When Lewis Hamilton sealed his world champion status on the final corner of Sunday’s race, it marked a scintillating end to an F1 season which has been one of the most exciting in years. Shaking off criticisms that the sport has become little more than a boring procession devoid of excitement, here was evidence that the competition can still deliver thrills and spills.
But if you thought all was rosy in the world of motorsport, then think again. The competition could now be facing a huge political crisis as some of its biggest teams threaten to quit in response to reported cost-cutting plans to help smaller teams remain competitive through the 2010 introduction of a standard engine.
Leading the chorus of disapproval is Ferrari, which, in a statement issued last week claimed that the introduction of a standard power-train would deprive the team of its reason for existing: competition and technological development. Ferrari has to say this. In truth, F1 is already so heavily proscribed that there is far more interesting step-change engineering under the bonnet of a production vehicle. But an F1 victory remains a potent symbol of technological pre-eminence.
Ferrari is not alone. Toyota has also voiced its displeasure and the Formula One Teams Association has (FOTA) has indicated that it will have nothing to do with the development of standardised engines.
The FIA response has been bullish. In a statement issued last week, the governing body’s boss Max Mosley claimed that the Ferrari board has been misinformed and that a standard engine is just one option. Other ideas, he said, include an engine from a single supplier or the supply of customer engines to independent teams at less than €5m per season.
On the face of it, the third option would probably be the least objectionable to Ferrari as it would enable the team to continue the process of technological refinement that it holds so dear.
So what happens next? There is the suggestion that there may be room for compromise, with Mosley challenging the teams to come up with their own cost cutting measures if they don’t like his. There is also the possibility that the clout of Ferrari will force the FIA to back down. This is perhaps unlikely, though not without precedent. In the 1986 season the governing body was forced to abandon plans to replace V12 with V10 engines.
Whatever happens, it looks like F1’s design rules are likely to become even more proscriptive. And while this may not be the greatest news for engineers; if the cars racing round the track are differentiated more by their drivers than their engines, racing fans could be in for a treat.