Analysis: F1 structure means tight vote on standard engine

As the debate over standard engines rages on in the Formula 1 world, Jonathan Noble takes a detailed look at whether the the idea has a chance of becoming a reality.

A standard engine in Formula 1 has been one of the main talking points of the paddock in recent weeks, as Bernie Ecclestone and Jean Todt push on with their plan to reduce costs for the smaller teams.

While some have perceived it as an empty threat, aimed simply at forcing manufacturers to reduce their current prices, Todt made it clear last weekend that he was confident a tender process could come soon.

Speaking to media in Mexico, he said: “At the moment it is a consultation. If they say we want it and we are happy, then we will move along with this consultation.

"We will propose it at the next Strategy Group meeting, and we are quite optimistic that it will be voted in favour, and then go to the F1 Commission and then FIA WMSC (World Motor Sport Council)."

But is there really, despite clear opposition from some teams, a chance that the standard engine could be a reality?

Strategy Group

F1's governance structure means that the first stage Todt/Ecclestone need to get it past is F1's Strategy Group – but this should well be a formality.

The Strategy Group is made up of 18 votes. There is one vote each for six teams (currently Mercedes, Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari, Williams and Force India), and then six votes each for the FIA and FOM.

For a 2017 rule change, there needs to be a majority decision. This means that if Ecclestone and Todt align then they can overcome any opposition the teams might have.

That would mean the real battleground being saved for the next stage – the F1 Commission – which would have to vote on whatever came out of the Strategy Group.

F1 Commission

The F1 Commission was revamped for 2013, as part of the new bi-lateral agreements that Bernie Ecclestone put in place with the teams.

Its role remains identical to before: where it has the authority to approve or reject regulations that are proposed to it following discussions at either the Strategy Group, or the Technical or Sporting working groups.

It has no power to amend rules – and its role is to act as a buffer to prevent unpopular rules getting through.

As Mercedes motorsport boss Toto Wolff explains: “Under the current governance and how the F1 Commission is being set up; there is a reason it is set up like this. It is to make sure that there is no erratic decision making.”

In its current format, there are a total of 26 votes – and for rules to go forward to the FIA World Motor Sport Council for approval there need to be 18 votes in favour.

These votes are split as follows: the teams (12 votes), race promoters (8), sponsors (2), engine manufacturers (1), tyre supplier (1), the FIA (1) and FOM (1).

The situation is more complicated than this, though, because there are no longer 12 teams present on the grid – with Caterham and HRT having closed.

Sources have confirmed that the 12-vote team block remains – and the way the system works is that the spare two votes are awarded to whichever camp has majority support.

So if, for example, a vote on a new rule is split 6-4 between the current 10 teams, then the votes of HRT and Caterham would go with the majority – so the total counted in favour would be eight.

This small detail could prove crucial in getting the standard engine vote across the line.
Vote dynamics

The appointment of many of the representatives is influenced by Bernie Ecclestone – which includes the race promoters (four from Europe, four from outside), and the sponsors (currently Rolex and Philip Morris).

Pirelli is the tyre supplier, while Renault represents the engine manufacturers.

Judging where loyalties are right now – and that both Ecclestone and Todt are in favour of the standard engine – then there could already be a decent haul of votes in the bag.

With support from the FIA, FOM, Pirelli, one sponsor (Rolex) and eight promoters, there would already be 12 votes of the 18 needed to get the support needed for it go to the FIA WMSC for ratifying.

Add to the mix that Force India and both Red Bull teams would likely vote in favour, then it leaves Ecclestone and Todt chasing just three votes to get the engine through.

Teams split

F1's manufacturers who have invested millions in the current turbo hybrid rules are unlikely to be in favour of introducing an engine that could make their engines obsolete. For should the balance of performance rules make the standard engine just as competitive, or even better, then it would mean no incentive for smaller teams to pay more for what the car-makers can give them.

It can therefore be presumed that as things stand Mercedes, Ferrari (plus its title sponsor Philip Morris), McLaren and Renault – plus the engine manufacturers' vote – would be against. Add to that mix too that Sauber is not in favour.

That then leaves Manor and Williams as floating voters, but even if they came out in favour then it would not be enough to hit the magic 18 figure.

The team vote would be split 5/5 – and Todt/Bernie would be one short of what they need as they only have a total of 17 votes in favour

Extra votes

This is where the extra votes available from Caterham and HRT could come in – because if Ecclestone and Todt can persuade just one or two of the doubting teams, or even a manufacturer, to switch over, then the situation changes dramatically.

Suddenly a 6-4 vote becomes an 8-4 vote – and the standard engine plan for 2017 would get through despite opposition from manufacturers.

Avoiding vote

Mercedes has already hinted, for example, that it is open to listening to what the FIA has to say on the matter.

Mercedes motorsport boss Toto Wolff said: “I don't want a hard line standpoint because I can understand where they are coming from.

“It is worth sitting down, without any threats, and saying what we do want to achieve here?

"What do we want to achieve in a reduction in engine costs? Do we want to change the current engine regulations because they are too complex? Let's discuss it.

“Do we think they need to be noisier? Let's discuss it. But I think it needs to be structured approach. Full stop.”

Ultimately, the fact that a vote in the F1 Commission could be very tight may well act as the impetus for a focusing of minds to find ways to reduce engine costs – and avoid the risk of the standard engine getting put in the rules.

And doing that would keep everyone happy, without the need for a single vote taking place.

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Series Formula 1
Article type Analysis