It all started pretty much at the opening of the 2013 season with the announcement that Toro Rosso would be swapping their Ferrari engines with more Red Bull-friendly Renault units. The change seems long overdue. The partnership (Toro Rosso-Ferrari) seemed reasonable in the early days of the team’s existence, but once Red Bull made the switch to Renault power, Toro Rosso stuck with Ferrari. The whole paddock has been at relative odds to understand why. It’s not a particularly big deal, to be honest, but nevertheless it was a conundrum that presented a rather awkward contrast to their big brothers at Red Bull.
This announcement, along with Mclaren’s even more recent, and unsurprising, reveal that they will be renewing their storied partnership with Honda, has created a leaking floodgate with Williams the first team to spill out.
While they have most likely been ongoing, talks between Williams and Mercedes were only just confirmed within the last few days. If the combination of Williams and Mercedes doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, don’t worry, because it will be new to everyone.
Why is the change being made, and what does it mean for other teams like Marussia who are in the market for new engines? First off, the Williams-Mercedes partnership conveniently offsets Mclaren’s switch to Honda, so normality resumes there. But what of Toro Rosso’s switch? It is widely known that Renault is keen to reduce the number of teams it supplies to a preferred three, with four its limit. The inclusion of Toro Rosso will make Renault’s grand total of teams four: Red Bull, Lotus, Toro Rosso and Caterham. Manageable, but not ideal. Especially in a time when cost reduction, rather than profit, is the primary form of financial viability.
If Williams are to seal the Mercedes deal, the German company’s 2014 total will be four as well: Mclaren, Mercedes AMG, Force India and Williams. This leaves Ferrari with two teams and Marussia out in the cold.
Cosworth will not be participating in the 2014 campaign, thus leaving their one and only customer, Marussia, without an engine supplier, at least for the moment. When Jules Bianchi signed for the team in the wake of Luiz Razia’s sponsorship woes, red flags immediately went up, as speculation arose around a potential Ferrari engine deal for 2014. This is convenient, as Bianchi is part of Ferrari’s young driver program. They will want to invest in the team to ensure that Jules has all the tools he needs to succeed before he is considered for a future Ferrari drive. It all works out perfectly, right? Not quite.
Mclaren are also heavily invested in the Marussia team, with an extensive technical partnership accounting for all of the simulator work of the Marussia drivers and a significant amount of development correlation. Even though Mclaren are leaving Mercedes at the end of 2014, will Marussia just do one year with Mercedes engines and then move to Honda engines in 2015? Will they stay with Mercedes engines from next year on? Or, will Ferrari step in and supply them with engines themselves? There are a plethora of scenarios, all with massive implications for the sport.
The race to develop strong engines for next year’s regulations has put a premium on having just the right supplier. Will this place more importance on getting engine contracts than driver contracts? Will some drivers suffer as a result? 2014 will be a big year for the sport, arguably its most pivotal in terms of its future viability. Could 2015 be just as big? We will just have to wait and see!
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