The new raft of environmental technical regulations set to be introduced into Formula One in time for the 2013 season has seen a number of car manufacturers investigate the possibility of entering the sport, one of which is believed to be Tata. So why are these changes proving to have such an appeal to car manufacturers? And why is now the right time for Tata?
The 2013 regulation changes
The 2013 technical regulations will see the biggest overhaul in the sport in over 20 years. The most significant of these changes will be to the engine with engine sizes set to be reduced from the current 2.4 litre V8 engines to 1.6 litre turbo motors. It is believed that this will address the sports problem of lacking relevance to the road car world. This belief has been supported by Renault motorsport officials who have revealed that 75% of their road car engines will be small capacity turbo engines similar to those used in F1 by 2015. This is due to the potential fuel efficiency improvements associated with this style of engine which is becoming an increasing customer consideration in light of increasing fuel prices and the fact that car insurance firms are beginning to take account of environmental impact when calculating insurance premiums.
The initial concern was that this would not be appropriate for Formula One given that it is the pinnacle of motorsport and therefore needs to feature the fastest racing cars. These new motors will be capable of 650bhp which is 100bhp less than the current engines; however this shortfall will be addressed by the doubling in capacity of the energy recovery KERS system from 60kw to 120kw. This means that KERS will have a much greater impact on lap times and teams will have no option other than to run the device if they wish to be competitive. KERS obviously has the potential to have a significant impact on road cars, with Ferrari having already utilized its experience of KERS to develop their first ever hybrid road car called the 599.
However, this has not dispelled fears amongst fans that the rules will not be appropriate for Formula One. The same can not be said for car manufacturers, who like Renault and Ferrari, can see the potential F1 will now have to enable them to develop road relevant environmental technologies. Volkswagen and McLaren have been the most vocal in their support for the changes, with Volkswagen believed to be set to enter F1 with either its Audi or Porsche brands supporting either the Williams or Red Bull teams. McLaren meanwhile is believed to be planning to design its own F1 engines for the first time and shed its links to Mercedes Benz with whom they have been enduring an increasingly difficult relationship in recent years. Lotus is set to follow a similar route by designing its own engines and shedding its relationship with Renault in time for 2013. Many motoring experts have supported the beliefs of these companies that F1 involvement will be a distinct competitive advantage to car manufacturers in the coming years as environmental technologies take precedent.
The increasing involvement of India in motor racing
India did not become involved in Formula One until 2005 when Narain Karthikeyan joined the Jordan Toyota grand prix team. Karthikeyan’s solid debut season which included a 4th place finish at the American grand prix ignited Indian interest in F1. Kingfisher boss Vijay Mallya recognized the potential of Formula One as a marketing platform in light of this increased interest and actually bought this team just two years later, transforming them into Force India F1. With Giancarlo Fisichella, Adrian Sutil and Tonio Luizzi at the wheel the team have made significant strides and have even achieved pole positions and podiums, a feat which seemed impossible for the small team prior to Mallya’s involvement.
However, Mallya stated that he would not hire an Indian driver until the time was right, citing his teams inability to regularly challenge for wins as the core reason. Karthikeyan had to make do with racing in other motorsport categories instead, becoming a regular race winner in A1GP for Team India and proving his potential to F1 team bosses. This has led to his return to F1 for the 2011 season with the Hispania Racing outfit. This return has been aided by sponsorship from Tata and it is therefore not inconceivable that the Indian car manufacturer could increase its involvement in the near future. The presence of an Indian driver and an Indian team, along with the inaugural Indian grand prix which is set to take place in 2011 means that now is the perfect time for Tata to become the first Indian engine manufacturer to produce engines for motorsports pinnacle category.
Tata’s plans for F1 Racing
Tata recorded revenues of $20 billion in 2009-10 on the back of the acquisition of the Jaguar Land Rover Group and the launch of the Tata Nano (the world’s cheapest new car) in 2008. It is clear that the company has its sights set on expansion and it plans to do this by becoming the answer to rising costs of motoring. The Nano was an attempt to do this through reducing the basic cost of buying a car, but the latest Tata prototypes have revolved around fuel saving technologies as proven by the Tata OneCat which is powered by compressed air.
Developing hybrid and fuel saving technologies for Formula One which is gaining an increasingly large following in the growing Indian market would therefore appear to fit perfectly into Tata’s plans. The marketing associated with sponsorship Narain Karthikeyan means that Tata’s involvement in F1 is not too dissimilar from that of Lotus who are planning on becoming a fully fledged F1 car/engine producer in time for F1’s big technical revolution.
Force India would be the obvious candidate to receive Tata engines and create the ultimate Indian team. However, many Indian motor racing officials have suggested that it is wise for the country not to put all of its country support behind just one team. This could see Tata actually buy into the Hispania team which has been struggling financially since its launch. The company already has a relationship with the team through the sponsorship of Karthikeyan and this would therefore make sense. Surely two Indian teams is better than one?