2017 Le Mans 24 Hours, its V8 Vantage GTE team took a class victory on the final lap.
There was an attempt to produce a prototype car but the Aston Martin AMR-One never took part in endurance racing and the manufacturer focused on its GT operation instead.
But, with electrification looming for the car industry, carmakers are shifting to motorsports which will aid their road-car operations. Notably, Mercedes announced that it will quit the DTM in 2018 with a shift to Formula E, leaving Audi and BMW to evaluate their own futures in the German touring car series.
If Aston Martin is to protect and grow its valuable brand, F1 could well help those attempts but costs are still a huge issue with 2016 season budgets ranging from around £80m to £330m for the most wealthy team (Ferrari), according to various sources.
FE, on the other hand, caps its budgets at around £2.5 million, and its focus on pure electrification is a very attractive one for manufacturers. Williams Advanced Engineering already makes batteries for the 42 electric cars competing in FE, having used its KERS expertise from F1 and transferred the knowledge into FE.
Moreover, WAE’s electrics have been used in Aston’s all-electric RapidE concept car which is poised to enter production from 2019.
“This project with Aston Martin will draw on the extensive battery and EV experience we have accumulated and we are extremely pleased to be supporting this prestigious British company with their future electrification strategy,” said WAE Technical Director, Paul McNamara, in June.
Aston does indeed have its sights set on zero-emission performance vehicles, and F1’s cost of entry is verging on prohibitive for the marque. Indeed, FE might be the route Aston Martin takes if that ‘big if’ of F1 entry and season costs remains.
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