Germany’s Motorsport Total runs a popular feature every Monday after a Grand Prix. It’s called “Who had the most disrupted sleep last night?”. It usually names the one, who must feel really down after the weekend. The name most often mentioned this year was Nico Rosberg, but after Singapore it was Bernie who got the honors. Unless there’ll be a surprise announcement at Silverstone, I can’t think of anyone else being named next Monday.
If you listen to the noises coming from the Red Bull camp, it sounds more and more likely that they will pack in for good after Abu Dhabi and F1 will lose four cars, four good drivers and one team that could at least occasionally challenge the suffocating Merc dominance. All those who shout “good riddance” now will eat their words when they’ll have to watch three Mercedes drivers on the podium – at Monza.
Mr. E must feel like Gorbatchev in 1991. His empire is falling apart. Even with Haas coming in, a Red Bull exit would mean he’ll have eighteen cars at best, and looking at Lotus’ shenanigans on Thursday, it looks more likely to be just sixteen. The Renault takeover is all but done yet, and keeping Maldonado and letting Grosjean go does not hint at a take-over by a French manufacturer.
He will also be down to two engine manufacturers. The Honda unit still has to earn the name and is present in only two cars and Renault, if at all, will also only be present in two cars. Everyone else is running Merc or Fezza. F1 has become the Indy Racing League on steroids, just with fewer cars and more boring tracks.
So what can he do to save his empire? Of course he can try to pressure Ferrari into supplying engines to Red Bull and Toro Rosso, but Mateschitz won’t accept second-tier stuff and Ferrari won’t deliver up-to-date versions. Most likely outcome is that we’ll see a Red Bull branded car at Le Mans very soon.
That’s where everyone is headed anyway. VW is present with two brands, Toyota’s there, BMW is seriously considering to enter as well, as seems Hyundai, if their completely bonkers prototype at the IAA in Frankfurt is anything to go by. Does anyone seriously believe Merc will continue blowing hundreds of millions into spanking a collection of hapless privateers in F1, when all their premium market opponents are duking it out at Le Mans?
Back in the day, when I was appearing on podcasts occasionally, I said it several times. If any manufacturer is interested in using motorsport to do R&D that will feed back into their road cars, WEC is the place to do it. Most manufacturers seem to think the same.
With that ill-fated V6 idea, F1 has lost its identity. Manufacturers came and went, with the notable exception of Ferrari, but the core have always been those, who Enzo Ferrari used to refer to as garagisti. Williams, McLaren, Sauber – that are all teams who’ve been created for the sole purpose of building F1 cars and race them. Others have already been killed, like Brabham, March or Arrows. A new one is coming with Haas and in their current guise of Toro Rosso, Minardi will most likely be lost forever.
What is needed is something that I despise in literature and TV series – a big honking reset button. More Merc dominance will most likely have to be endured in 2016 and 2017, unless they bugger off to Le Mans as well, but for 2018 F1 should return to its own identity. Let the WEC handle the hybrid engine and go back to normal internal combustion units without KERS gimmicks. And give the sport back to the garagisti. Let the big fellas duke it out in WEC and WRC.
An uncluttered engine technology might also bring back some of the bespoke racing engine manufacturers. Ever heard of Cosworth, Ilmor?
Stop losing sleep Bernie, sack the Strategy Group and fix the damn sport!