Audi’s McNish explains why relevance for manufacturers is key in F1 engine talks

2021 F1 Season

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Audi and Porsche were the only manufacturers to join Formula 1’s 2025 engine regulation discussions which are not currently involved in the sport. So why did the two Volkswagen Group brands want to be at the table?

Last year Audi announced it will quit Formula E and put its efforts into the Dakar rally, where it enjoys more technical freedom. It is using the powertrain it developed for its final season of Formula E in the design of the RS Q E-tron which will tackle the dunes.

Volkswagen Group’s motorsport portfolio has diminished since the company attempted to move past the reputational damage of the dieselgate emissions scandal by refocussing on electric vehicles. This makes Porsche and Audi’s presence at F1’s recent manufacturer meetings all the more intriguing.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner and his opposite number at Mercedes, Toto Wolff, recently gave very different views of what F1’s future engine rules should be. Mercedes’ priorities are towards electrification and road relevance, while Red Bull put an emphasis on spectacle and entertainment, particularly through creating a more impressive sound.

During last weekend’s Formula E round in London Audi team principal and former factory driver Allan McNish explained to RaceFans why the brand is involved in talks over Formula 1’s future as its departs Formula E.

“Audi and the Volkswagen Group are quite a big organisation,” he said. This is some understatement – the VW Group is the world’s largest car manufacturer by volume of vehicles delivered.

“We’ve got very good relationships through a lot of motorsport and we sit in a lot of discussions. That doesn’t mean to say they’ll all come to fruition but you need to be in the discussions to understand.”

But it’s not just a case of ‘regulatory tourism’, McNish explained. “Audi’s sat in Formula 1 discussions in the past. The Volkswagen Group has, and that’s part of evaluating where the motorsport is.

“It’s also about the guidance of where motorsport needs to go to stay relevant. I think there’s two stages to this: There’s one obviously program specific, but there’s also one where is motorsport going to be in 2030, 2035, 2040? Because the car industry is clear where it’s going.”

McNish isn’t exaggerating. The car industry’s trend towards electrification is indisputable. Even Ferrari has committed, as of April this year, to one full electric vehicle by 2025 and a transition to majority hybrid vehicles. Audi have stopped developing internal combustion engines, Mercedes will sell 100% electrified vehicles by 2030 and are talking about bringing that date forwards.

Mercedes, the VW Group, Ford and General Motors are investing billions in colossal ‘gigafactories’ to meet battery and electrification needs across the Americas and Europe, bringing production out of its current home in Asia. Only BMW is seemingly resisting – and then, it’s because it is investing in solid state technologies, instead.

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Formula 1 has the edge over all-electric Formula E in that respect, as its younger rival does not allow manufacturers to develop their batteries. This restriction was imposed as a cost-saving and – in the early years – safety measure. Over in the World Endurance Championship the replacement for LMP1 – LMDh – offers a hybrid system, but it is completely ‘spec’, with only internal combustion development allowed. The motorsport test-bed for direct-liquid-cooled and ultra-high-end cells remains Formula 1 for now.

McNish wants to ensure a future for motor racing
Porsche was identified as the VW Group’s main motorsport focus during its ‘Power Day’ in mid-March this year. CEO Oliver Blume announced: “Innovative high-performance batteries have great potential – we will test these innovations in motorsport.” There was one obvious place it would do that. Nonetheless, a Porsche spokesperson denied any plans to leave Formula E.

McNish understands motorsport must be more than simply a laboratory for car manufacturers. “Motorsport has still got to be a sport, still got to be entertaining,” he emphasises. “But it has still got to have relevance for manufacturers and the positives that they bring to it.

“And that’s an area where I think there’s guidance as well coming in both directions, FIA, and also with not just Audi, but with manufacturers to try to align and make sure that we’re going in the right direction.

However he is firm in his belief that motorsport must remain relevant to manufacturers. “Personally, from my point of view, because I sit on a couple of these different things, I’m very keen to ensure that that’s the case.

“I’ve got a 16-year-old and a 12-year-old. I was 12 when I started karting and I was 16 when I was starting to look towards car racing. I’ve fallen in love with this sport and industry from that age.

“My life has been involved in it to the point where I don’t see it as a job, I see it as a kind of hobby that I happen to call a career and I think we’re all very lucky for that.

“But at the same time, for that story to continue for the next generation, we need to make sure that it’s aligned and it’s relevant not just on one level of entertainment, but also in technology and in terms of its positioning.”

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Hazel Southwell
Hazel is a freelance journalist who roams the paddocks of Formula E, covering the technical and emotional elements of electric racing. Usually found at...

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  • 25 comments on “Audi’s McNish explains why relevance for manufacturers is key in F1 engine talks”

    1. They aren’t there to evaluate going into F1, they are there to know which direction F1 is going and develop their cars that way to sell more cars.

      1. Biskit Boy (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk)
        29th July 2021, 8:53

        +1

        F1 has prostituted itself so many times, pandering to the manufacturers. Costs have skyrocketed because of it. I’m not a fan of the hybrids, but why change the engine again?
        Makes no sense.

        1. @sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk F1 doesn’t have to change the PU but they can say goodbye to any major sponsorship if they don’t. They need to keep some connection, market relevance keeps the crowds coming and that keeps the advertises happy.
          @powersteer F1 doesn’t dictate which direction the Motor Industry goes. F1 is part of the advertising/promotion departments of the motor manufacturers except Williams and RedBull. All of the cars are high speed bill boards for other multi-nationals.

          1. Biskit Boy (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk)
            29th July 2021, 11:56

            F1 doesn’t have to change the PU but they can say goodbye to any major sponsorship if they don’t

            Which sponsorships would be lost JohnH?

            They need to keep some connection, market relevance keeps the crowds coming and that keeps the advertises happy

            I don’t agree they need to keep a connection manufacturers. F1 can design and build all it needs in house or by contract. What do you mean by market relevance? It cant be engineering relevance. F1 cars are so different to cars on the road and the gap is rapidly widening. I think good close racing is what brings in the crowds (as opposed to the F1 Geeks), with the audience wanting some good on track action or rooting for their team or driver.

            If there were no mainstream car manufacturers in the sport it wouldn’t bother me in the slightest.

            1. @sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk

              If there were no mainstream car manufacturers in the sport it wouldn’t bother me in the slightest.

              I think that’s called horse racing.

            2. Biskit Boy (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk)
              29th July 2021, 16:21

              I’m sure F1 is possible without major car manufacturers involved.

              … but just in case you are right… Yeah Giddy-up!

      2. Arthur Zakaryan
        29th July 2021, 9:00

        It’s rare that F1 tech trickles down to road cars with a few minor exception’s. FE tech is more road relevant especially since the auto industry is going electric in the next decade where as the F1 2025 rules are far from being finalised. There may be some convergence or similarity with F1 tech in the 2025 engines and FE power units but that’s yet to be seen.

        Reply moderated
    2. So why did the two Volkswagen Group brands want to be at the table?

      Free publicity?

      I seriously doubt whether any VW brand will ever compete in F1, it’s always rumoured and they always decide against it.

      1. Pretty likely – talk is cheap and generates plenty of headlines that they will like to see, so why not take advantage of the situation?

      2. But isn’t that the same for all (except for the ‘free’ bit)?
        Alfa Romeo is just a branding exercise (and linking Raikkonen/Kubica to the brand)
        Aston Martin is the same for now (although they claim that they will integrate some technical parts between the two – independent – companies in the future)
        Mercedes is going in the same direction as now the F1 teams is majority owned by others. Merely HPP (separate from the F1 team) is still theirs.

        1. Not really. Alfa Romeo and Mercedes put money into the teams they are involved in and Aston Martin has a common shareholder between the F1 team and the car manufacturer. So they are not getting free publicity.

          VW is paying nothing to be at these meetings as far as I am aware but they are being associated with F1 nonetheless. Therefore, it is free publicity.

          1. As I put in my first sentence ;).

            PS common shareholding means next to nothing, beside a shared rolodex.
            Each company is only responsible towards its own shareholders. And mixing up stuff by a common director/board member would be illegal.

            1. But none of them are participating in the engine discussions, so it’s not really a valid comparison.

    3. Yes Motor Sports relevance to Rd cars is extremely important open wheelers and F1 in particular can be a little more radical in their thinking, but not to much they still need a connection. The problem the Manufacturers face is the same problems as companies like Sony and JVC in the video tape market or the the short lived CDs and even shorter life span of DVDS.
      The tech is changing so fast, for instance Tesla’s 4680 is apparently the current leader by some way. Musk has spoken about building a Terra factory (think about that) to cope with the future sales. There is solid state there is a tech called Plasma Kinetics. A company called Nano Forge is developing another type of battery, there are chemical batteries being researched with a recharge time of just minutes similar to solid state.
      Apparently Toyota have employed Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann the two scientists from Utah University who got cold fusion to work. They have been moved to France to work on…
      So that’s a conundrum for the car industry and a headache for F1, if they go in the wrong direction they’ll be on their own.
      Again I say let the engineers of F1 be free to get on board with this new tech, allow them to develop this with the manufacturers. Don’t tie them down with draconian restrictions in the name of saving money.

      1. @johnrkh That was an interesting comment until the part about cold fusion. Fleischmann and Pons’ work on cold fusion was discredited almost immediately and they withdrew their submission to Nature.

        1. @jimg I didn’t know about about them withdrawing their submission to Nature, but as I said they apparently are now at Toyota.

          1. @johnrkh My point was that P&F rather notoriously did not “[get] cold fusion to work”. It’s not much of an advert for Toyota to point out that they’ve hired two scientists who are most famous for having made an extraordinary claim without having the evidence to back it up.

      2. Currently the most advanced road BEV car is the Merc EQS – because it has up to 290kW of regen. Everything else is just mucking about with existing battery tech (until we see Li alternatives) and the fact it’s easy to attain an above 90% efficiency with an MGU. (a knackered ZoE gets to 86%!)

        Toyota are currently in big trouble for financing anti-EV initiatives because they have thrown themselves so heavily behind (fossil fuel-cracked) hydrogen.

    4. Over in the World Endurance Championship the replacement for LMP1 – LMDh – offers a hybrid system, but it is completely ‘spec’, with only internal combustion development allowed. The motorsport test-bed for direct-liquid-cooled and ultra-high-end cells remains Formula 1 for now.

      This is wrong, although allowed to compete in WEC the LMDh is the IMSA-based category. WEC’s replacement for LMP1 is Hypercar, where manufacturers have complete freedom to do whatever they want, as long as it is within a performance envelope (one relatively easy to reach). Hence you see different manufacturers approach it in different ways, Toyota’s and the upcoming Peugeot have different hydrid systems, while Glickenhaus went for a standard internal combustion derived from rally.
      That is absolute road relevante to me. Here’s a target, do whatever you think is more relevant/cost-effective to you to meet it.

      1. @nordic

        This would be valid were Hypercar not such a woefully horsepower/kW-limited joke. Toyota are using their old LMP1 tech but with hundreds of horsepower shaved off. (670hp vs 1000)

        1. Fair enough, in that sense Hypercar is not the “test-bed for direct-liquid-cooled and ultra-high-end cells”. That part I agree F1 still is the place. But LMDh is the replacement for DPi, not LMP1. And in a way, from my ignorant out-of-the-industry eyes, maybe it’s more “road relevant” or “efficient” to spend $50-100 million to develop a hybrid pu for Hypercar, than $1400 million for a F1 engine.

        2. @hazelsouthwell as noted by @nordic though, the LMDh – or Le Mans Daytona h – cars are still fundamentally different vehicles to the Hypercar category.

          The two types of car are designed to entirely separate sets of regulations that are issued by two completely different governing bodies – the LMDh regulations are issued by IMSA, whereas the Hypercar regulations are issued by the ACO. The ACO has agreed that, from 2022 onwards, they will introduce a Balance of Performance mechanism that is intended to allow LMDh specification cars to compete in WEC events, primarily with a focus on Le Mans – but that is a very different proposition.

          It is therefore inaccurate to say that the World Endurance Championship is using “spec” hybrid systems – it is the US racing series that IMSA administers that uses a spec system, not the ACO’s World Endurance Championship. In fact, one of the fundamental selling points from the ACO was that Hypercar entrants would be permitted to develop entirely bespoke hybrid systems for their cars.

          As an aside, it is worth noting that the IMSA’s hybrid system does have one area where it is arguably more advanced than in F1 – the durability of that system, given the hybrid systems that IMSA have specified are required to have a minimum lifespan of 22,000km between rebuilds.

          With regards to your complaint about they Hypercar class being “such a woefully horsepower/kW-limited joke” – part of the point of the new regulations was to reduce the power output because of safety concerns.

          The ACO had stated that the higher power LMP1 cars were getting to the point where their performance was outstripping the measures the ACO could put in place to protect a driver if an accident happened – with the problems being especially acute at the Circuit de la Sarthe, where in some areas (Tetre Rouge, for example), there were parts where the circuit could not be upgraded any further and they were at the limit of what could be done with the performance of the cars back then.

          The cut in power is therefore part of the process of intentionally slowing the cars down, in much the same way that the engine capacity was cut in F1 back in 2006 to cut the power of the cars to slow them down.

    5. They’re all going to look like fools when they crack Hydrogen power and it wins outright at Le Mans in a few years time.

      1. Stephen H, that sounds wildly optimistic to say the least.

        The earliest that a hydrogen powered car might compete at Le Mans would be 2024, which is when the rules around hydrogen cars are meant to be in place. They’ve still not written those regulations though, so there’s no guarantee that you’d even be allowed to enter a hydrogen powered car in “a few years time” – especially given the last major rule change, the Hypercar class proposal, ended up being published more than a year later than it was meant to.

        It’s also worth noting that ACO President Pierre Fillon has indicated that, even if the regulations are ready by 2024, he’s not entirely sure that there will be anybody entering a car in 2024. The only outfit that has indicated it would enter a hydrogen car is GreenGT and their H24 car, which would be a 2024 entrant – but the performance of that car is currently planned to be comparable to a GT3 car, or maybe a GTE category car.

        Furthermore, that entry would be under the “Garage 56” rules, which is intended for a “technological demonstrator” – which means that it wouldn’t actually be eligible to take victory at Le Mans, even if the performance was such that it was already not going to be remotely close to winning.

        At most, you might be lucky to see a single hydrogen powered car that might not even keep up with the GTE Pro class, let alone the more than 30 LMDh, Hypercar and LMP2 cars that would also be present, in 2024, and a car that, even if it could somehow finish first, would be ineligible for overall victory anyway.

    6. “Mercedes, the VW Group, Ford and General Motors are investing billions in colossal ‘gigafactories’ to meet battery and electrification needs across the Americas and Europe, bringing production out of its current home in Asia”

      And so the green revolution begins!

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