F1 could be facing the loss of one of its more proactive engine suppliers should it decide not to proceed with the proposed switch to 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbocharged units, but would also face unrest from other quarters if the wholesale change is implemented.
That much has been known for some time but, with the F1 Commission - comprising representatives of the teams, the FIA and various stakeholders - scheduled to meet on Wednesday, the divide appears as wide as ever. Renault is the only known supporter of the switch, and has said that it would be willing to supply as many as four other teams when the new formula comes in in 2013, but faces widespread opposition as almost the entire rest of the grid is pushing either for the status quo or a switch to engines it sees as more fitting for the top flight of international motorsport.
Should it not succeed in convincing the paddock that 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbos are the way to go, Renault has said that it would be prepared to walk away from the sport, which could potentially leave the likes of Red Bull, Team Lotus and Lotus Renault - or a quarter of the field - without an engine deal.
“F1 can't become just a show,” Renault team boss Eric Boullier insisted, "We have to be seen as motorsport pioneers, and technology is part of that, but we need to please our fans as well. Renault is pushing to supply maybe four teams, [having] decided to focus on being an engine supplier and, as such, we are pushing to bring new technology to F1.
"This is the only way for Renault to communicate their know-how and make sure they can use the opportunity of being in F1 to promote road car sales. The tendency of the road car market, especially for Renault, is to go to smaller engines with more hybrid technology to make fuel savings. F1 has to move forward. We need new regulations and new technical challenges for our engineers."
With Bernie Ecclestone leading the opposition to the proposed engine switch, the F1 Commission's task on Wednesday will not be any easy one, and it may be that it takes the easy option and put a final decision on the backburner, possibly for a couple of years. That may not please Renault, but should appease the rest, who have said that they would accept a turbocharged V6 powerplant, but would happily continue with what they have already, accepting that the idea of appealing to the major manufacturers was ill thought out. The ultimate decision, meanwhile, rests with the FIA, where president Jean Todt is a known supporter of the small engine concept....
“I think the traditionalist who believes we need large-capacity, normally-aspirated engines has to accept that they may not be attractive to car companies in this day and age,” McLaren team boss, and V6 turbo proponent, Martin Whitmarsh conceded to Motor Sport magazine, “So there was some logic in the thought that we need a solution that is attractive to them. Unfortunately, with hindsight, we got it wrong, because the intention of the 2013 formula was to see if we could attract more manufacturers.
“Plainly we didn't, and we failed to do that because we came in at the end of the largest recession the automotive sector has ever had. We also gave them too short a timeframe to develop a new engine. I don't think it's worth criticising anyone over it. That's how it transpired. The important issue for F1 now is that we find a formula which is attractive to the car industry.
“We have to accept, respect and not despise the fact that the manufacturers are here to sell cars. If F1 is to be the ideal platform for product exposure and differentiation of their brand, we need a formula that is relevant to them and to the needs of society. [But] we've got to ensure that F1 continues as the technical pinnacle of motorsport. It has to be technically advanced, relevant, entertaining and differentiated, [but] we need great-sounding engines [and] we've got to have high revs - it's a core asset of our sport. A vee engine suits the structure of an F1 car and we've got to have that unique sound. There's no reason why you can't have forward-looking technology and a great sound. I personally feel we've got to seek a compromise."