Dire straits for F1 engines

hondalogoFormula Ones are in a tough bind right now in regards to engines and one manufacturer who almost seems to be on their way out the door is Renault. Engine manufacturers haven’t exactly been flocking to F1s in recent years. Last year saw a record low three manufacturers compete in the sport with the exit of Cosworth, leaving only Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault.

This year, McLaren broke the monotony with the reintroduction of the Honda brand into F1s but the second oldest F1 manufacturer hasn’t exactly had a good time. The team already had a rough season last year with the new regulations proving to be extremely problematic for the team, especially with the new engine models being introduced. Switching to the returning Honda-brand caused even more problems which explains why the team has scored points only once in the first eight races of the season.

The Japanese engine manufacturers have been missing from the sport since 2009 after both Honda and Toyota bowed out of the sport. It seems that the Japanese manufacturers’ constant lack of success was becoming too unbearable in such a highly visible sport as F1. Honda’s return this year hasn’t exactly inspired more confidence in the return of other Japanese constructors but in the current state of the sport, having multiple engine suppliers would help. McLaren is currently the only Honda-powered team and though there is some talk of other teams switching for next season, their lack of success this year may prove rather disheartening in that regard.

RenaultLogoHowever, it’s Renault who seems to be slipping away from the greatest motorsport on the planet. Renault already dissolved its ownership of a make-team carrying its title back in 2011 when it stepped back as the driving force of the current Lotus team (though the team officially only became Lotus the following year due to brand name disputes with Tony Fernandes’ Lotus Racing/Caterham Team). And since then, the French car maker’s interest in the sport has been waning steadily.

Last year, Renault was the engine provider for four teams in the sport. That number has dropped down to two this year. Granted, one of its customer teams (Caterham) went bankrupt towards the end of the season but now even Lotus has stepped away to go into the Mercedes camp after a lacklustre season. Renault was another power unit supplier who had huge difficulties applying to the new engine regulations and with its star team, Red Bull, also faltering last year (after four years of near-total dominance) the writing seemed to be on the wall for the French constructor.

This year has been disastrous. Only Red Bull and Toro Rosso are even using Renault’s engines and even that commitment may be challenged (Toro Rosso raced with Ferrari engines until 2014). This seems to be leading to a void being created by the French supplier although at this time the team appears committed to at least the 2016 season, but between the teams blaming Renault for their engines burning up so fast that penalties are now inevitable and Renault blaming teams for making crap cars, their departure seems kind of inevitable.

Next year, Haas F1 will debut as a Ferrari-powered entry which leaves the question open: who (if anyone) could potentially replace Renault? The German automakers also backed out of the sport back in 2009 with BMW abandoning the Sauber team (another Ferrari customer). Despite years of denial (due to disagreements between the company and Bernie Ecclestone), Volkswagen has consistently been the most popular new entry into the sport (at least in the proverbial rumour mill) to challenge the overwhelming popularity of Mercedes who currently supports four teams: Force India, Williams, Lotus and their make-team Mercedes GP. VW may still be a bit off but it would appear that there is a window for some German car manufacturer to step in such as Audi.

Unfortunately, Formula Ones are still suffering the brunt of economic difficulties which is why there isn’t exactly a long list of applicants for new constructors for 2016 and with some current teams like Sauber still not confirmed for next season (though in fairness, their continued participation seems quite likely).

Addendum (June 29): Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn has stated that Renault will make its decision about continuing in F1s at the end of the year (Renault is still active in other motorsports series such as Formule E)

Addendum II (July 2): I’d like to acknowledge here that in this blog I overlooked the fact that Audi is owned by Volkswagen.

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