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GP Week : Issue 230
OPINION Mike DooDSon I was never much good at maths, so please forgive me if I do some calculations here. This year there are officially 20 entries in the fIA's formula 1 World Championship. last time I looked, there were four manufacturers making the complex and expensive power units required to propel those 20 cars competing in the championship. Despite what the self-appointed prophet Eddie Jordan was telling BBCTV viewers last month, there is no longer any prospect of a fifth manufacturer, Audi, supplying F1 PUs. The Volkswagen group has more important things on its hands at the moment ... Three of the companies which design, build and supply those power units (Mercedes, Ferrari and Honda) also have their own teams in the F1 championship, and the fourth manufacturer (Renault) is expected to be returning to the fray as an entrant next year. The Big Four will then account for eight works entries at each race. If we assume, possibly rashly, that there will be a total of 22 cars on the grid in 2016, this means that the teams responsible for the other 14 entries will be counting on the Big Four having (1) surplus engine-building capacity, and (2) the willingness to supply them with motive power. It is no secret that the four manufacturers lose money on every one of the eye-wateringly expensive F1 PUs which they build. Correct me if I'm not making sense here, but to me it seems logical to assume that those manufacturers are spending all that cash in order to reap the publicity benefits which follow from any success they can achieve on the track with their own cars. If they manage to get beaten by one of their customer teams, then there are nasty cynical people out there (they're called journalists) who will draw attention to their incompetence. This will inevitably diminish the glory of winning. The losing parties in this scenario are, of course, the teams which, like Red Bull's two F1 outfits, can attract brilliant drivers and designers but don't have engine-building facilities. For four years between 2010 and 2013, Red Bull gobbled up both the world drivers' and constructors' championships, thanks partly to a talented driver (Sebastian Vettel) and a great engineer (Adrian Newey), but even more to a competent and experienced engine supplier (Renault). There was some good luck, too, in that Renault did not have its own team, which meant that the Bulls got the pick of the French units. Things changed last year, though, when Renault's new hybrid motor proved to be less competitive than rival designs. Nevertheless, Red Bull was able to win three championship races. The reduced successes seem to have persuaded Red Bull tycoon Dietrich Mateschitz that Renault's hybrid V6 is a loser. Since the start of this season, both he and his team manager, Christian Horner, have been making embarrassingly disobliging remarks about Renault to the media. As early as May, there was open talk of a Red Bull/Renault divorce, a process which would have deprived both of Herr Mateschitz's teams of power units in 2016. Horner's outspoken condemnation of his engine supplier would have been more excusable if he and Scuderia Toro Rosso manager Franz Tost had secured replacement engines for their teams in 2016. Even we ignoramuses in the media understood that, and we gaily assumed that some deal had been done, with Mercedes and/or Ferrari, to enable the Bulls' four cars to compete next year. This assumption has since proved to be wrong. Mercedes already has three customer teams (Williams, Force India and Manor/Marussia) on its hands for 2016, while Ferrari will have Sauber and the new Haas team as customers. Ferrari TM Maurizo Arrivabene has even claimed that the Scuderia cannot take on any more customers because it is now too late to train up the specialised engineers who would be required to service the extra PUs. Speaking to a Brazilian news agency last week, Arrivabene says he, too, had concluded that Red Bull was sitting on a deal with Stuttgart: he was genuinely surprised when Red Bull came knocking on his door last month. "I am convinced that they were certain they would use the Mercedes engine in 2016," he said, "so much so that they not only cancelled the contract with Renault but also with [Renault-associated sponsors] Infiniti and Total. "If they had come to us in June, for example, there would still be time for us to look at it," observed Arrivabene. "But to come talking to us after Monza ..." Blinded by his own self-importance, Horner appears to have assumed that his team's past successes would automatically earn him the right to buy power units identical to those used by the manufacturers' own teams. Not only has he now been disabused of this conceit, but he seems also to have been shocked to discover a ruling in the Concorde Agreement which requires all customers for F1 PUs to be supplied with their V6s to an identical specification, regardless of past successes. If Herr Mateschitz is so disenchanted with F1 that he decides to pull out, that is his choice. But another bit of fine print, this one in his long-term deal with the Formula One Group and Bernie Ecclestone, lays down that in return for accepting a big annual bonus, Red Bull Racing would have to compensate the group for any premature withdrawal by handing over as much as US$500 million. There's also the question of satisfying the employment terms of the 1200 people working for the Bulls, many of whom are on high-value long-term contracts. Nobody could deny that our sport is better off with Red Bull and all its talented people continuing to compete in Formula 1. Bernie Ecclestone knows it better than anyone, which is why he's now trying to patch up the damage which has been done thanks to the blind pig-headedness of the Bulls' management. There is talk of Toro Rosso using 2015- spec V6s and of Red Bull kissing and making up with Renault. At least that's what Eddie Jordan suggests. "Christian [Horner] regrets what he said and is now crawling back," he told viewers from Sochi at the weekend. An irritated Horner responded that "EJ is talking out of his arse, as usual" (he later apologised). But matters may not be in Horner's hands any more, as he himself admitted: "Bernie says everything's sorted [for 2016]," he conceded. "The trouble is, he hasn't told us WHAT is sorted." But that's what happens when you tell your engine supplier to get lost without having first made sure to have a replacement on board. You know, I could have told Christian all that at the beginning of the year. I may not be much good at maths, but I think I'm better than Mr Horner is at diplomacy. 13 GPWEEK.com // 13 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: OPINION don't speak too soon ...