Last month I ran an opinion piece on my belief that Red Bull Racing will run an unbranded evolution of the current Renault engine under an Ilmor development programme. Whilst I maintain this is a possibility, the emergence of a client engine tender from the FIA presents another option.
The FIA have not publicly stated the intended specification of the client engine, but it has been mentioned on several occasions that the engine is likely to be a 2.2 litre twin turbo configuration. By coincidence this happens to be the same configuration of the current Indycar engine philosophy.
The existing Indycar engine weighs 114kg (compared to the minimum weight 145kg F1 engine) with power in the region of 650-700hbhp which would be 50-100 bhp less than the estimated F1 Power Units. Despite a power shortfall the Indycar engine has produced top speeds significantly higher than those seen from an F1 car, albeit racing on oval tracks.
With engine mapping developments to suit F1 track design and gearbox technology, the Indycar engine could pose a formidable threat to the F1 engine in the right car.
There are currently two engine manufacturers supplying engines to Indycar teams, these are Honda and Chevrolet. Whilst Honda produce their engine in house, the Chevrolet engine is developed and manufactured by Ilmor Engineering.
As mentioned in my earlier piece Mario Illien, Co-owner of Ilmor Engineering, has had extensive involvement with Red Bull Racing in proposing a development route for their current engine predicament.
Could it be that Red Bull though Ilmor have privately petitioned the FIA to introduce the existing Indycar engine specification into F1 under the banner of the client engine?
If this is an option the only real question is why the FIA would suggest a tender for 2017 and not 2016? There is an essentially off the shelf solution waiting ready to go. Could the threat of the client engine for 2016 be the weapon the FIA’s arsenal in the fight against engine manufacturers control of Formula One?
Could Red Bull Racing, possibly with the support of Bernie Ecclestone, have engineered this entire situation? Leaving the FIA with no real alternative than to allow the Ilmor design Indycar specification engine into F1 for 2016 or face losing two teams from the grid?
Another factor to consider with respect to the Client Engine possibility is that Indycar engine manufacturers supply teams with engines through a leasing model at a cost of less than $4 Million per car per season. This is a fraction of the cost of current F1 engine supply agreements. If a client engine programme could be introduced into F1 with the performance parity the Indycar engine specifications suggest, then engine could be hugely attractive to all non-manufacturer backed / owned teams.
Finally, the Honda engine in Indycar is a fast and reliable race winner; the FIA approving a shift towards this specification initially through the client engine could be music to the ears of the Honda Racing F1 engineers in Japan.