One year to decide: How Aston Martin is weighing up plans to enter F1

2018 F1 season

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Aston Martin will be Red Bull’s title sponsor this year and is considering whether to enter F1 in 2021 as an engine manufacturer.

But, as CEO Andy Palmer explained to F1 Fanatic, it will only happen if the next version of the Formula One engine regulations makes the sport more cost-effective. That means cheaper, simpler power units.

Andy Palmer, Christian Horner, Singapore, 2017
Red Bull could use Aston Martin’s engines
Formula One Management appears to moving in the direction he wants. Among its plans for 2021 is the removal of the sophisticated – but costly – MGU-H.

Palmer said Aston Martin wouldn’t consider entering F1 without this change. “The big cost, the big complexity, it really comes around the H. That’s where you’re seeing unreliability, it’s where you’re seeing costs, and for what level of return?”

“The problem is teams allegedly now have 80 to 100 people working on a bloody turbocharger,” Palmer explains. “And that’s nuts.”

“That level of cost is nuts, and also takes it out of our reach. I don’t have that many people to work on a turbocharger.”

Aston Martin also wants more of the engine to be standardised. “One of the things we pushed for, and appears to have been accepted, is the idea that the bottom end of the engine is so tightly specified that there’s no competitive advantage,” said Palmer.

“Therefore you can buy the bits off one of the other four incumbents [Ferrari, Mercedes, Renault and Honda]. So that means that the competitive advantage would come in the form of the combustion and in whatever the new turbo system is like. And then of course the hybrid as well.”

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The proposed engine regulations announced last year prompted complaints from some teams. Notably Ferrari, who threatened to leave Formula One if the scope for technical development became too restrictive. However Palmer believes the existing engine manufacturers accept the need for change.

“Not surprisingly the four incumbents feign happiness because they’ve put lots of money into it and why change the status quo? On the other hand when you step back and you ask them ‘is Formula One in a good place?’ they’ll be the first to say ‘no’.”

The new engine regulations are still three years away and negotiations are continuing over the details. But Palmer can’t afford to wait if an Aston Martin-powered F1 car is going to be on the grid in 2021. He’s hired Luca Marmorini, a highly experienced F1 designer who previously worked for Ferrari and Toyota, to make the decision on whether to proceed.

Luca Marmorini, Ferrari, Silverstone, 2013
Marmorini “isn’t being paid to say ‘yes'”
“I’ve asked him to start thinking about what the regs might be, start thinking about the partnerships we might want to think about both for engineering and for manufacturing,” said Palmer.

“If it’s not [economically viable] I won’t do it. There’s an element which you always factor in there which is the marketing value. I would look for a position which didn’t lose me money on the engine and the marketing cost is the upside.”

Honda is the most recent engine manufacturer to enter F1. Their dire performance over the last three seasons serves as a warning to anyone considering the same.

“That’s the risk of racing,” says Palmer. “That’s why I’ve gone out and got Luca.”

“I’m not paying him to say yes, in many respects I’ve told him I’m paying him to say ‘no’ because the risk is the CEO, the director or the shareholders get ahead of themselves because of the lure of racing and sometimes you need someone to hold you back and say ‘this is the risk’.”

The final decision on whether to proceed is 12 months away, Palmer believes. “What I will do now is go through the options of partners, talk to shareholders as much as anything to test and challenge me.”

“Get into some form of single-cylinder development. Ultimately I would think early ’19 make a decision of go [or] no-go. So you’ve got the regulations laid out in front of you, you know what the limitations are, you know what your technology is broadly capable of, and then you start spending.”

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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36 comments on “One year to decide: How Aston Martin is weighing up plans to enter F1”

  1. Bring it on! Sounds promising.

  2. So the plan is for Redbull to have Aston Martin engines come 2021 and more importantly be the works team. Seems like they have come to the same conclusion as Ron Dennis did back when Mercedes bought out Brawn & he went seeking Honda so they could be a works team. The realisation what no team with a customer engine is going to be WCC or WDC. If Aston are serious (I have my doubts) then they need to get the jump & start developing as soon as possible like Mercedes did when the hybrid engines were on the horizon. Not do a Honda & join the party late & have no chance of catch-up no matter how much funds & expertise you throw at it. The question for me is can they put together the right partners and funding to have a serious chance at entering F1 as a serious & successful engine manufacturer? It is a huge risk if they don’t pull it off from the word go because we all know that Redbull are not McLaren, just go & ask Renault about that. If the engine doesn’t perform they will be under that bus quicker than Helmut Marco can hire & fire a certain young Russian driver!

    However I think Redbull has a trick up their sleeve in Honda. Honda also should be throwing a lot of eggs in the new engine formula basket. They can bide their time with Torro Rosso & try to repair their reputation & if they suddenly find the golden key to unlock all their troubles then Redbull can ditch Renault/Tag/Aston Martin & promote Honda to the role.

    1. Sounds like the plan is they’re going to take a year to think about it, while in the meantime the 2021 engine/pu regs have not been set in stone yet.

    2. @bobby-balboa ”If Aston are serious (I have my doubts) then they need to get the jump & start developing as soon as possible like Mercedes did when the hybrid engines were on the horizon.” – They can’t start working on the 2021 PU regs before they’re set in stone. As we speak, they indeed aren’t finalized yet, so it’d be a bit too risky to start working on an unconfirmed model only to find out that it isn’t going to be used after all. Mercedes couldn’t have started working on the current engine formula earlier than they were set in stone either (the move to the current V6 Turbos in 2014 was confirmed in June/July 2011).

      1. @jerejj «Mercedes couldn’t have started working on the current engine formula earlier than they were set in stone»

        Yes they could & yes they did. F1 teams are always investing in R&D of new ideas that are out of the current regulations. Most of them will never see the light of a grand prix weekend but don’t fool yourself that they don’t invest in the future to try & jump the gun on the rest or come up with the next trick device to steal the lead. That’s what F1 being the forefront of new technology is all about

        1. @bobby-balboa ”yes they did.” – Care to provide any valid evidence on that. Mercedes weren’t any more aware of which type of engine would be used after the N/A V8s than the other manufacturers long before the confirmation of it. If they really did start working on the current engine formula as early as 2007 as some have claimed, then it was based purely on guessing that could’ve very well proved very costly to them. The initial plan was to move to V4s in 2013, but due to how much opposition it got, they were replaced by the V6s, and subsequently, the move was postponed by a year, so the engine type that was eventually chosen wasn’t even the one that was initially planned/proposed. The ‘2007’ claims just sound too unrealistic to be true. No way they could’ve known that many years ahead which engine specifically would be used in 6-7 years time.

          1. @jerejj Evidence? Are you by any chance a detective? Do you have evidence to support your opposition to my point? Please this is an F1 fan website not a unsolved crimes forum. “I’ll have my milkybar now Mother”

          2. V4’s @jerejj? I thought it was L4’s to be honest from my recollections at least…This made much more sense than V6’s although Renault/Nissan had a V6 in their Road car line-up and so did Mercedes albeit in diesel format. Can’t imagine how they ended up with a V6. Perhaps they should have sleeved down all the V8’s lying around and used those.

          3. @baron, the reason why a V6 was preferred was because, in terms of torsional stiffness, it is far superior to an inline four cylinder engine and is therefore a much more efficient load bearing member.

            In terms of chassis integration, the V6 design is superior to an inline four cylinder engine – it was why Newey mentioned that pretty much every single designer in the field was relieved when they went to a V6 design instead. He mentioned that the only party that wanted an inline four cylinder engine from the start was the VW Group, who’d promised to enter F1 if they did adopt that design – only for VW to then promptly back out of their agreement.

            The other reason it was being suggested at the time was part of the efforts to force through the “global race engine” concept – the idea being that all motorsport series would use a derivative of the same engine design, which would be a four cylinder inline engine (with lower powered normally aspirated versions and higher powered turbocharged units available). The idea of the “global race engine” foundered not long afterwards, but because the initial draft regulations had been drawn up before then, they were drawn up in accordance with that ides.

            @jerejj, I agree that 2007 is too early for Mercedes to have begun work in earnest on the proposal, because it wasn’t until mid 2007 that Renault put forward a technical paper to the FIA advocating the core of what eventually became the current regulations.

            At that time though, what they presented was a concept proposal – it set out an outline for what the new regulations could contain, advocating the introduction of hybridised turbocharged engines, but not in anything like enough detail for an engineering concept design to be undertaken at that stage.

          1. I do so love a happy ending. Sleep tight kiddywinks

    3. Well, Kvyat was with Torro Rosso/Red Bull longer than McLaren was with Honda (in the turbo Era) 72 starts across 4 seasons to 60 races across 3 seasons, so… Marko wasn’t as fast on the trigger as McLaren!

  3. Aston Martin want to build an engine like Tag Heuer and Alfa Romeo are doing for 2018. They need to concentrate on building there own road car engines before they look at F1 engines. F1 should have no standardisation of design for engines or chassis. This man sounds like a communist trying to drag people down to his level.

    1. Aston Martin only ‘want to’ if they feel it is the right fit for them, and we don’t even know the final iteration of pu for 2021. Don’t know what building their own road car engines has that do with it. There is much standardization as it is and that won’t be changing. What is ‘communist’ about repeating what their reality is based on what F1 has been talking about for the future?

      1. …has ‘to’ do with it…

      2. @robbie, the point is that Aston Martin are fundamentally lacking in the technical expertise, equipment and capital to make any sort of engine, be it a road car engine or a racing engine.

        For decades, they’ve either had to rely on buying in pre-made designs from third parties (from Jaguar in the past and from Mercedes now), commissioning third parties to design work for them (getting Cosworth to make an engine for their flagship model) or an iteration on the rather antiquated V12 design they’ve been using (a design that is getting on for about 20 years old now) that Ford developed for them back in the 1990’s.

        It takes time to build up a team of experienced engineers who can work together efficiently to design a new engine – they might have hired Marmorini, but that doesn’t make any tangible difference to what is a fundamental lack of ability in the company.

        The desire to eliminate much of the hybrid capabilities probably reflects Aston Martin’s fundamental lack of ability in that sector and the fact that, for the foreseeable future, they have no intention of doing anything about their lack of knowledge in that field.

        OK, they decided to form an alliance with LeEco in early 2016, perhaps better known for their Faraday Future sub-brand, to develop an electric car, but the deal started falling apart barely six months down the line when LeEco announced they were hitting financial problems and is now completely dead in the water as LeEco’s struggling with heavy debts. In fact, the repeated headlines that they’ve been generating now about an Aston Martin F1 project have rather helped distract attention from the negative headlines those difficulties would otherwise have generated.

        1. +1

          But it does give Palmer another year of marketing fluff newsbites and that’s far more important than the mere nuts and bolts of using a 3rd party drivetrain with an Aston sticker on it. Then in ’19, he can say how the new regs didn’t suit their corporate agenda and start meddling in another series for more eye-share.

          Can’t wait until other boutique manufacturers clue in to how easy it is to use Liberty as a low cost guerrilla marketing platform….announcing the Atom F1 Engine program!

    2. Neither Tag nor Alfa build their own engines. they are rebranding an existing engine, exactly what Aston Martin wants to do. Pastor Maldonado will be a WDC before Aston builds, not buys, their own engine.

      Unless Aston Martin has a secret $1bn stashed away I don’t see how they’re going to make an engine, I’ve said it before, they hardly even make the engine they put in their road cars. It’s either an engine based off a Ford V6 from the 2000s or a Mercedes engine.

      1. I know Alfa and Tag are rebounds. Unless the new engines are base spec units with little engineering talent required Aston are not capable. If they cannot build road car engines they stand no chance in F1. Aston are milking free press using F1 to do so. They have as much to do with F1 engineering as Kaspersky. They are trying to drag superior engineering companies down to their level.

  4. I’ve got an inkling that Red Bull are looking for a way out of F1. Not entirely, but just not as the owners of a team. This seems like a nice slow transition for RBF1 to become Aston Martin F1 with RB as the title sponsor.

  5. I think what Aston Martin are saying is that at the moment you can buy an engine, gearbox and suspension from another team (like Haas does as it buys from Ferrrai) is that that phillosophy is applied to the engine so Aston want to buy the ICE from an existing manufacturer then add whatever bespoke parts are in the regs for the engines (hence it wants the MGU-H removed).

    The problem is that yes the ICE is tightly regulated but we are seeing that Ferrari are experimenting with hexagonal structures in its ICE to reduce weight. I cant see them or another manufacturer handing over this tech to another competitor.

    The engines do need to be simpler but you can make them simpler without having to buy them off other people

    1. Manufacturers spend hundreds of millions on engines so Aston can come along spend a few million to improve it and pass it off as their own. That seems fair, ‘Aston Martin a migit standing on the shoulders of giants.’ Good advertising slogan.

  6. I’m pretty sure Mercedes and Ferrari will push harder to keep the MGU-H and as a result Aston Martin will bail out of F1. Honda will join them as well, since they still haven’t figured out what an MGU-H is after spending 3 seasons in the sport.

    1. And Renault will go bankrupt because they crash into a miniature giant space potato in the shape of Gorsjean’s face.
      And Ecclestone comes to haunt them all in an F1 season with 10 mercedes cars driven by Lewis Hamilton’s clones and 10 ferrari’s driven by Kimi Raikkonen, all at the same time.

  7. It’d be interesting to hear @dieterrencken ‘s view on the position mooted by Joe Saward (see this article that Red Bull/Aston Martin, McLaren and Cosworth would team up to produce an engine for 2021.

    Have you heard anything about this?

    1. That sounds like a really good idea. Combined, the expertise and financial power would be there to compete with Ferrari, Merchandise and Renault. A customer engine like Dfv but not artificial like has been mooted before. If those companies combined they could produce an engine without the engines having to be dumbed down for little car companies like Aston Martin on their own.

  8. The problem is teams allegedly now have 80 to 100 people working on a bloody turbocharger… I don’t have that many people to work on a turbocharger.

    If you want to make an F1 grade engine then you’ll need to start recruiting. Time is of the essence.

  9. I actually first publicly floated the idea of Aston Martin going into a partnership for a post-2020 engine with, amongst others Cosworth and/or Ricardo, in June last year, with the engine costs fronted by Red Bull on behalf of its two teams under a long-term (five year?) contract. It would be the only way any of the parties could justify an engine programme – and, what I said then, now seems to have been borne out by Cosworth’s recent comments that they could not go it alone.

    What are popularly still known as “engines” are, in fact, totally integrated power trains, consisting of IC unit, hybrid systems of whatever complexity, electronics, exhausts with heat recovery (if applicable), hydraulics, rear brakes (brake by wire for recovery) and transmissions. Hence a Cosworth could not go it alone, nor a Ricardo – but a co-operative approach could work.

    However, anyone who understands the relationship between Adrian Newey and McLaren would know that Red Bull and McLaren are unlikely to co-operate, and why would they?

    1. @dieterrencken
      It seems like a very significant cost for Red Bull to bear, I got the feeling they were slowing down their investment over the past few years (admittedly based mostly on their press releases and the state of their young driver programme). It would also be a big gamble competitively, Cosworth and Ricardo are great companies but if Honda couldn’t get up to speed in three years I don’t fancy their chances.

      I agree with your final paragraph, but I was surprised they agreed to work together with Renault, so I suppose anything’s possible.

    2. Thank you for chipping in with that Dieter! Yeah, I see there will be certainly some cooperation, but probably not the completely pooled development Joe mentioned a few months back.

      It shows in the fact that STR will have it’s “own” RB tech designed gearbox for the Honda engine rather than the McLaren one that would have been available if these teams would work together.

      But it Cosworth focusses on the engine block (surely getting it from Ferrari or Mercedes would be too high a price?) with Ricardo then that block could also form the basis for both the Aston Martin AND the McLaren unit? Both would develop their own hybrid stuff and gearbox to go with it in cooperation with Cossy and Ricardo? And maybe someone else might join the fun too.

  10. anyone who understands the relationship between Adrian Newey and McLaren would know that Red Bull and McLaren are unlikely to co-operate

    Even now Ron Dennis is no longer at McLaren?

    1. Meant as a reply to @dieterrencken‘s comment.

    2. I believe Newey’s decision to leave McLaren ran deeper than simply chemistry with Dennis personally; its the corporate environment that stifled more than a few creative types. Even without that factor there is still the matter of road car competition: McLaren and Aston compete in the same (price) sectors, so why would Aston bankroll (fully or partially) an engine to be used by a road car competitor? For the same reason Ferrari refused to supply an F1 engine to McLaren.

      To my ear, McLaren-Aston Martin sounds as silly as McLaren-Ferrari…

      1. Thanks for the elaborate answer @dieterrencken!

  11. The tentative nature of Aston’s and Cosworth’s approach to developing a new F1 engine does not give confidence that any engine will eventually emerge. I agree with the scepticism of most of your correspondents.

    The likely only outcome will be some temporary publicity for the two companies concerned and a gradual withdrawal over he next year of the already lukewarm enthusiasm for the project, (neither company has the cash to splurge on developing an engine and both would rely on a possible partner/partners to foot the bills) so ‘pie in the sky’, ‘pigs might fly’ plus (insert your own favourite phrase here) seems the most appropriate response to this new-engine puffery.

  12. To Remove the MGU-H so that a company can enter is foolish. Merc, Ferrari, Renault and to a lesser extent Honda was able to comply. And maybe in 3 years the technology will be better, cheaper and easier to produce. So to go back to a regular engine while road cars are going to hybrid and other hi tech engine is pointless

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