Formula One lost the “initiative” on technology when the sport switched to V6 hybrid engines in 2014, says Motorsport UK chairman David Richards.
In 2014, the 2.4-litre V8 engine – used between 2006 and 2013 – was replaced with a new 1.6-litre turbocharged V6 engine with in-built energy recovery systems.
Despite the sport making strides with an eye towards sustainability, the change to the V6 hybrid proved an unpopular move for many – not the least then F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone.
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The cost and complexity of the units also coincided with the dominance of Mercedes, which has turned over six straight driver-constructor title doubles since.
Don’t expect a significant change before at least 2023 – in announcing the new technical, sporting and financial rules to be introduced into the sport in 2021, FIA head of single-seaters Nikolas Tombazis said a change to the engine regulations would “be a step backwards”.
Speaking at the Autosport International show, Richards suggested the sport has become more about “entertainment” than being ahead on technology.
“Traditionally, we have lived off the fact that we have driven new technologies,” said Richards, a former team principal of the BAR and Benetton teams.
“Sometimes it’s not necessarily been a technology per se, but it’s a great marketing platform. Audi with the four-wheel drive going into the Quattro, the paddle shifts, it’s standard on all sports cars these days.
“If you go back the last decade, we’ve lost that initiative. We’ve become entertainment, which is alright in itself, and there is a place for that, but I believe we’ve lost the initiative on technology.”
From the way drivers have to look after the power unit, to the sound generated by the unit themselves, the V6 hybrids have been a sticking point for many.
Even to last season, four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel – after he retired in Russia following an MGU-K failure – remonstrated: “Bring back the f—ing V12s!”
Vettel was the world champion heading into the 2014 season, and was openly critical of the muffled sound of the hybrid units, labelling them as “s–t”.
Richards’ language wasn’t as strong, but his feelings were along the same vein, partivcualry with an eye on F1’s place in innovation and technology.
“I think quite frankly it started when they introduced these wonderful engines that they have in Formula 1 today,” said Richards regarding the lost “initiative”.
“They’re an extraordinary engineering feat with the hybrid systems on them – the whole sort of way that they operate – and the day they were introduced, Bernie Ecclestone said they were terrible and they sounded bad and how terrible this was for the sport. We just didn’t get it right from the outset.
“There are lots of solutions out there … a whole range of different technologies we should be promoting and we should be encouraging, and we’ve got to get on our front foot again.”
During an energy-efficiency conference at the Motorsport Industry Association, F1 technical consultant Pat Symonds explained why he was keen on seeing a two-stroke engine introduced in the sport – with a new system mooted to see F1 become greener than Formula E.
“Much more efficient, great sound from the exhaust and a lot of the problems with the old two strokes are just not relevant any more,” Symonds explained.
“The opposed piston engine is very much coming back and already in road car form at around 50 per cent efficiency.
“Direct injection, pressure charging, and new ignition systems have all allowed new forms of two-stroke engines to be very efficient and very emission-friendly.
“I think there’s a very high chance that there might still be an internal combustion engine but maybe it’s running on hydrogen … there’s nothing wrong with electric vehicles but there are reasons why they are not the solution for everyone.”
Red Bull Racing advisor Dr Helmet Marko was one to be taken aback, telling Auto Bild that Symonds’ comments were like a “carnival speech” – even though he would still consider it.
“I will seriously ask my engineers about it,” Marko said.
“We should know how much horsepower you can get out of them, how efficient are they really, and can they really work with alternative fuels.”