Category Archives: Power Unit

Formula One: Preparing for the budget cap

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The Liberty Media vision for the future of Formula One Teams is clear. The owners expect 12 commercially viable, profitable, franchises all capable of challenging for race victories. In his role as Managing Director of Motorsports, Ross Brawn, has been mandated with the task of delivering a strategy to ensure this vision is achieved.

12 commercially viable & profitable teams, on paper, sounds fantastic. With the variable of available finances removed, the resourceful nature of F1 teams will truly be put to the test. Outwardly it seems as though there is widespread support from the teams for such a move. Afterall, what business wants to spend more money? With representatives from leading teams including Red Bull Racing emploring Liberty Media to ‘ Save F1 Teams from themselves’ the route to implementing a budget cap should, in theory, be straightforward.

However, As with any commercial decision in Formula One nothing is straightforward. The first major hurdle to overcome is the existing structure around payments and the legacy of disparity. In 2017 Joe Saward explained the complexities around the current structure in this article. The existing structure rewards success and longevity, a something which is not overly inviting to a new team, nor geared towards a midfield team ever being in a position to surprise. In an estimated payment fund of $900M per season, the top 3 teams receive approximately 60% of the revenue, leaving the remaining, currently 7, teams to compete for 40% ($360M) between them. It is estimated that the smallest operational budget in F1 today is in the region of $100M, with only $50M coming from the championship, teams have a significant shortfall to cover.

A more appropriate payment structure would be equal distribution amongst all teams, with a proportional bonus for constructors championship position, similar to that seen in the Premier league as detailed here.  Unfortunately, in order to reach this point, the largest teams, with operational budgets believed to be in excess of $400M per season must agree to a cut in support from the system under which their team structure has been developed. What business would agree to lose as much as 50% of its funding without a clear view of how it will cut costs or increase revenue through other ventures.

Convincing; Red Bull Racing, Scuderia Ferrari, and Mercedes Grand Prix to agree to this change will be one of the key tasks ahead of Ross Brawn through 2018 and 2019 if a new system is to be introduced under the new commercial vision for the sport in 2020.

The task is far from simple, the infrastructure of the top teams has been built around a mindset of a limitless budget. If a budget cap of $150m per season were to be introduced in 2020 with no consultation from the teams, it would be almost impossible for the top teams to comply. From a personnel headcount perspective alone a team such a Mercedes Grand Prix, with in excess of 1400 employees, if an average salary of $50,000 is applied, the team commit 46% of its budget to salaries before considering building a car. Without modifying the current team structure, introducing a budget cap within the next 3 seasons, unless Liberty Media expect teams to make more than 50% of their workforce redundant, is not feasible.

On a more positive note, there are indications that the top teams in question are preparing for the change. A budget cap in Formula One will not mean that the likes of operating entity such as Mercedes Grand Prix or Red Bull Racing will be limited to an expenditure of $150M per season, rather their allocation of resources to F1 will see this limit applied.

As a result, it is highly likely that diversification will be a key element to the future of F1 Teams. Over the past decade, McLaren and Williams have established an industry-leading position in the application of engineering solutions developed to improve performance in motorsport being incorporated into manufacturing processes and commercial entities.  For these teams, this third-party business will likely continue to grow. it is, however,  unlikely Ferrari or Red Bull Racing will view this as an appropriate use of resources or brand credibility.

Instead, expect the very top teams to move towards expanding their foothold in other forms of motorsport.

  • Mercedes Grand Prix has already made steps in this direction with the announcement of a commitment to Formula E team from season 6 of the championship. This alongside the development of the Mercedes Project One, which to many is a clear indication of Mercedes ambitions to return to Endurance Racing. A return which with LMP1 regulations under review and the prospect of the reinvigoration of the FIA Global Engine strategy, Mercedes are well positioned to find success.

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Credit to Sean Bull Design for the concept Mercedes Formula E livery 

  • Similarly, Red Bull Racing through their partnership with Aston Martin has acknowledged an interest in taking the Valkyrie racing, and under guidance from Ross Brawn will no doubt be seeking to bring the Toro Rosso team entirely in-house.

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  • McLaren has taken the decision to take control of their GT programme, and have already explored further engagements in championships including Indycar following the positive coverage generated through the one-off partnership with Andretti Autosport at the Indy 500 in 2017.

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  • Ferrari continually talks of a return to Endurance Racing, and could, similar to Red Bull Racing consider a strategy of an in-house B-team with which budget cap compliance could be achieved.

In conclusion, political posturing between the top teams in Formula One, Ross Brawn, and Liberty Media throughout the 2018-19 seasons will likely overshadow on-track performances. Fans of the sport should take any empty threats from top teams to walk away from the sport as just that. Empty threats. The financial implications of such a move make the option unviable. Instead, teams will double down on motorsport, getting involved with more championships, with the eventual winner being the fans.

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Formula One: Confirmed – Renault will not feature in McLaren team name designation

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McLaren has confirmed that Renault will not be referenced in the official team name designation for the 2018 season. Whilst Renault branding will feature within the team environment and livery as would be expected in a customer power unit relationship, the team will not be referred to as McLaren Renault.

As speculated on this site in September 2017, such a move will facilitate a single focus for the McLaren brand and enable consistent naming conventions should the team implement its own Power Unit solution under future F1 regulations.  Unlike fellow Renault customers, Red Bull Racing, McLaren have not taken the route of rebadging their Power Unit.

The Renault Power Unit supplied to Red Bull Racing has been badged TAG Heuer since 2016, in an agreement which saw the LVMH owned brand end a long-standing partnership with McLaren switching to the Milton Keynes based team.

The naming convention surrounding Toro Rosso’s relationship with power unit partner Honda is yet to be confirmed.

Formula One: McLaren set to badge Renault Power Unit – McLaren

Mclaren White label

As the F1 world awaits confirmation of the widely expected split between McLaren and Honda, attention has turned to the team name and branding for the 2018 season and beyond. It is fairly certain McLaren will switch to Renault power unit supply for next season in a deal which will see the Woking based team become a customer team for the remainder of the current iteration of Formula One Power Unit regulations.

Through social media, Fans and F1 pundits have been speculating on the likely name under which the McLaren Renault partnership will operate, with the overriding sentiment being that legacy of the respective brands not quite sitting well together. With almost every brand within the Renault-Nissan Alliance being touted as a possible fit for the partnership, from McLaren Infiniti, to McLaren Alpine, McLaren Nismo, and my personal favourite McLaren Dacia, the most logical naming convention appears to have been forgotten.

Zak Brown, Executive Director McLaren Technology Group, has been quoted as suggesting the team will consider producing Power Units under the McLaren brand under the new technical regulations, should costs not prove prohibitive. With this in mind it should be expected that the Renault agreement for 2018 will be delivered under a white label agreement, as already in place with Red Bull Racing who included naming rights to their Renault Power Unit in their partnership which LVMH, which sees the Power Unit branded Tag Heuer.

McLaren as an automotive entity in its own right will likely brand the white label Renault Power Unit as McLaren. Suggesting to the casual F1 follower or fan that the team is already producing its own power unit. Such a move will serve to further enhance the credibility of the McLaren Automotive Group and remove confusion around relationships between the road going cars and track based power unit partnerships.

After three of the worst seasons in the team’s history, it is highly unlikely McLaren will be in a position to sign a title sponsor for the 2018 season, the team must rebuild its reputation with brands and partners. As such when the 2018 team listing is announced expect McLaren to be listed simply as McLaren with no reference to any power unit supplier.

Should, for what ever reason, the Renault Power Unit fail to elevate McLaren from its current plight expect to hear some awkward interviews in which an unbranded power unit is held accountable for challenges facing the team.

Formula One: Porsche Red Bull Racing? 2+2 = 5

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The eagle-eyed F1 Fan will have noticed a few interesting faces in and around the F1 paddock over the weekend of the Austrian Grand Prix. After attending a recent meeting to discuss the future of F1 Power Units a number of Porsche ambassadors made their presence known through the event. As a pundit for Channel 4’s F1 coverage, seeing Mark Webber in the paddock is not an unusual sight. Less usual though was his choice of attire, as pictured below Mark spent much of the weekend wearing Porsche team wear. Similarly, Mark’s former teammate and former Red Bull Junior driver Brendon Hartley attended the Grand Prix and he too wore Porsche team wear combined with a Red Bull cap for much of the weekend.

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Of course a logical explanation for this is that both drivers were taking part in demonstration runs through the race weekend, but a far more exciting ‘hollywood’ story is that fresh from having achieved their objectives in the World Endurance Championship securing 3 back to back victories at Le Mans, Porsche are seeking a new challenge. Given Webber’s recent history with Red Bull Racing, he, perhaps under the guise of his ambassador role with Porsche is in someway involved in discussions to bring the two parties together with a role for Brendon Hartley as a driver within the package.

I have stated previously that the relationship between ExxonMobil, BP, and Renault for me is not logical. Fuel and Lubricant solutions must be developed in conjunction with power unit development. It is not possible to define a one size fits all development roadmap for the Renault Power Unit. At some point in the near future, if not, at some point in the past. BP or ExxonMobil will identify a performance opportunity with the Renault power unit which does not favour the other supplier. At this point power unit development will split. Renault will produce one power unit format for the works team and a different solution for Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Toro Rosso. Who will fund this alternative solution, and at what point is a Renault Power Unit no longer a Renault Power Unit?

Could Porsche be considering redirecting budget from the World Endurance Championship, a figure believed to be in the region of $100M towards a power unit development plan in Formula One? Paying Renault to use their technology as a basis for involvement would minimise the risk of ‘doing a Honda’ ensuring reasonable performance from the word go.

One thing is for sure, Porsche are seeking a new challenge, drivers, unlike fans, don’t attend race meetings in team wear when they are not competing for the fun of it. Perhaps in this case 2+2 might just equal 5.

Thanks to Sean Bull for pulling together incredible concept artwork for a Red Bull Racing Porsche mash up.

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Formula One: No Mercedes power for McLaren in 2018

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Away from incredible on track performances this season, recent Formula One news has been increasingly fixated by the prospect of ‘divorce’ between Honda and McLaren, with a number of respected outlets and leading pundits suggesting the separation is already all but finalised.

Whilst frustrations around the on track performance of the McLaren Honda partnership are plainly visible for all to see, with senior representatives from McLaren doing little to calm stories, one key factor appears to have been forgotten. The FIA Sporting Regulations.

Within the FIA Formula One World Championship Sporting Regulations, all power unit manufacturers are required to submit a list of teams they will supply in the following season by May 15th.  Under this regulation both Honda and Mercedes have already informed the FIA of the teams which will be using their power units for 2018

No power unit may be used in a given Championship season unless the Power Unit Manufacturer supplying such power unit accepts and adheres to the following conditions.

Each of the Power Unit Manufacturers of an homologated power unit must :

i)  provide the FIA, before 15 May (or such other date as agreed in writing between all the Power Unit Manufacturers and the FIA) of the season preceding that in which such power units are to be supplied, with the list of teams (clearly identifying the appointed “works/factory” team, if any) to which a supply agreement has been concluded for the given Championship season ;

ii)  if called upon to do so by the FIA before 1 June (or such other date as agreed in writing between all the Power Unit Manufacturers and the FIA) of the season preceding that in which such power units were to be supplied:

T = 111-A/B-C

–  A = Total number of teams (including “works/factory” teams) having a supply agreement concluded for the given Championship season with a New Power Unit Manufacturer.

–  B = Total number of manufacturers of homologated Power Units for the given Championship season.

–  C = Total number of New Power Unit Manufacturers for the given Championship season.

provided that if the result contains a fraction then the fraction shall count as a full team (e.g. 11 teams divided by 4 manufacturers = 2.75, each manufacturer must, if called upon to do so by the FIA, supply at least 3 teams).”

Appendix 9 – FIA Formula One World Championship Sporting Regulations. 

Earlier today, confirmation was sought from both Mercedes and Honda as to the contents of the lists provided to the FIA in accordance with this regulation.

Honda stated their list submitted to the FIA documents Power Unit supply intentions for both Mclaren and Sauber. Mercedes confirmed their submission to the FIA references three teams, Force India, Williams, and the factory Mercedes team.

No provision is made within the Sporting Regulations around deviation from this commitment. With both Honda and Mercedes having stated intentions around 2018 it seems highly unlikely any change is planned or possible without the consent of all teams participating in the championship.

Formula One: Are Cosworth the solution to McLaren-Honda’s woes?

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On the eve of the 2017 F1 season McLaren Honda head into the third year of their partnership with little cause for optimism. Despite the FIA’s removal of the Power Unit development token system which previously limited manufacturers ability to modify / redesign technology, Honda solutions seemingly remain at odds with the F1 Hybrid era.

2017 pre-season testing saw Honda introduce an entirely new Power Unit, a fully integrated unit developed around the MCL32. In a bid to improve performance and resolve drivability issues which plagued the 2015 / 16 design, Honda engineers have taken inspiration from the solutions seen with their immediate competitors. This approach, in the short term at least, appears to have failed. McLaren have reported extensive issues with vibrations within the power unit limiting any ability to push for out right performance. Neither team nor engine manufacturer have been able to validate design concepts through pre-season testing and have minimal expectations around the team’s ability to complete a race distance let alone score points in the opening races of the 2017 season.

The situation is unsatisfactory for all parties involved.

In recent days it has emerged McLaren may have made preliminary enquiries towards Mercedes around future power unit supply, some media outlets going as far to suggest a mid season switch could be possible. The reality of this is highly unlikely, both from a commerical and technical perspective the strategy defies logic and any form of long term thinking.

McLaren maintain an ambition to compete for and win world championships. Using Williams Martini Racing as a prime example, despite access to the dominant power unit for the past three seasons, customer status with Mercedes limits their ability to challenge. This should not be the strategy McLaren seek or accept. It may resolve short term frustrations with partners, but it will not deliver world championships.

Instead McLaren may need to seek an alternative solution. It is understood Honda support the team and power unit development to the tune of $100 million per season. On the recommendation of McLaren, Honda could look to redirect this finance to a third party. The third party in question being Cosworth.

When the Hybrid F1 regulations were originally outlined in 2010, Cosworth, similar to Mercedes, dedicated significant resource to develop a new power unit for the sport. The intention had been for Volkswagen to badge the Cosworth power unit, however as the implementation of the new regulations grew nearer VW reneged on their F1 ambitions. This left Cosworth with a concept power unit 4 years in the making but no manufacturer budget to bring the power unit to the grid.

Cosworth have stated in previous years that with budget the power unit they developed could be on the grid within 6 months. They remain confident that the solutions they engineered would be competitive. In theory it would be possible for the Cosworth power unit to become the 2018 Honda F1 Power Unit. It is fair to say there would be a certain amount of pride to overcome between all parties involved, but ensuring future competitiveness may ease the short term pain.

To those who see the suggestion of Honda badged Cosworth Power Unit as the future of the McLaren Honda relationship as far fetched, take a look at the companies house registry for the list of directors at Cosworth. Top of this list you will find Mr Zak Brown, Executive Director of the McLaren Technology Group.

Formula One: Montréal set to challenge power unit reliability

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The seventh round of the 2016 Formula One World Championship looks set to be most challenging circuit on power units of the season to date. The long straights demand maximum power for just over 60% of the lap. The longest straight on the circuit is the Droit du Casino at 1,064m and top speed will be in excess of 330kph, the highest speed seen this year so far.

There aren’t enough braking points on the circuit to allow the K to recover the full FIA allowable amount. This, along with the high fuel consumption at this track, makes for a
delicate balancing act during the race to stay within the 100kgpermitted fuel load, average fuel usage per lap is 1.48Kg, with the race taking place over 70 laps usage at this rate would exceed the permitted fuel limit by more almost 4KG. Drivers will be hoping for an early safety car period to avoid finishing the race in heavy fuel saving modes.
Renault will complete the roll out of the B-Spec power unit with both Renault Sport’s Jolyon Palmer and Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen having access to the unit in race conditions for the first time.
Speaking on the power unit Renault Sport’s Nick Chester commented:

 

“It’s a good step forward and we have it in both cars in Montréal. In Monaco we were able to benefit primarily from the improved driveability whereas Montréal is more a power track thanks to its straights following slow corners. This means we should really see the power unit stretch its legs.”

 

The nature of the circuit will put this upgraded unit under significant pressure, reliability will be a watch out over the weekend.
It is expected Honda and Ferrari will also introduce Power Unit upgrades over the Canadian Grand Prix weekend. With Mercedes coming to end of the cycle of it’s current unit in effect out of sequence to the other teams, expect the power output of teams to be a little close than normal over the weekend. Whilst this is unlikely to threaten the works Mercedes team, customers teams may fall further off the pace than otherwise expected.

 

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Formula One: Toro Rosso return to Renault, RBR extend

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As speculated on JWGP yesterday ,Renault have this morning announced that Scuderia Toro Rosso will return to Renault Power Unit supply for 2017. The agreement will see the team use in year technology for the 2017 & 2018 with the freedom to badge the engine as they see fit. Similar to the TAG Heuer Red Bull Racing Partnership, who have also extended their relationship with the French manufacturer through the 2017 & 2018 seasons.

Speaking on the partnership Jérôme Stoll, President of Renault Sport Racing, commented: ‘We are very pleased to partner with two such strong teams as Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Toro Rosso. Having competitive partners demonstrates the confidence both have in the improved Renault power unit and in our organisation as a whole.’

On the extension of the Renault RBR agreement Christian Horner, Red Bull Racing Team Principal, said: “We are delighted to extend our partnership which has proved very successful over time. After the reconstruction that Renault has undertaken, clear progress has been made which has made it logical to continue with the TAG Heuer badged engine.”

With this deal confirmed, no further changes are expected in team a  Power Unit supply across the remainder of the grid for the foreseeable future.

Formula One: ‘No Comment’ from Renault on 2017 Power Unit Supply

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Renault have declined to comment on plans around teams to whom they will supply power units to in 2017.  Power unit manufacturers were required to supply the FIA with a list of works and customer teams for the 2017 season by May 15th (the Spanish Grand Prix) So far Honda and Mercedes have confirmed no change in team supply, leaving Renault and Ferrari to confirm plans.

Renault’s reluctance to share information on power unit supply suggests a change in team allocation  is to be expected. With the 2016 spec power unit a significant step forward for the manufacturer and further gains being seen as the manufacturer develops the unit, it can be expected customer teams may have approached the French manufacturer.

It is highly likely Red Bull Racing will continue ‘white label’ PU supply agreement, with Scuderia Toro Rosso the most likely team to switch back to Renault to ensure 2017 technology. Sauber and Haas are the other Ferrari customers, Haas have a long-term partnership with Ferrari with no change expected. Sauber whilst long standing customers of the Scuderia may consider a change if the Renault PU is more affordable.

Formula One: FIA – Convergence is coming as tokens are dropped

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At the Circuit de Barcelona – Catalunya, the FIA earlier today held a press conference with Head of Powertrain Fabrice Lom & F1 Director Charlie Whiting, chaired by Matteo Bonciani, to discuss the developments in the Power Unit Strategy from the governing body.

The full transcript of the press conference can be found here

Changes explored in this press conference are set to be implemented from 2017 onwards.

In essence the FIA have broken the power unit strategy into 4 pillars:

  1. Addressing the cost of current Power Unit technology
  2. Obligation to supply
  3. Convergence of Power Unit performance
  4. Reviewing the sound of current Power Unit technology

For details on each of the pillars I highly recommend reviewing the press conference transcript, particularly the area regarding engine supply plans (pillar2), as referenced on this site earlier this week.

One other area of specific interest is that of power convergence. Fabrice Lom explains the need and enabler to the topic here :

“The third pillar was to help performance convergence. So, to do that the first big thing that people thought was important is to have stability in the regulations.”

Regulations stability closes the door to dropping hybrid technology for the FIA and ensures the series Power Unit Strategy remains relevant to the automotive industry:

“There was a lot of discussion of changing completely the regulations, going back to normally aspirated engines, no hybrid. Firstly, nobody wanted that because the trend of the world is to go hybrid and to go low consumption.

But also they thought if there is a big change there will be a redistribution of the cards and there could be a big difference in performance between the power unit manufacturers, so they said stability of regulations would help a lot. So this is the first tool for convergence.”

The current token system around Power Unit development would not facilitate an environment in which manufacturers would be able to achieve a convergence of performance. However to ensure there is no ‘free for all’ the FIA will be implementing specific restrictions around such developments:

“Then we free the tokens, because the ones that are a bit behind wanted no limitation of development to try to recover. We also put limits on some performance related dimensions. This is a bit technical and you all have the regulations but for example we put limits on the crankshaft dimensions, on the weights of some parts, so we are sure that there are limits on the development on these items. These limits were put where the best one is today, so that people know the target and also allow us to stop the best ones to develop more, to go lighter or smaller, so that we put something like a bit of a barrier to development.

In addition to this we put limits on the boost temperature, so they cannot develop too much their cooling and also a bit of packaging on the energy store and control electronics to avoid having to redo all the energy store to help the chassis performance.”

Following this overview the FIA opened the press conference to the floor. In this session further questions around convergence were addressed.

When you do the power convergence, how are you going to ensure that whoever your benchmark is is actually not sand-bagging at the time to be artificially low, so that you can ensure that you have there actual performance to ensure that they don’t gain an advantage after the convergence date?

Fabrice: So clearly the package is to help convergence. We are not mandating convergence; there is no prescribed convergence. So we just put measure that should help convergence.

Naturally the convergence will come with the stability of regulation and we try to speed up the convergence by having these measures but there is no prescribed convergence.

What’s the timeframe for sorting this convergence out, because they have talked about 0.3s per lap around Barcelona. When would expect that to be in place and what if it’s not? What if one of the manufacturers has found something and is suddenly 1.0s clear?

Fabrice: So this figure of 0.3s is apparently something that went in the media. There is nothing prescribed, as I said, but we will measure it at the beginning of each season and if it is considered to be not at the level that we expect to be, we will come back to the Strategy Group and just report, and then what will happen will be a decision of the Strategy Group, according to the F1 governance we have today.

It remains to be seen how in reality a convergence system will work. Given limitations around Power Unit components through a season, manufacturers will  a limited opportunities to introduce updates without penalty. The sport should also question if convergence, which is tantamount to standardisation, is the direction any sport representing a pinnacle should be taking. That being said ‘the show’ element of Formula One can be assured through these actions, which may encourage further investment and a new audience to the sport.

At this time Formula One Management have made no comment around the FIA’s Power Unit Pillar Strategy.