The introduction of the hybrid power-unit was supposed to push technology in Formula One in the same direction as the wider automotive industry as the transition to electric vehicles builds.
But former team owner Ross Brawn believes that the sport needs to reassess its position in world Motorsports, especially given that Formula E is filling this void with manufacturers looking to reap the championship of electric-powered innovation. Formula One is committed to its current engine Formula until 2020, but Brawn believes that decisions need to be made much sooner.
F1 has to take a hard look at what it wants from an engine. What we’ve done in the last few years is align ourselves with road cars. We’ve got this revolution going on, and the road cars we’ll have in five to 10 years’ time are going to be very different.
Can we maintain the technological marvel of F1 but acknowledge that perhaps now is the time to start diverging from where road cars are going? If we don’t, logic says we should have electric or fuel-cell F1 cars in a few years’ time.
We have Formula E and that’s establishing its place, but for me F1 isn’t just a technological demonstration, it’s a whole circus, and what’s the best way of maintaining that? It might be time to say, ‘We’ve had this technological marvel, but we’re going to step back and think about what F1 ideally wants from an engine, which may have to contain some technologies that are relevant.
We have to sit down with the manufacturers, teams and interested parties and decide what we want beyond 2020. Maybe it’s what we’ve got now but refined in terms of cost and complexity, because the engine is too expensive.”
– Ross Brawn
The FIA does have a catalogue of endurance formats that may be better suited to pushing hybrid-power technology. The point is, Formula One can offer technological innovation outside of the engine department. Given that teams spend a majority of their budget on engine development over the winter and that is will be even more cost ineffective next season with a lift on in-season engine updates, are there other areas in which a development race can be as engaging in Formula One?
On next season, Brawn has clear-cut favourites,
“Mercedes will have been pulling resource off this year’s programme onto next year very early, once they saw where they were with the car.
If I was there, and I’m sure they’ve carried on a similar philosophy, I’d be saying, ‘Right, we’ve got a strong car, we can only beat ourselves, let’s get everyone onto next year’s programme’.
I don’t know how many other teams could do that. Success breeds success. Mercedes will be strong next year, despite the greater emphasis on chassis.”
– Ross Brawn
If next season proves to be a regression back to the 2014 running order and the only thing that ends up being reset is the gap to Mercedes at the front, in-season spending will be through the roof at Red Bull and Ferrari just to claw back the slightly closer running order that we saw in 2016. Midfielders and Independents won’t be outperformed, but outspent. If this happens, the sport will definitely need to look at itself and decide what it want to be.