Mark Martin from http://www.moneysupermarket.com looks at the future of McLaren and the possibility of the Woking team making their own engines from 2013
McLaren is set to build its own F1 engines for the start of the new environmental era in 2013 according to the latest rumours.
The British team has enjoyed a sixteen year relationship with Mercedes prior to this. However, despite the huge success of the partnership there have recently been tensions on the back of the changing business direction of Ron Dennis’s empire.
Mercedes has had a long held ambition to own a F1 team and bought shares in McLaren near the start of their partnership. Allegedly, the original intention was to gradually increase its shares in the team and wrestle control from Ron Dennis.
However, Dennis had aspirations to create a road car division for McLaren to build on the success of the McLaren F1 sports car which had been built in the early 1990s. Dennis knew that Mercedes would block any such move if it had influence over the direction of the company as McLaren would effectively be a new competitor. He therefore decided to sell shares in the team to members of the Bahraini royal family rather than Mercedes to fund the expansion of McLaren’s facilities in order to make his dream a reality according to reports.
Mercedes were said to be highly displeased and their concerns grew when McLaren’s sporting conduct was brought into question by the FIA. Ferrari claimed that McLaren had gained unlawful access to their designs and the FIA fined the British team $100 million. This was followed up by a conviction of lying to race stewards following the 2009 Australian Grand Prix.
The final nail in the coffin was aerodynamic performance of the 2009 McLaren chassis, with claims that Mercedes blamed the poor performance on McLaren’s own design department and their unorthodox team structure. The potential of the Mercedes engines were confirmed by Brawn GP, who won the championship despite not gaining any financial support from the German manufacturer who decided to switch allegiance with Ross Brawn offering to give them the controlling stake in his team. Brawn were therefore renamed Mercedes GP and McLaren agreed to buy back Mercedes shares in its company over a phased period ending in 2012.
The 2013 Regulations
Car Manufacturers involved in the sport had been voicing their concerns over costs and the relevance of the sport to road car technologies for a number of years. The global recession gave the manufacturers the perfect excuse to abandon the sport with Honda, Toyota and BMW all withdrawing from the sport in close succession.
The FIA therefore took action in an attempt to bring the manufacturers back by making the sport relevant to the environmental revolution sweeping the industry. It was therefore announced that engine sizes would be reduced from the current 2.4 litre V8 units to 1.6 litre turbo charged motors. This move was supported by Renault who claims that 75% of their road car engines will be small capacity turbo units by 2015. This is due to the fuel saving potential of such engines, which is becoming an increasingly important point of differentiation with fossil fuel prices escalating and some car insurance firms starting to take into account fuel efficiency when calculating insurance premiums according to Moneysupermarket.com.
It was also announced that the capacity of the current 60kw KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) units would be doubled to 120kw. These will therefore have a much greater impact on lap times, forcing car manufacturers to devote more resources into the development of them. The expectation is that advances with these units in F1 will ultimately be applicable to hybrid road car development. FIA President Jean Todt is hoping that the combination of both of these factors will be enough to bring car manufacturers back to the sport.
The un-missable opportunity
It was rumoured that McLaren considered buying the old BMW F1 engine facility in German at the end of 2009 but ultimately decided that this would go against their aims of building everything under one roof in a similar fashion to Ferrari. It is said that McLaren believe that this would bring performance benefits due to better co-ordination between chassis and engine design departments.
This ultimately fits into Dennis’s vision to have McLaren become a British version of Ferrari. This process began with the opening of McLaren Automotive and the launch of the McLaren MP4-12C, which was the first car the company had ever designed an engine for. This was rumoured to be a trial to test the teams’ abilities before committing itself to building its own engines for its F1 team in 2013.
Building engines from this point not only coincides with the end of their agreement with Mercedes but would also enable them to enter the F1 engine industry at a time when prior experience would not be a huge advantage, with all engine manufacturers being forced to come up with new designs for the new formula. This coincidental timing is surely an opportunity that McLaren can not pass up; with many insiders surprised that Dennis has not attempted to become an independent manufacturer prior before now. Will this also see the end of the McLaren silver livery, and return to McLaren Orange from the 1960s which was used at the launch of the MP4-12C? Only time will tell.