Arguments threaten F1 future ahead of final race

SAO PAULO • Formula One will head to Abu Dhabi and the final race of this season wracked by technical and political arguments that are splitting the sport.

After weeks of posturing, discussions and complaints, few know the identity of the field next year. Red Bull boss Christian Horner claimed the sport is trapped in a battle for power, while Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff said the speculation about a new engine is "doing my head in".

After four successive championship-winning years, Horner and Red Bull have played second fiddle to Wolff's Mercedes team - and lost the services of four-time champion Sebastian Vettel.

They are also parting company with engine suppliers Renault after an acrimonious season of disappointments, but have not yet identified where their power units will come from in 2016. And while Renault delay making any decision on whether or not to continue supplying Red Bull under another identity, proposals for a newer, cheaper "off-the-shelf" engine for the sport's financially-strapped teams are being activated.

Both Bernie Ecclestone, the long-serving commercial ringmaster, and Jean Todt, president of the ruling body, the International Motoring Federation (FIA), support the cost-cutting idea of a cheaper customer engine.

Horner said: "I think it's about who controls Formula One.

"At the moment, you've got two very powerful engine manufacturers (Ferrari and Mercedes) that are working closely together - and then you've got the promoter and governing body... And the engine is the catalyst of that.

"I think Jean (Todt) and Bernie (Ecclestone) are trying to get control of the sport back through the introduction of a cost-effective available engine."

The FIA has asked for expressions of interest ahead of a tender for a standard engine that would be cheaper and simpler.

The engine, yet to be approved by the F1 Commission, would be available as an alternative to the costly 1.6 litre V6 turbo hybrids.

An FIA suggestion that costs for customer engines, as provided by the existing suppliers, be capped at €12 million (S$18.3 million) was vetoed by Ferrari.

If Renault pulls out of F1, only three engine suppliers remain - Ferrari, Honda and Mercedes - all of which have failed to reach agreement with Red Bull for next year.

This would leave Red Bull seeking a deal with Renault for a supply of unbranded engines before switching to the new cheaper supplier next year.

This idea of creating a new specification, with a "balance of performance" concept introduced to keep a level and fair contest, has been lambasted by Wolff and others who accuse the rule-makers of "moving the goalposts".

"I think many of us share the opinion that the 'balance of performance engine' does not work for Formula One," he said.

"It doesn't even work in any other category. We hear about the aggravation in GT racing and it does my head in hearing these ideas...

"It's like we are completely stuck, eyes closed, on what happens in other series and then somebody just pulls a rabbit out of his pocket and says, 'why don't we do that?'

"But I'm not surprised to hear - let's call it 'interesting' - new concepts from around the corner."

He added: "It seems to me that we are going in cycles, that at certain stages we want to be road-relevant and the pinnacle of technology, want to attract manufacturers...

"Once you have four manufacturers on board, with the four of us, all sharing the same opinion, then you hear 'oh, actually, we don't want constructors in the sport - we would rather have it like GP2'."

And while the arguments continue, the popularity and the spectacle of Formula One suffer.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 18, 2015, with the headline 'Arguments threaten F1 future ahead of final race'. Print Edition | Subscribe