Formula 1: British supercar firm Aston Martin will 'probably' enter sport in 2021

By Andrew BensonChief F1 writer
Aston Martin CEO Andy Palmer with Red Bull team principal Christian Horner
Aston Martin chief executive Andy Palmer (left) with Red Bull team principal Christian Horner - the two have been working together to influence engine rule changes

Aston Martin says it will "probably" enter Formula 1 in 2021 as an engine supplier if the rules are changed in a way that makes it affordable.

F1 bosses have proposed new engine rules to reduce cost and complexity and attract new entrants, but existing manufacturers have objected.

Aston Martin boss Andy Palmer said: "It moves from probably I wouldn't propose it to the board to probably I would."

He said existing rules were "annoying the public and driving them from F1".

Palmer wants to use F1 as a marketing platform as he seeks to expand Aston Martin's range of road cars.

But he added that he and the Red Bull team were acting in concert to try to influence a change in engine rules.

Aston Martin has this year had a sponsorship arrangement with the former world champions, who are vocal opponents of the turbo hybrid engines used in F1 since 2014, and the car company will next year become the team's title sponsor.

"The issue is making the sport entertaining again," Palmer said in an exclusive interview with BBC Sport.

"Which means put the driver back at the centre of the sport, whereas today we are talking about a turbocharger being the centre of the sport. I'm an engineer and I love the technology, but it's nuts.

"So at the very simplistic level we are a destructive force that I hope can be used to bring back the sport to what it was when I fell in love with it 40 years ago, which was entertainment with a concentration on the pilot and the chassis and aerodynamic surfaces and, yes, there is a little competitive advantage in the engine but it's not all about the engine."

Expressing a view that some will find controversial, he said: "The sport is certainly not about the driver in the way it used to be. That would be my major point. (Are fans) being driven away by the engine? Well, I don't remember back in the day the sport being called boring because you had the same people winning week-in, week-out."

When it was pointed out to him that the sport has gone through many eras of domination and that there were many factors behind declining audiences in some countries, he said: "You can have the argument you don't have the engine sound you used to have, the unreliability of some of the engines, the grid penalties, which are really hard to understand.

"How do you get demoted 35 places on the grid which only has 20 cars on it? So there are some absurdities.

"I grant you it is not all about the technical side of the engine but in the end you have to disrupt the sport back into being an entertainment that people understand in a modern era where people are looking at five different screens.

"Obviously there is a commercial reason for me doing it and a commercial reason for Red Bull doing it. But essentially our intentions align and it's fair to say we love the sport."

Why are Aston Martin looking at F1?

Palmer, who has in the past year made Aston Martin profitable for the first time, plans to expand their range of road cars.

Part of that is his ambition to position the historic British sportscar brand as a direct and realistic competitor to the likes of Ferrari and McLaren, who compete in F1, in the market for mid-engined supercars.

He said Aston Martin had been involved in discussions over the post-2020 F1 engine rules and had made two submissions - on its own behalf and in partnership with independent engine builder Cosworth, which last competed in F1 in 2013.

Governing body the FIA and the F1 Group have proposed maintaining the current architecture of a V6 turbo but to make it simpler, cheaper and noisier, in part by removing the ground-breaking but complex hybrid device that recovers energy from the turbo, the MGU-H.

Palmer supports that plan but said Aston Martin would only be able to afford an F1 involvement if there was a limitation on engine development by restricting the number of hours companies could use engine test-bed 'dynomometers'. Without such a limit, which has been discussed but was not in the draft proposal, Palmer said Aston could not enter F1.

He would not put an exact figure on the annual F1 engine budget that would be acceptable for Aston Martin by 2021, but said it had to be in "the 10s of millions".

If the new engine rules met his criteria, he said: "It moves into the realms of possibility and I need to take it to the board, and it is an arrogant CEO that contemplates what a board decision will be.

"Obviously I am taking my board on a journey. We discuss it every quarter and I am warming them up to the possibility."

Where is F1 at on the rules?

Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault, three of the four existing manufacturers in F1, have pushed back against the new engine proposal because they say it is effectively a brand new design which would incur fresh development costs. They also do not want to sacrifice the investment they have made in the current technology.

FIA president Jean Todt said he believed the current engines were "too complicated and too expensive" but emphasised that the outline rules published were a proposal. He said he "sympathised" with the manufacturers' position.

"At the moment, it is a discussion," Todt said. "In a normal world, good sense should prevail and we should be able to find an agreement for what should be the engine of the future.

"We have put some parameters - cheaper, simpler, louder, road-relevant and keep the integrity of the system so the current development would not have to be thrown away.

"That is what we want to achieve and it is team work to achieve that. The FIA is involved, the experts at the F1 Group, and we speak with manufacturers and potential future suppliers.

"It would be unfair to undervalue the thoughts of the existing engine suppliers involved and listen to those who think they may come. For me, it is important to see what should be the best evolution of the engine for the future but by respecting the investment of those who have made the investment so far."


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