By Fabrizio Corgnati

The latest striking proposal for the future direction of Grand Prix racing couldn't come from anyone else but Bernie Ecclestone. The F1 superemo's view that the current generation of 1.6-litre turbo V6s 'don't sound like racing cars' has been widely reported, so it is little surprise that the idea of introducing big, louder and brasher 1000hp engines has both been raised and swiftly pursued by fans, the media and teams alike.

Fans seem excited - at the very least intrigued - about the prospect of having hyper powerful cars back on track and even team principals have given tentative green lights too - "We need to make the cars more spectacular and difficult to drive," was the opinion of Red Bull boss Christian Horner, "so that the talent of the drivers can be seen".

The Strategy Group has already given something of a go ahead for this earlier this month after agreeing to a lift of the fuel flow rate limit and maximum fuel allowance in order to reach the 1000hp benchmark, but the F1 Commission meeting will at least give the idea some direction and perhaps event a time-frame.

However, as spectacular a premise this may be, it doesn't escape the recurring issue of costs, which have spiralled far beyond what even the current competitors can manage even before you consider adding another digit to the power output.

One person who knows this only too well is Gian Carlo Minardi. Not only was he team boss during the Eighties, at the very heart of the turbo era, but he was forced to sell his beloved squad - later renamed Scuderia Toro Rosso - in the early 2000s, precisely because of the dramatic increase in costs. In this new era of financial concerns, the long-term struggles and passions of his eponymous team makes Mr Minardi's voice resonate more clearly than most in an industry of increasing excess

"The question is: how do you get to 1000hp?", he told Crash.net. "In the '80s BMW used one engine for just three laps and then threw it away, without even overhauling it. We small teams had to pay a major duty on that kind of technology". This was the reason why in 1988, after three years with V8 turbocharged engines, Minardi had to switch to Cosworth. But the rise in costs didn't stop. "In the naturally aspirated engines era, in the late '90s, we used one engine on Fridays, one on Saturdays and one on Sundays, because they didn't last more than 400 kms. Costs were very high and they stopped climbing even higher only after the imposition of a maximum number of power units per season."

Regardless, this didn't turn out to be the end of the concerns. The revolution of hybrid turbo engines produced a giant new leap for engine prices, which now amount to half of the annual budget of a backmarker squad.

"Let's look at the first test in Jerez," he continues. "Apart from newcomer Honda, who have had their issues, technicians made a huge step forward in performance and reliability compared to last year. Mercedes, for example, between their works and customer teams, did 4300 kms: more or less the same mileage a single team covers in one year of Grands Prix. To maintain this level of efficiency, costs have grown from 5-6 to 18-21 million per year. What's the point of limiting the number of power units if you introduce a technology which costs three times more?"

The effect can be easily counted by the number of wheels remaining on the grid. Caterham has endured a long, protracted collapse, Marussia/Manor's comeback is struggling for traction, Force India's presence is dependent on whether it can pay its suppliers and the likes of Lotus and Sauber have had their fair share of well publicised financial troubles. "These new technologies," Minardi goes on, "also led to an increase in the number of staff brought on track to manage two cars. This is nonsense. And 1000hp revolution could bring an even more expensive R&D than today. Small teams could hardly bear these costs".

According to Minardi, however, it is questionable whether even big manufacturers could eventually benefit from this major power units' revamp. "Formula One needs to be the pinnacle of car technology and hybrid engines and energy recovery systems certainly go in the direction of the future of automobile industry. But Formula One also needs to experiment technologies which are useful for road cars. If the costs are too high, a technology cannot be sold to the public. So why should car companies even take this direction?".

"To improve the show", could be the answer of Bernie Ecclestone. However, can we be certain that a couple of hundred extra horsepower will be enough to cure all F1's ills? "Of course in the '80s, when we had 1000hp turbo engines, there was more show," Gian Carlo Minardi admits. "But this was above all because there was a closer contact between the audience and Formula One. This has to be considered before framing any new technical regulation.

"When a fan comes to watch a race, he wants to feel the highest expression of speed. But I dare anybody to see the difference of horsepower or performance amongst top teams. Sometimes you study solutions to improve the show, which turn out to be undetectable to the naked eye."

In short, more power won't necessarily result in any discernible difference to what you see on track... but the difference may be told by the number of cars using it.

 

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