Ross Brawn: F1 will keep hybrid engines after all
A few months ago, Ross Brawn, managing director of motorsports at Formula 1, said F1 shouldn’t follow road-car technology but instead move towards cheaper, noisier engines – but I found that pretty problematic at the time. Although his reasons for the move – reducing costs and increasing competition – made a lot of sense, it was never going to be a popular view.
That’s because Formula 1 is as much about marketing and R&D as it is about racing, and without relevance to road-car technology, F1 wouldn’t be as attractive to teams such as Mercedes and Renault – and could even lose them as a result. After all, having a fun, loud but unrelatable engine wouldn’t help them sell cars.
So how does F1 make racing fun and keep costs down, but still attract the attention of fans? That’s the question I asked Ross Brawn, and it turns out he still thinks there’s room for hybrid technology after all. According to Brawn, hybrid engines will stay, but they’ll need to be simpler, noisier and easier to explain to the fans.
“We have a lot of fans who say ‘we want to go back to normally aspirated engines’, and what you’ve got to do is ask the next question of ‘Why is that?’ And it’s because it creates more emotion with the noise and the revs,” Brawn said.
“So the manufacturers realise it’s got to be a balance of relevance but still [has to be] able to engage the passion of the fans,” he added. “I think the new engine won’t be going back to a normally aspirated V12, whatever the heart might say, but it will be more exciting and more accessible than we have now.”
“I think the manufacturers involved in Formula 1 know that that’s a key element, because they need to have a successful Formula 1,” the former team boss continued. “It’s no good having an engineering exercise that demonstrates your technology if nobody is watching it.”
What’s more, Brawn suggested that F1 coverage and additional rules could also play a role in making F1 more exciting. “Hybrid technology is probably going to be retained because it offers some relevance, it offers the engagement of manufacturers, but can we turn it around a little bit and make it a tactical quality?” Brawn continued.
“This is not widely known but [Valtteri] Bottas got past [Lance] Stroll in Baku because he saved his battery up and used it on that last section. He used it tactically. Well, we should have all known that on the TV, it should have been something we demonstrated. So the hybrid side for sure could provide some interest in that respect.”
Getting the teams to join in
F1 is going to retain hybrid tech to some degree, then – but how does F1 bargain with teams to create a perfect blend of tech and racing? Well, it turns out F1 doesn’t do compromises.
“It’s not a question of finding a soft middle ground where you don’t offend anyone, because I don’t think that will be the best solution,” said Brawn. And he should know, as he led Ferrari during one of most successful periods ever, and did it – as all winning F1 teams do – by pushing the rules to their limits.
Formula 1 is changing, and alongside new ways of bringing the sport to fans, existing rules will need to be reanalysed. And as a former team boss, and one of the most respected people in the sport, Ross Brawn is the perfect person to do it.