Alain Prost has admitted that he is looking forward to engines taking on a new role in shaping F1 from the start of next season, which he believes will herald a new era for F1.
The Frenchman, who has a vested interest in the sport as an ambassador for Renault Sport, believes that the introduction of turbocharged 1.6-litre V6 powerplants from the start of 2014 will shift F1's technical focus back onto the engine and away from aerodynamics – at least in the short-term.
This year's Brazilian Grand Prix will be the last for the current breed of normally-aspirated V8 units, as F1 looks toward a 'greener' future and the return of turbocharging, as well as boosting the importance of regenerative technologies such as KERS.
“As soon as you freeze engine development, the chassis and aerodynamics become more important again,” Prost explained in a Renault Sport Q&A, “In 2014, the situation will be rebalanced, [and] there'll be a very interesting technical side to the sport, where greater emphasis will be again placed on engines.
“Whoever manages to get the various parts to gel most effectively will benefit the most and innovation will stem from good working relationships between the chassis and engine departments. And then the engines, and all the resulting energy use strategies, will be utilised by the engineers and the drivers in a variety of ways. In short, there will be new strategies that will increase the importance of the engines. On paper, it sounds perfect!
“Many people watching F1 are disappointed with the racing and the fact there are restrictions this year, even if they are subjective. The engines are all more or less the same. In the 1980s, you have to say that the turbo engine years generated interest in F1: everyone was interested in this new technical challenge. It was also a bit of an emotional journey, insofar as huge developments were expected at each race.”
The four-time world champion was at his peak during the last 'turbo era', joining technology pioneer Renault in the early years of the technology before benefiting from its development at McLaren,
“If you go back to the start of the 1980s, it was all about response time: there was a lag of two to three seconds,” he reflected, “We saw turbo engines develop every year, there were improvements between the first turbo engines in 1977 and those at the end but, throughout the period, the driving style was very different. You had to find the right moment to accelerate – and anticipate when the power would come through. Getting the timing right depended on a lot of factors: the type of corner, speed, grip, the type of tyres, how worn they were and how much the turbo had been used.
“For the drivers, there were corners where you definitely had to brake a bit earlier, so you could accelerate earlier, and therefore be able to have the required power at the right moment. That's why there could be such big gaps between the cars, as well as drivers becoming tired towards the end of the race. Your brain had to process things differently.”