McLaren’s freshly announced engine partnership with Honda brings into focus the situation surrounding next year’s engine supplies.
Four teams have not yet confirmed which manufacturer they will use for power from 2014. Lotus, Sauber, Toro Rosso and Marussia are all still seeking final confirmation from their preferred choices.
With 11 teams on the grid and three engine manufacturers present next season, four teams for two manufacturers and three for the other appears to be the optimum and obvious solution.
However, upon further analysis it soon becomes clear that in reality this vision may be a little cloudier.
Renault has already confirmed deals with Red Bull, Caterham and Williams but has two more teams – Lotus and Toro Rosso – pitching for engines. If the Renaultsport management are to be taken at their word and a five team supply is indeed out of the question, that leaves one team left for either Mercedes or Ferrari.
In fact it’s this decision which is causing the logjam with the other teams’ engine supplies and Renault needs to make a decision quickly. But it’s not just a 50/50, random choice. Out of the two teams – Toro Rosso and Lotus – Lotus is the one most likely to deliver success and the worldwide promotion that follows. Yet on the other hand, Red Bull are pressuring the French firm to supply their sister team Toro Rosso and Red Bull is Renault’s number one, world championship-winning team.
Once this situation is resolved the rest of the grid will quickly be fully powered.
Mercedes, just like Renault, has three teams secured – Mercedes, McLaren and Force India – leaving space for the German manufacturer to pick up another should the need arise.
However, Ferrari has no engine supply deals agreed outside their works team. It’s very likely that they will supply their long-term partners Sauber and will very probably be contracted into supplying Toro Rosso should the Italian team be turned away by Renault.
This would leave Marussia, who can hardly cobble together enough money for an engine deal anyway, at the mercy of the generosity of Mercedes and Ferrari. Marussia hope that their signing of Ferrari academy driver, Jules Bianchi will persuade Ferrari into giving them a deal. But that is not a nailed-on certainly in even the slightest terms.
If this sounds complicated it’s simple when contrasted with the situation that would arise if Renault were to bow to Red Bull’s demands and Lotus were left at the doors of Mercedes and Ferrari.
The Enstone team’s first port of call would be Maranello, even if the name Lotus-Ferrari is anathema to the purists among you.
As bad as no Enstone team though? Because Ferrari have never in their history supplied a championship contending team (a rival) with engines and Mercedes would take some persuading to supply three championship contending teams when their own board are begging for success for their own team.
The die lies with Renault. When it is finally cast, one team reaches for the emergency plan.