Formula One is a remarkable sport in that it so often labelled as an ‘F1 Circus’ and used to heaps of speculation during ‘the silly season’. Already, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the 2021 regulations have been pushed back into 2022. Now, with the 2020 F1 season still yet to resume ahead of the return to on track action in Austria, discussion is already being had as to what the year 2026 will bring. 2026 power unit regulations will be the "next battlefield" are the latest remarks from Cyril Abiteboul, the team boss of Renault’s Formula One team. Following his headline making comments about Daniel Ricciardo departing the French manufacturer, the Frenchman is back generating topic for discussion once more.
The source for this latest direction that Formula One could be headed, comes from motorsport.com. Fresh of the back of a very successful and highly publicised Virtual 24 Hours Le Mans, the motorsport publication shared these exclusive remarks from Cyril Abiteboul. Such a revelation stems from the fact that the current hybrid V6 regulations will be present on the F1 grid until 2025, and the feeling in the paddock is that the next generation of engines will need to be more affordable for manufacturers and sustainable.
Just last week, the Formula One Managing Director of Motorsports, Ross Brawn, that no new manufacturers will enter the championship before 2026. As such, this has generated hot discussion over the future of the power unit and none more so than discussing the faults with the current process – as the Renault boss is keen to point out:
"There is probably more work to be done on the power unit side…We've contained the arms race on power unit development a bit by limiting the number of new homologations per year, and by limiting further the number of dyno hours.
Cyril Abiteboul always has a way with words and sometimes you have to infer the meaning as he may not provide full disclosure with his comments. There is no such discussion needed for his next comment to motorsport:
"It's good, but it's still bloody expensive to maintain and operate these engines.”
Quite simply put, this is why Formula One appears to have alienated the manufacturers and when you consider the fact the budget cap for all intents and purposes may lead to the ‘big 3’ being less competitive – having previously spent so much on the sport - it is not hard to see why F1 does not have manufacturers figuratively banging down the door.
"We're starting to think about what we'd like at least in terms of objectives for the sport. I've mentioned one as probably the most important, the economical sustainability of the next power unit programme, because clearly the current one is very difficult.
"The next thing we need to think about is the technology involved.
"We see the pace at which electrification is gaining everywhere around the world, and therefore we need to think very hard about what that means for F1, what that means in the context of racing, what that means in the context of some parallel co-existence with Formula E.
"We need to think about that, as it's the next battlefield, in my opinion.
"I think we'd like to have the big principle of the engine agreed for 2021 or 2022, so that development can start in 2023. That's the sort of macro planning we have in mind." Abiteboul remarked.
"We have the MGU-H for the fuel efficiency of the engine. Are we prepared to say that we will lose something like 20-30% of fuel efficiency? I don't see us carrying more fuel, because we already know that the cars are even heavier in 2022. We are talking about another 50kgs of fuel if we remove the MGU-H in order to have the same sort of energy density.
"It's a very difficult equation. With the prospect of the cars not being lighter I think it will be difficult to remove that device if we want to get to the same level of sustainable power. You can have big power, for sure, but if you want to have sustainable power which is F1, it's difficult to do without that component."
Therefore, the future of the next 5 years, whilst being uncertain, means the hope lies in privateers emerging to keep the sport fresh and current. However, for the millions of dollars which Gene Haas has invested you have to wonder whether he feels like a Rockstar now. Was the risk worth the reward?
Cyril Abiteboul concludes with a summation of how the F1 world of glitz and extravagant spending is on its way out:
"The next step is to have a good look at what can be done in order to make sure that the next generation of power unit is a more economic sell."
No one knows what the future of engine holds but if I could have one request, just one, it would be to bring back the sound!
Well, one can always dream….