Bernie Ecclestone has bemoaned Formula 1’s hybrid power units throughout 2014. Occasional barbs about their volume and the like have now given way to more calculated comments about a return to noisier, less efficient V8 units. Of course for someone like Bernie, volume has nothing to do with it.
No matter how successful Mercedes, Red Bull or Williams are, none can match the emotion, the passion or the commercial clout of Ferrari. Consequently – and particularly under Bernie’s reign – few things change without Maranello’s blessing.
V6 power units with their energy recovery complexities and fuel efficiencies are an anathema to Ferrari, as 2014 demonstrated. With a significant deficit in power, efficiency and driveability to the benchmark Mercedes unit (and in many ways the Renault also), the current rules cycle will be painful for Ferrari. With little current relevance to their road cars and a new hybrid ‘expert’ in Honda arriving in 2015, switching back to V8s makes sense.
F1 teams have long underestimated their collective power. Their individual desire to beat each other has always been their undoing. Their infighting has been a wonderful distraction, allowing Bernie to control the flow of F1’s millions. Drawing enough teams together to challenge his dominance has been unattainable but inadvertently the emergence of the dominant Mercedes Benz hybrid power unit is doing that.
As the V6 to have for the current development cycle, there is a common interest for those running it. Mercedes AMG, Williams, Force India and Lotus have no reason to seek change. Taking Caterham and Marussia out of the equation and adding McLaren Honda to it, the majority of the 2015 grid has no interest in switching. And that is a dangerously large, united group of teams for Bernie.
Divide & conquer
By definition the teams in Formula 1 will always seek to get one over their rivals. It is what makes them tick and keeps them at the cutting edge of innovation. From a commercial perspective it is a massive weakness that allows a clever and dominant Ecclestone to divide and conquer. Having the teams disagreeing over enough issues to be divided (but not enough to create all out war) has served Bernie well and the current engine regulations are going to help that nicely.