Two of F1's four engine-suppliers have cautiously pledged their future to the sport, with Cosworth insisting that survival with only two teams now rather than four is not a problem – and Renault vowing to stay 'long-term' provided 'conditions of cost, image and sporting fairness are met'.
There has been a mass manufacturer exodus from F1 in recent years, with Honda, BMW and Toyota all having made a bolt for the exit door, and only Cosworth coming in to stem that negative tide. When the British marque returned to the sport last year, it did so as an engine-partner to Williams, Lotus, Virgin and Hispania (HRT), but Lotus has already switched to Renault power and Williams is set to do likewise from next season – although Lotus Renault GP and Force India have both been linked with a future Cosworth supply.
As things stand, however, with F1 preparing to usher in a bold new, 1.6-litre, V6 turbocharged era in 2014 – a complex and expensive undertaking – Cosworth will be designing its unit for just two customers, and both of them tailenders. General manager Mark Gallagher nonetheless asserts that the company can
survive in those circumstances – and that the V6 route is the right one to take, since it restricts development opportunities far more effectively than a four-cylinder engine would have done.
“We regard each of our customer contracts as a separate deal,” the Irishman told German magazine Auto Motor und Sport
, when it was put to him that Cosworth had previously stated that it needed a minimum number of clients for its F1 venture to be a viable proposition. “Each has fixed costs – engine, support at the track, development, individual adjustment to the car – so there is a profit with each deal.
“With regards to 2012, instead of having three separate profits, there will be only two, [but] we have a customer guarantee; Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault have committed that at least two customers will stay with us. Three would be ideal.
“With the four-cylinder [engine] there was no cost-curbing device. The big manufacturers were counting on at least €60 million for development, while we are dependent on the payments from our customers.”
“In 2010, we supplied mainly new teams, and no-one knew whether they would survive,” echoed Cosworth chief executive Tim Routsis. “It would not have made sense if we had not taken a potential collapse of one of these teams into account. As a fourth team, Williams was for us rather a bonus – but Adam Parr was always quite clear, saying from the outset that they would jump at the first chance of being with a car manufacturer.”
Meanwhile, having substantially downgraded its own involvement in F1 at the end of the bruising 2009 campaign – the nadir of which was undeniably the hugely damaging 'Singapore-gate' race-fixing scandal – to become merely an engine-supplier now rather than a team owner as it was before, Renault has sounded a warning about what it will require in order to prolong its presence on the grid.
The French manufacturer currently powers three teams – runaway world championship leaders Red Bull Racing, Lotus Renault GP and Team Lotus – with Williams set to make it four in 2012. Despite that, Renault still spends just €60 million now on F1, compared to the €220 million it shelled out during its last season as a 'works' entry in 2009.
“It was a reasonable decision which led us to a level of expenditure in-line with our means,” newly-appointed chief operating officer Carlos Tavares told AFP
. “Renault does not have infinite funds. This decision allowed the company to refocus its efforts on the core of the race engines. I don't know that we have lost anything [image-wise].
“[Renault's] strategy is to be the leaders in zero-emission vehicles. Our commitment to F1 is long-term when the conditions of cost, image and sporting fairness are also met. As long as the conditions are there, there is no reason to not be in F1. It has been almost 30 years that we have demonstrated our passion [for F1], and we continue to do so every day.”