Fresh battle looms over cuts

Cap on engine costs and halt on wind-tunnel testing likely but smaller teams are crying foul

Another "us versus them" saga is brewing between Formula One's back-markers and the big boys as the sport looks to slash costs and boost competition across the grid.

Talk in the paddock at the ongoing Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix is rife that the F1 Strategy Group will soon announce a cost cap for engine-supply deals to customer teams and a ban on wind-tunnel testing as part of austerity moves. It is also reportedly set to give teams the choice of running older-specification engines at a reduced price.

However, the proposal drew fierce criticism from honchos of the so-called smaller outfits in a press briefing yesterday, even as Mercedes chief Toto Wolff hit out at speculation over costs as "borderline nonsense".

Sauber team principal Monisha Kaltenborn is against the option of allowing teams to use one-year-old engines, claiming it sets a dangerous precedent and could pave the way to a two-tier category.

The 44-year-old said: "We are trying to get people together and not trying to create an environment where you are ending up with A and B cars.

"In distorting the competition and creating a competition within the competition, it is not ideal."

Toro Rosso principal Franz Tost concurred: "I'm totally against the use of old engines - this will only increase the gap.

"Then we have five, six, seven cars which are running away... races will become totally boring."

Williams deputy team principal Claire Williams disagreed, saying teams can benefit from additional engine options, adding: "Each team needs to make an independent decision as to what variant they go for."

As for engine costs, teams are spending between £15 million (S$33 million) and £20 million per season for the 1.6-litre turbocharged V6s, which were introduced last year, compared to £7 million during the V8 era.

According to Autosport, the Strategy Group has voted to drop the price of current-spec engines to £9 million, while a one-year-old one will cost £6 million.

There will also be a £1.5 million cap on gear-boxes, which for some teams represents savings of up to 50 per cent, and a ban on wind-tunnel testing, leading to a greater use of Computational Fluid Dynamics.

This is similar to a wind-tunnel experiment, but done in the form of a computer simulation, which makes it slightly less realistic.

Should the proposals all go through, the teams can expect cost savings of around £18 million - nearly a third of Manor Marussia's entire budget.

But it may not be good news for reigning constructors' champions Mercedes who are building a new wind tunnel in Stuttgart.

Hitting out at the proposed ban, Wolff said F1 "shouldn't be the playground for funny experiments for opportunistic reasons".

The Strategy Group comprises heavyweights Ferrari, Mercedes, McLaren, Red Bull, Williams and minnows Force India. Each team holds one vote. F1's governing body, the International Automobile Federation (FIA), and commercial rights holder Formula One Management hold six votes apiece.

The proposals must also be approved by the F1 Commission and, subsequently, the FIA World Motor Sport Council which meets on Sept 30 in Paris.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 20, 2015, with the headline 'Fresh battle looms over cuts'. Print Edition | Subscribe