Finally the ice seems to be broken. The FIA, Formula 1 and the manufacturers want to agree on the engine of the future by the time of the Turkish GP. If it happens as planned, that means the green light for Porsche and Audi to get involved.
At the Italian GP, Formula 1 already announced a breakthrough in the discussion about the Formula 1 engine of the future. The big CEOs met in Monza for the big drive summit. In the end, however, it was a breakthrough with a few ifs and buts.
But now, three weeks later, the ice seems to be broken. Those responsible for Formula 1 are confident that there will be an agreement on the rough concept by the time of the Turkish GP. The established manufacturers Ferrari, Mercedes, Renault and Honda's successor Red Bull are agreeing to a compromise in order to lure new prospects on board from 2026.
The message to the FIA, the Formula 1 bosses as well as Audi and Porsche was very clear: We will only give up some of our lead in experience if the VW brands or other interested parties also make a long-term commitment. That means at least five years. If the package is now approved, it is practically equivalent to the entry of the two German premium brands.
MGU-H is history
And this is how the engine looks roughly: It will be a V6 turbo that has many identical parts in the area of the block and the periphery or is severely restricted in its freedom. The development should take place in the cylinder head and the combustion process. Here is the next battlefield with the introduction of sustainable fuels. The unit price of a drive unit should be well under one million dollars. A drive package currently costs two million.
The MGU-H is history. A strict flow rate limitation too. While it has made current engines super-efficient, it has also unnecessarily complicated them. Therefore, even the jump from E5 to E10 fuel is a titanic task. Honda is said to be investing $50 million to upgrade the current engine for 2022.
If the engine concept remained the same, every further step towards CO2-neutral fuel would be at least as expensive. Le Mans is leading the way. Synthetic fuels are to be used there as early as next year. No rocket science with a simpler engine technology.
FIA President Jean Todt recently suggested that E50 petrol be introduced in Formula 1 in an intermediate step in 2023 - i.e. with a 50 percent biofuel admixture. Formula 1 boss Stefano Domenicali welcomed the proposal. But the hands of the creators of Formula 1 are tied.
The current drive generation does not allow an adjustment without immense costs and expenditure of time. Neither does the freezing of engine technology from 2022 to 2026.The premier class is faced with the curious finding that the most sustainable combustion engines on the market stand in the way of real sustainability.
Active aerodynamics to the rescue
Because performance losses on the combustion side are to be expected with 100 percent CO2-neutral fuel and simpler engines in 2026, the electrical part of the drive is being upgraded. The MGU-K should then deliver 350 instead of 120 kilowatts of power. That's the equivalent of 476 instead of 163 hp. This shift will also require major conversions from the cars. The battery is getting bigger, the MGU-K more robust.
At the same time, the driving dynamics change. The current manufacturers resist energy recovery on the front axle, even if it stays with recuperation and four-wheel drive is not used. The problem of tapping all the power on the rear axle is the large braking torque that occurs when loading. This cannot be solved with a brake-by-wire system alone. Because the downforce is missing to bring the braking torque to the road.
That's why Formula 1 technicians are thinking about active aerodynamics. The cars would then be practically flat on the straights, while the rear wing would be set to maximum contact pressure at the braking point. Red Bull team boss Christian Horner also proposes an active suspension. "If it's a standard system, it would also be inexpensive."
VW strategy: Simple costs, double benefit
There are other unanswered questions. For example, on the amount of the budget cap for engine manufacturers. The potential newcomers Audi and Porsche want to set them as high as possible, Mercedes as low as possible.
This is because Mercedes manufactures a large part of the parts in-house, while others are dependent on the pricing policy of the suppliers. Red Bull will be on a drip from Japanese suppliers until 2026. They're expensive. Newcomers may get concessions on the cost cap and the test bench limits in the first few years.
The VW Group apparently wants to follow the same strategy in Formula 1 as in the Endurance World Championship and be represented by two brands in the future. The principle behind it is simple: Audi and Porsche share the costs, but the group has twice the benefit. For teams that still use customer engines today, new opportunities could open up in 2026. They would then move up to semi-factory teams.