After the strong words about F1’s owners Liberty Media from Ferrari chairman Sergio Marchionne on Tuesday, Toto Wolff of Mercedes and McLaren’s Zak Brown have also waded in, throwing their support behind Ferrari’s view.
Their position is that F1 has a certain DNA, a certain technical level and if Liberty intends to dumb it down – in order to close up the field – then they aren’t interested in participating. At least that’s how Marchionne expresses it. The other two say that they support his position and Brown pressed Liberty to act soon to reveal the plans for 2021 onwards, as time is running short and the engine in particular is a critical thing to get right.
“I agree completely with Sergio and his way of seeing the situation,” said Wolff. “Even if it was expressed in ‘Marchionne style’! ”
The Ferrari boss spelled it out clearly on Monday,”We are interested in saving the DNA of this sport, which cannot be diluted for commercial reasons or for the show,” he said. “If you can no longer distinguish one competitor from another on a technical level then I’m not interested. If you can’t tell a Ferrari from a Mercedes, then I’m not interested.
“Liberty should let us work; if they no longer give us the chance to compete then we will be leaving.”
These three powerful teams stand together then; on the other side is Red Bull, which would have much to gain from the others leaving F1 and which has always supported the entertainment route. The other key factor is that they don’t produce engines, something which has put them at a clear disadvantage to Ferrari and Mercedes since the advent of hybrid turbos in 2014.
Clock ticking on engines
Everyone is waiting for plans. Time is running short for many things, but especially for the engine that F1 will use from 2021 onwards. The timeline calls for the plans to be revealed in April and then to be developed into a set of regulations for 2021, so the engine builders can get to work. Lead times are very long with engines.
The faultline is that Liberty’s team, with Ross Brawn at the helm technically, want to simplify the engine, to go the ‘entertainment’ route, while maintaining the hybrid turbo technology which gives road relevance as the automotive world moves towards miniaturisation and electrification *.
One key stumbling block is the MGU-H, the motor generator unit in the hybrid system which harvests heat energy from the turbo. Mercedes and Ferrari want to keep this.
Liberty want to get rid of it, so do Red Bull and the smaller teams on the grounds of cost, while Porsche is believed to have the removal of the MGU-H as a condition of coming into the sport in 2021.
Other teams say that they have no clarity on what is going on in this process. There was an outline relased in October, which Marchionne reacted strongly to and since then it’s been quiet as the leading manufacturers discuss with Liberty and the FIA.
These two entities need to be aligned and progress needs to be made, was the message from Brown in a media session yesterday, attended by this website. He wants Liberty and the FIA to act positively and get the process started. It promises to be a season of intense political activity behind the scenes.
These decisions on the DNA of F1 after 2020 are absolutely critical. I’m of the view that, as the 2020s will be the decade of the rise of autonomous vehicles, the very soul of motorsport needs to be examined to make sure the product is appealing to publics around the world that will increasingly give up on driving.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing for the sport – millions still love horse racing and marvel at equestrian skills over a century after the car replaced the horse and carriages – but it does mean that the world’s most skilled and courageous drivers pilot cars that people want to watch.
That is mission critical.
* The FIA held the first meeting of its Environment and Sustainability Commission in Geneva today and the topic of motorsport technology playing a part in ‘smart cities’, as they call it in the future was discussed.
Alejandro Agag, the CEO of Formula E Holdings said, “Technology is at the core of smart policies, smart services and smart cities. Transferring expertise from Sport to broader Mobility problems can enhance urban transportation at the global scale”.
All photos: LAT Images
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