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Sauber Fishing for Ferrari in the Pond of Turbo

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A few years ago, BMW had a Formula One team and they had made the move from engine partner with Williams F1 to a full-fledged team. Having purchased Peter Sauber's F1 team, BMW set realistic goals and marched forward in their quest with success and methodical achievements under the leadership of Dr. Mario Theissen. Then the economy collapsed and BMW went from the "Ultimate driving machine" to the "ultimate quitting machine" and sad faces could be found in all corners of F1 fan-dome.

Not all was lost because the group, based in Hinwill, was stocked with terrific engineers and support personnel. So much so that Peter Sauber couldn't bare the thought of his team going the way of Jordan or Minardi. Sauber stepped in with financing and re-purchased his team from BMW and promptly sought an engine supply from Ferrari. they've been using Ferrari engines since 2010 but one could argue that the previous iteration of Sauber were using Ferrari engines long ago and re-badged them as a Petronas engine.

The 2014 engine rules will change and the sport is set to see a turbo V6 configuration, that is if the sport's governing body, the FIA, and teams can all agree on the details and costs involved. Many teams already have prototypes of the V6 with Mercedes bragging of their advanced development in this area. The plot thickens as current supplier, Cosworth, isn't looking long for the F1 world as Williams F1 and Caterham F1 have moved on to another supplier and the new company called PURE has ceased development of their engine program for 2014. This leaves Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault as engine suppliers.

The cost of the new engine format has many teams concerned as the current configuration is established, balanced and the the cost of developing them as well as buying them from a supplier is as low as it has been in years. A new engine will cost a fortune to design and build and the customer teams, such as Sauber, will most likely bare the brunt of the R&D costs buried in the price of their engines. Even so, Sauber is seeking to continue with Ferrari as CEO Monisha Kaltenborn said:

"There is nothing in place, (but) it is a logical step for us to first go and talk to our current engine partner, because we do have a long history together," Kaltenborn said.
"But all is open because I don't think they themselves know about certain conditions. We have to wait.

"Our position, I think as all customer teams have made clear, is that the financial aspect is very important for us. We don't want to return to the times when you paid so much more than today for the engine.

"They (engine suppliers) will make it anyway, so I think you have to find an equitable solution for customers and for suppliers on what you can do on the pricing and developments costs."

The teams are currently in negotiations with the FIA to establish cost-cutting measures via cost-caps to prevent teams from spending too much on their racing program. Like many new programs, the initial costs are immense in design and development but over time, economies of scale catch up and stability in the regulations will lower the cost of the an engine supply program for teams like Sauber. Ferrari are willing to go one step further and supply chassis's as well as engines or run three cars per team but so far, there is no unanimous decision on that concept.

Cosworth re-entered Formula One at the behest of then FIA president Max Mosely as he sought to bring more teams into the sport based on a cost-cap format of $60M. At the time, Mosley said that Cosworth would need to supply five customers to make their engine program worthwhile but they are now reduced to two customers- Marussia and HRT. It seems unlikely that this will be a sustainable business model for Cosworth given the production costs of a brand new engine for 2014 and only two customers. Customers will be reticent to work with smaller engine producers when a big upheaval of the engine format occurs.

Sauber did admit that they spoke to VW about a possible supply but those talks have since ended with VW announcing their focus on Rally. Interestingly enough, when BMW owned the Sauber team, their engine department was second-to-none and while the German car maker may not be interested in racing in Formula 1, perhaps they would be interested in providing engines.

The change to the turbo V6 was suggested as a way to lure manufacturers into the sport either as an full team or engine supplier. The thinking was that a V6 turbo engine is a format that many car makers are using in their production road cars and F1 could be a wonderful proving ground for the technology. It remains to be seen if this bait on the hook will prompt any bites in the pond of the world's most exorbitantly expensive racing series.