After two years of Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton dominating F1, thanks in large part to the hybrid turbo engine introduced in 2014, the sport finds itself in a rut.
Legendary F1 designer Adrian Newey has called for drastic measures to address the plunging viewing figures, dropping race attendances and unsustainable spending.
“It is important to find the right balance between the chassis, engine and the driver for the sport to be competitive, but right now the engine is dominating, which is unhealthy,” said Newey, in Chennai accompanying his son Harrison, who will take part in this weekend’s final race of the MRF Challenge.
Though we managed to win four titles, in 2010 and 2012 the battle went down till the last race. Secondly, with aerodynamics and chassis out on view, people can see the designs, understand and copy. But it is diffcult to copy the engine formula because you can’t see your competitor’s engine. The only way to catch up is with huge investments. Ferrari improved from 2014 to 2015 but it cost a lot of money and needed assistance from Mercedes.
While Mercedes and Ferrari have competitive engines, Renault and Honda have struggled in the new era, and Newey has called for the German and Italian teams to agree to help those struggling.
“The customer teams of Ferraris and Mercedes, all their engines are tuned down with a software [to a lower specification]. So they can’t really compete with the main factory team. Something needs to be done to bring the engines closer together. It’s wrong that customer teams are supplied with engines of lower specifications,” he said.
Newey cited an instance where the greater good of the sport was prioritised over individual success. “Cosworth came with a winning engine in 1967 that was exclusively for use by the Lotus team. It became very clear that the engine was going to be sufficiently dominant and any other private team couldn’t compete with that engine.
“Then, Lotus agreed to waive its exclusivity to allow others to use it for the good of the sport. Unfortunately, that sort of attitude doesn’t seem to exist any more. The manufacturers who have been involved in this sport are not willing to adapt that pragmatic view to help the sport. If the sport is not healthy, what’s the point in winning?”
Newey’s Red Bull Racing stream rolled to four consecutive titles between 2010 and 2013 with Sebastian Vettel, on the basis of their superiority in quality of chassis and aerodynamics; the engine was not a significant factor.
Wind of change
However, since 2014, engine-partner Renault has not provided a powerful engine, leaving the energy-drinks giant miffed with way the sport is run.
Having been denied engine supply by both Mercedes and Ferrari, Red Bull is struck with the underpowered Renault engines though it wanted to terminate the contract. Newey is preparing for another painful season. “Our hope for 2016 is to just maintain that gap but with Ferrari and Mercedes expected to step up, we might be further behind than we were last year.”
Asked whether the team had not taken defeat sportingly, Newey said, “Though we managed to win four titles, in 2010 and 2012 the battle went down till the last race. Secondly, with aerodynamics and chassis out on view, people can see the designs, understand and copy. But it is diffcult to copy the engine formula because you can’t see your competitor’s engine. The only way to catch up is with huge investments. Ferrari improved from 2014 to 2015 but it cost a lot of money and needed assistance from Mercedes.”
While Newey’s designs have gone on to win 10 constructors’ titles with three different teams, he will also unfortunately be remembered for designing the car Brazilian legend Ayrton Senna was driving when he was killed at the San Marino GP in 1994. “It was a very difficult period for all of us in the team. It was not a bitter pill but just immense sadness that it happened. It was such a waste that Ayrton passed on and in circumstances that we will never fully understand.”
Newey also gave his seal of approval for the MRF challenge saying, “I was impressed with MRF even during Indian GP when they used to run as a support race during the F1 weekend. They are doing an exceptional job with MRF and JA motorsports. It is becoming bigger with more European drivers taking part and it will be great if we can develop some Indian drivers through this.”