Formula 1: Mercedes’ decision questions new engine rules

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Formula 1 (Photo by JOHN THYS/AFP via Getty Images)
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Formula 1 (Photo by JOHN THYS/AFP via Getty Images) /

With electric vehicles in overdrive and Mercedes set to pull out of Formula E, where does the future stand for Formula 1 power?

After Mercedes won both Formula E titles, the Silver Arrows made the perplexing decision to leave the all-electric racing series at the end of next season.

The team won both titles in only their second year in the category, which has allowed the German manufacturer to develop electric technology for the road in a motorsport environment.

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Now Mercedes have had enough of electric street racing and will leave the series. They told Reuters:

"“As part of the new strategic direction, the brand has deliberately chosen to shift resources for this accelerated ramp-up of electrification, including the development of three electric-only architectures to be launched in 2025.“Therefore, Mercedes will reallocate resource away from its ABB FIA Formula E World Championship programme and towards applying the lessons learned in competition to product development in series.”"

At the same time, Mercedes will continue pilling money into the gas-guzzling sport of Formula 1.

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This does not seem to make much sense, as the Brackley-based team are leaving a championship that will enable them to develop their electric-powered cars for the future for a small fortune and focusing more energy and resources into a series that seemingly does not have a fully-electric future.

This raises the question: what do the new Formula 1 engine regulations have in store if Mercedes are prepared to leave Formula E?

It is clear that the negotiations between the teams, Formula 1 and the FIA have reached a logjam, with little or no news about the ultimate direction of the new regulations and a potential one-year delay to their implementation.

According to reports, the tension between Red Bull and Mercedes is not just in the title fight but in the future direction of Formula 1.

Planet F1 have claimed that the four engine manufacturers are divided over the future of the sport, with Mercedes and Alpine wanting an evolution of the V6 engines with a six-cylinder design and increased hybrid element.

Meanwhile, Red Bull and latterly Ferrari have opted for a big change with an endothermic four-cylinder engine and an even larger hybrid element.

Both proposals include using synthetic fuels and a large hybrid element.

But, and there is a big “but” here, neither proposals deal head-on with the realities faced by carmakers all over the world that fully electric cars are the way forward.

In truth, with western countries set to ban the sale of diesel and petrol cars within the next four to 19 years, all-electric cars will dominate the roads within the next 10 to 15 years.

So if Mercedes are committed to a fully-electric future, why would they quit Formula E in exchange for a hybrid future in Formula 1?

While the entertainment value of Formula 1 has been compromised over the past decade, it has remained the pinnacle of motorsport and automotive technology.

Now that is under threat, as it is likely that the new rules will not be ambitious enough, and more crucially, not be relevant enough to the cars of the next 50 years.

With that being said, synthetic fuels do and will have a place in the global transport system, as ships, planes and initially trains will likely run on synthetically produced biofuels. In that sense, Formula 1 will be doing crucial groundwork in helping to develop these fuels.

And while it would make sense for Formula 1 to go electric now, the role fulfilled by Formula E means that cannot happen.

The hope now is that whatever decision is agreed upon is right for the sport both in terms of its entertainment value and its global position as the most famous motorsport on the planet.

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But whatever synthetic-hybrid is agreed upon, it feels wrong to me that for the first time in my lifetime, Formula 1 will not be the most relevant motorsport on planet — and even stranger that Mercedes has just left that motorsport’s company.