Liberty Media met with teams in Monaco to expand on their plans for the 2021 F1 season and beyond. @DieterRencken reveals the latest proposed changes which are on the table – including a key concession on their cost-cutting plan.
That Formula 1’s commercial rights holder scheduled a follow-up to its Bahrain post-2020 summit for Monaco Friday was no surprise on two fronts: First, subsidiary Formula One Management had committed to obtaining feedback from teams/stakeholders by the end of May; second, Monaco’s “quiet day” sees team bosses congregated in the same area without distractions such as debriefs and technical meetings.
Thus the day traditionally features F1 get-togethers of sorts, and indeed there were three of note: said Liberty feedback session, plus a promoter meeting called to update race hosts on Liberty’s plans going forward. In addition, there was a calendar meeting on Saturday, chaired by FIA President Jean Todt, with F1 CEO Chase Carey, WEC/Le Mans boss Gerard Neveu and Formula E founder Alejandro Agag in attendance.Sebastien Buemi, and he’ll have to choose.”
Although various promoters are in talks over reduced hosting fees, such matters were discussed individually. The Friday meeting was called to update the promoters on calendar issues, common operational matters, race weekend schedules and Liberty’s future marketing programmes. Again, no big shakes – although one or two promoters did admit to asking for ‘haircuts’ on their fees…
So to Friday’s main business: The meeting was held in the morning upstairs in the Paddock Club marquee, erected within the paddock – but only accessible from outside – opposite Tabac Corner. While the number of team personnel was not restricted, most had two executives present, although Ferrari (allegedly) only sent Maurizio Arrivabene.
Before moving into the crux of the meeting, this brief Q&A with Robert Fernley, Force India Deputy Team Principal and the man charged by team owner Vijay Mallya to handle political issues, provides clarity its tone and structure:
RF: What was the spirit like?
RF: Was it constructive?
A: Yeah, all of those we’ve had [to date] have been in that way. We’re mainly listening, and then really you’re only looking at perhaps clarifying a point or two, but it’s not a discussion, it’s a presentation.
RF: Who ran most of the meeting? Chase Carey?
A: Chase, Nigel Kerr (FOM’s financial wizard, formerly Mercedes F1 Financial Director), Ross (Brawn, MD of Liberty’s Motorsport Division), depending on who’s doing what for what area.
RF: Jean Todt as well, I believe…
RF: Jean added a bit of clarification to the odd thing.
RF: I thought the deadline date (30 June 2018) on the engine thing came from the FIA?
A: Yeah, he confirmed it, but it had already slightly been given away anyway.
RF: The meeting lasted about an hour-and-a-half?
RF: So how many people in the meeting, about 30?
A: Not as many as that. It would have been two from each team, so 20; I’m not sure there were two from Ferrari, it might only have been (team boss) Maurizio (Arrivabene). Let’s say 20 people from the teams, plus about five or six…
RF: So about two dozen people…
A: Yes, a very manageable meeting, a very manageable presentation.
RF: Were there open discussions?
A: No, it was a presentation, and maybe if there was a point that you wanted to go back to in between each section, you put your hand up. They had microphones, and we could eat a sandwich, so…
RF: So very civilised, very constructive…
RF: Most unlike the Bernie (Ecclestone) meetings…
A: Yeah, and that’s why I think it’s an evolving process.
RF: Did they sit down with you one-on-one after Bahrain?
A: Yeah. I think the next one should probably be when they’re ready to confirm the engine regulations. That would make sense. But I don’t know. They tend to give us about a week’s notice.
RF: So we are talking probably before the summer break, Hungary or Germany…
A: That’s about right.
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The big talking point was, of course, the format of the power unit F1 will use from 2021, with the architecture expected to be similar to current units: V6, 1.6-litre turbo. The significant difference is F1 will do away with the MGU-H: that pesky ‘green’ thing which harvests energy from exhaust heat, simultaneously muting the internal combustion engines in the process.
Todt is believed to have committed to a 30 June 2018 deadline for the outline engine regulations. Although there is an element of scepticism about making the date, an FIA insider believes it to be eminently doable, saying “What we’ll do is provide enough information for engine suppliers to start on single-cylinder test engines, but not enough for them to start developing entire engines.
“This is desirable on two fronts: It prevents them spending big money on developing two [new and existing] engines simultaneously, and it enables us to finalise the regulations by the end of the year. So, yes, we have enough time.”
Asked when the balance of regulations will be available, he pointed to December this year as the deadline, in line with F1’s decree that major rule changes have two years’ warning. “Once we’ve got the engine sorted, the rest basically falls into line,” he said.
That Ferrari, Mercedes, Renault and Honda all agreed to drop the MGU-H “for the better good” is surprising, although Mercedes Toto Wolff admits he did so under sufferance, and said he threw a ‘wobbly’ over fuel flow at some stage during the presentation.
“We think [dropping] the technology is a step backwards,” he told RaceFans during a briefing. “But in terms of achieving compromise for the benefit of the spectacle the H going [means] the revs going up, the fuel limitations going, I think we will have a louder engine, [and] we will not be limited by fuel.
“It’s not the most sustainable message we’re sending out but we can understand it from a spectacle standpoint. It is something you need to consider and accept.”
That means fuel flow limits will be raised (or eliminated) in order to compensate, which means cars are likely to be heavier by up to 20 kilograms when they take to the 2021 grid, making fuel weight a strategic consideration: Go light and “lift and coast”, or go heavy and battle in the early stages? Not ideal for a sport hoping to put the “S” back into spectacle and “R” back into racing…
According to Fernley the engine suppliers were not given a choice over MGU-H – save, of course, that they could elect to exit F1 in protest.
“I suppose the answer is that we were not asked to vote anyway on this,” Fernley said when asked whether the matter had been put to the vote. “This what we’re being told. From our side of it, we’re a customer team, so we have no involvement in the discussions anyway. And nor should we particularly.”
But don’t the engine regulations directly affect all teams on cost grounds? The more expensive they are, the more the teams are required to pay…
“The principle of the engine regulations is to bring down costs, to increase the noise, to simplify them slightly and still keep the hybrid element of it. So all of this is of benefit to us. There’s nothing for us to get in the way of…”
In common with various parties, Fernley believes the balance of post-2021 negotiations – namely sporting regulations, commercial structures and governance process – will be carried over to 2019, thus enabling all parties to sort the engine and technical regulations this year.
“I don’t think that’s too important, to be honest, because I don’t think we need to be really finalising that until maybe this time next year. The further in front that you go, the better the opportunities for well-funded teams…
“So the later we leave it…this year we’re all going to be busy anyway with the 2019 [mainly aerodynamic] regulations. So sometime next year would be fine I think.”
So far, so good. However, a FOM insider recently whispered that the sporting regulations are under discussion with selected teams, and are likely to be revamped prior to next year’s 30 April cut-off date with a view to changing race weekend formats, more particularly free practice sessions, qualifying – a short race is envisioned – and race distances.
“The plan is to have the stuff in place by 30 April and introduce the revamped structure for 2020, which will enable us to fine-tune the regs for 2021,” our FOM insider said.
Although not directly confirmed by any of the parties, RaceFans understands the major teams reached a compromise over budget caps with Liberty – and hence their acquiescence over MGU-H. Effectively it was either ‘cut your budgets to $150m (£120m) by end-2020 and keep your heat recovery systems, or drop MGU-H and we’ll introduce a glide path on cost reductions through to 2023’…
Fernley believes that to be the best compromise: “The most important thing is there’s got to be compromise by all parties. We’re very keen to have the 150 million cap from 2021, [but] obviously the bigger teams are going to struggle a bit with that, so there has to be a bit of compromise; there has to be, as long as we get there in the end.
“I think the ’19 regulations changing [as a precursor to major changes in 2021] is a good step, simply because it’s an interim step between where you are today, and where you want to go. You’d need to be very optimistic to think that in 2021 we’ll get everything right. Chances are in ’19 we won’t get everything right, but at least it’s a learning curve. If it means we make fewer mistakes for ’21, that’s good.”
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By the end of 2018 most teams will have completed designing next year’s cars as per the revised aerodynamic regulations. Most teams expect the 2021 regulations to be based on the 2019 rulebook, albeit incorporating some data obtained through overtaking studies undertaken by aerodynamicists and engineers reporting to Brawn.
There is, though seldom a meeting without a twist, and in this case it was prescriptive parts. These are not to be confused with listed and non-listed parts, to which teams are either required to hold the intellectual property (the former) and those they may source outside to suit their designs.
Prescriptive parts are non-performance-differentiating components which must be used by all teams, much as the halo is a prescriptive part sourced from an approved supplier. The urgency is that teams are informed which parts will appear on the prescriptive list to enable them plan their headcounts as soon as possible. While some of the targeted parts will have little effect on operations, others such as complete gear cassettes certainly will.
According to a source, in addition to gear clusters, the list is likely to include differentials, standardised front and rear hubs, brakes and possibly drive shafts and some form of standard active suspension system – last-named to aid set-up and tuning while cutting the costs of development.
The plan is to ensure that the list of prescriptive parts enables F1 to maintain performance differentiation while cutting costs without becoming a one-make series.
“So far there’s nothing that’s defined in any way. They are still deciding what they want to do,” he said.
With slightly over two-and-a-half years to go there could still be a change of direction – last time F1 switched from I4 engines to V6 with less than two years to go before the 2013 regulations were due to come into force, thus delaying the process by a year – but thus far matters have run fairly smoothly. Or so it seems.
Ferrari has yet to comment on any aspect of the presentations, while Wolff threw wobblies over MGU-H, so it has not all been plain sailing, yet Liberty seems to be getting the job done. The elephant in the room is the current governance process, in force through to 31 December 2020. Does the process, i.e. Strategy Group, F1 Commission and World Motorsport Council, apply to the 2021 regulations, then?
“That is a good question,” said our insider. “I think Liberty are hoping for consensus…”
Follow Dieter on Twitter: @RacingLines
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