Engine dispute threatens F1 schism
Seven different winners from the first seven grands prix, an intensely competitive and wide-open championship battle, unpredictable races. On the surface, all is well with Formula 1. Behind the scenes, though, there is ferment.
At its heart is the planned introduction in 2014 of new rules, including new, energy-efficient, turbo-charged engines. The debate about whether this is wise or even possible in the current global financial climate has the potential to tear Formula 1 apart.
The new engines are being pushed strongly by governing body the FIA and have the support of the key manufacturers in Formula 1. But there are fears they will be much more expensive than the current 2.4-litre V8s and that the teams - the engine manufacturers' customers to a large degree - will not be able to afford them.
The engines have a powerful enemy - F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone has been against them from the start. He describes the arguments behind adopting them - which can be read in detail here - as "PR" and thinks they should be dropped.
\He lost the first battle - they were formally adopted last year as part of the 2014 technical regulations, which also feature major chassis changes - but is still fighting to kill them off.
In that context, the recent formation of a group representing the interests of the F1 circuits should be seen as a transparent attempt by Ecclestone to bring more weight to the argument to scrap the engines.
What has developed is a classic impasse.
Bernie Ecclestone is working away behind the scenes to stop the new engines. Photo: Getty
F1 is in theory committed to the new engines. Renault and Mercedes want them to happen, and Ferrari dismiss rumors they would prefer them to be dropped by saying they will happen. Whether independent Cosworth, which supplies lowly Marussia and HRT, will be able to afford to build one is unclear.
But the teams not directly supported by engine manufacturers have not yet been told how much the new engines will cost, and fear it will be much more than the five million euros they currently pay annually.
Meanwhile, Ecclestone is working away behind the scenes to stop them. He has got former Renault team boss Flavio Briatore to come up with a 'GP1' set of rules, which include - among other things - continuing with the current engines.
The threat, clearly, is that he will take the commercial rights holders and the circuits with him (and possibly many of the teams), giving the FIA the choice to drop the engines or lose the substance of its championship.
But if that happened, Renault, for one, would almost certainly drop F1, and so might well Mercedes. So who would supply the engines to the new championship? And it would take a brave team to join any breakaway series.
On the other hand, if the FIA presses ahead and the teams cannot afford the new engines - there are rumors they could be as much as four times the price of the current V8s - where will all the cars come from in the FIA F1 world championship?
As the chief executive of the Sauber team, Monisha Kaltenborn, puts it: "If we go back to the days when engines were so much more expensive, I wonder how many teams could afford that. And F1 with four teams wouldn't be very exciting." More at BBC