Ferrari threatens to quit F1 over new engine rules

Ferrari CEO Sergio Marchionne.

Scuderia Ferrari, the most successful team in Formula One history, has threatened to walk away from the sport if it doesn’t agree with proposed regulation changes for 2021.

The FIA, the regulator of world motorsport, and Formula One Management (FOM), now administered by American company Liberty Media, last week announced a framework to replace today’s much-maligned power units by 2021.

The proposal is for a simplified version of the current turbocharged 1.6-litre hybrid V6 engine. The technologically advanced ‘motor generator unit-heat’ energy system will be dropped in favour of a larger version of the driver-deployed kinetic energy recovery system used in the sport between 2009 and 2013 and engine noise would increase by lifting the rev limit by 3000 RPM.

The changes are deceptively complicated. The removal of some of the more advanced technology will necessitate a significant engine redesign to make up for the loss of power and a stronger internal combustion unit will be required to deal with the increased RPM.

Moreover, the FIA will be proposing stringent dimensional constraints to make each engine more alike, enabling teams to switch between suppliers more easily. Both the regulator and FOM hope the proposed regulation package will entice new engine builders to the grid, including the likes of Aston Martin, Porsche and Cosworth.

But the changes have drawn the ire of Ferrari CEO Sergio Marchionne, who believes reducing the opportunity for manufacturers to differentiate their engines makes the sport less worthwhile.

“There are a couple of things we don’t necessarily agree with,” he said in a conference call to market analysts. “One is the fact that somehow powertrain uniqueness is not going to be one of the drivers of distinctiveness of the participants line-up. I would not countenance this going forward.

“Unless we find a set of circumstances, the results of which are beneficial to the maintenance of the brand and the marketplace and to the strengthening of the unique position for Ferrari, Ferrari will not play.”

The famous Italian marque has unlikely allies in on-track rivals Mercedes and Renault, both of which are sceptical about the need for change.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff told the BBC that he is concerned the changes would needlessly “trigger immense costs … just for the sake of having a new concept”, while Renault’s Cyril Abiteboul said that the cost, noise and power targets, “could have been done with the current engine architecture anyway”.

Adding spice to the dispute is Ferrari’s veto over new regulations, a concession first granted by the FIA to the sport’s oldest team in 2005, meaning the Italian team can’t be left behind despite broad agreement between the FIA and FOM.

However, the engine proposals are only one part of a broader overhaul, with other technical regulations and, more importantly, the commercial contracts that bind the teams to the sport all up for renewal by 2021.

Ferrari’s veto and controversial US$100 million longstanding team bonus, along with the smaller bonuses granted to other powerful teams during Bernie Ecclestone’s reign, are included in these contracts, as is the sport’s infamously inequitable prize money structure.

FOM and the FIA are set to unveil their vision for these components post-2020 at a meeting with the teams ahead of the Brazilian Grand Prix (12 November). Anticipated to feature prominently is a plan to cap team spending, an idea long coveted by the FIA to support the independent teams but an idea opposed by the big-spending manufacturers, in particular Ferrari.

These are the terms over which the bloodiest fighting will take place, and the belligerents are only just warming up.