Friday's FIA press conference at the Brazilian Grand Prix underlined the divide between teams that exists over the governing body's proposal to bring a new commercially-available engine into the top flight as a solution to rising costs and tight supply imposed by current manufacturers.
With Ferrari exercising its power of veto over plans to cap the costs of supplying existing V6 turbo power units to customer teams, FIA president Jean Todt has issued a tender in search of an independent alternative with 'no links to a major car manufacturer'. In the Frenchman's eyes, such an engine should be available for between €6-7m, but even the reduced cost has not been enough to sway every potential customer in the paddock.
“We all know that, in the last few years, the engine price has been the major cost trigger, pushing costs tremendously high, and we are a customer for engines, so our prime position is that we want the engine prices to go down – and we believe that there is room to do that,” Sauber's Monisha Kaltenborn explained, “Looking at this alternative, however, we are a bit sceptical because, when you look at other series, you see how difficult it is if you have two different kinds of engines, that it has not worked in the past.
“We are seeing now that there are a lot of issues attached to [the introduction of a commercial engine] so that is one point. The second one is that it is meant to have parity with the current engine and I think that that is a very complex area as it is not easy to achieve that.”
As well as outlining her concerns with the proposed alternative, Kaltenborn also expressed doubts about F1 moving away from the 'green' technology that hastened the introduction of the already contentious V6 turbo era.
“There is a world out there and we have to move with that world,” she insisted, “Hybrid technology, whether you like it personally or not, is the demand of the market today, so we also have to cater to these demands, particularly the engine suppliers. I believe it is not going to be good for the image of F1 if we try to move away from such technologies which are relevant to the business of manufacturers. More importantly, we should try to get the prices down which, in our view, is absolutely do-able.
“You're talking with these [commercial] engines, for example, about refuelling again so, to get that parity in with the hybrid engine, is already an issue in itself. Then of course, if you look at the financial side of it, what savings we had from stopping refuelling, you're again bringing those costs in - which are not small costs - if you have to introduce that.
“So we've also communicated to the FIA that we will watch this tender process. We're not saying we're totally against it, but you really have to be sure what you're doing here, from a commercial perspective, from a technical perspective and for image reasons of F1.”
While Kaltenborn clearly opposed the introduction of a second engine spec, rivals were more amenable to Todt's proposal, with Toro Rosso team boss Franz Tost – a known advocate for reduced costs - definitely in favour.
“I think it is a good idea and Toro Rosso will support it because we want this new engine to at least have the possibility to bring up lower costs,” he stressed, “The current power unit costs are a hell of a lot of money but also [the new engine will allow us] b) to be flexible and c) to have a new sound. I think that most of the fans, and most of the people here, want to have another engine with a better sound. As to the rest, we will see…”
While Lotus team principal Federico Gastaldi found reasons to agree with both his peers, soon-to-depart Manor CEO Graeme Lowdon saw definite benefits to an alternative power source.
“We need to welcome anything that is designed to make the sport more sustainable and hopefully, as well, put back into the hands of the teams a little more of what they can control,” he mused, “None of the teams here [in the press conference] make engines and, therefore, you can see there is frustration where they don't have the ability to fully influence their position in the constructors' championship. There's no championship for an engine manufacturer and yet it has such an enormous influence.
“That said, if there is a dominant engine and you have it in your team, then that's a great position to be in and everyone would be pretty happy with that position but, if there are teams in that position, there are going to be teams in the opposite position and, ideally, what we want to see is teams fighting it out on the race track.”