Not only does August mark the start of the driver silly-season, but also that of the engines. The teams who are supplied with power-plants – the non-manufacturers – are looking carefully at their contracts and wondering if the grass is any greener elsewhere. Two teams that have come into the frame over the past weekend are Williams and Red Bull Racing. Williams currently use Toyota and have apparently asked the Japanese outfit if they can be released early from their deal.
Williams have been partnered with Toyota since 2007 after the squad endured a very difficult year with Cosworth units in 2006. Since 2007, the team have progressed back up the points ladder and this year looks to be a bumper season. Currently Williams rest on 29.5 points, which is already more than their 2008 total and only 3.5 shy of their 2007 total. With six races left to run it is surely very possible that the 33 points benchmark set two years ago will be beaten.
However, Toyota have admitted that Williams have requested an early release from their contract, and John Howett has stated that as long as Toyota are not financially burdened in any way then they will not put up any obstacles.
Williams have been rumoured to be wanting to rekindle their relationship with Renault, an engine manufacturer the team has enjoyed great successes with in the past. The Grove-based team has taken five constructor’s titles with Renault power, although it should be noted this was back when Adrian Newey was designing their chassis. It could also be possible that Ferrari or Mercedes-Benz are on the cards, although it would be hard to understand why Williams would choose Ferrari over Toyota, and Mercedes are already supplying more than their FIA-quota of squads.
It seem very unlikely that Frank Williams would want to return to Cosworth power, even if it is very cheap. But with new question marks hanging over the future of Toyota in Formula One, it is understandable why Frank and Patrick may be looking elsewhere. Another reason for a possible move could be put down to KERS. Toyota have no desire to run the system, and therefore their engines do not have have the necessary capability of running such a device. If Williams want to run their flywheel KERS next season, it may be beneficial to have an engine that is already set up to take such a piece of technology.
Also rumoured to be thinking about a change of engine for next season is Red Bull Racing. The Milton Keynes-based team currently use Renault units, and have done since 2007 – the same year Williams joined forces with Toyota. And just like Williams, Red Bull have grown with their engine and again, just like Williams have done in the past, Red Bull are beating their factory team in the standings this year.
However, this weekend has seen Sebastian Vettel suffer two engine failures, and four overall for the season thus far. This has put the German pilot at a serious disadvantage for the remaining six events, as two engines will have to be spread very thinly. It may be that Vettel has to take a new engine and suffer a grid-penalty, especially considering how hard the Spa Francorchamps and Monza circuits are on the power units.
Again though, it is hard to imagine who Red Bull might go with for 2010 if they do indeed want to change. In 2006 they used Ferrari units, but when Adrian Newey joined, it is believed he insisted on using Renault power as he knows exactly how it all works and can design a better car around their engine. Therefore, Ferrari were passed on to Red Bull sister team, Scuderia Toro Rosso. It seems strange though that Red Bull would want to move away from an engine supplier that on the whole, are getting the job done. The engine failures in Valencia will not have helped the relationship, but one cannot ignore 3 wins, 98.5 points and a P2 in the constructors so far in 2009, with the potential for more in the remaining races.
Of the other engine suppliers, they are only getting thinner as manufacturers withdraw from the sport. Although Honda and BMW did not supply customer teams, their loss only means that they will not be supplying customer teams in the future. Ferrari only supply themselves and Scuderia Toro Rosso, and therefore have the capability of supplying one or two more teams (assuming the FIA allow it), but if the reason for the move was KERS, then you would have to think twice about using the Scuderia units – Ferrari stopped using the device after it proved unreliable*.
Mercedes-Benz have been a real powerhouse this year, supplying their part-owned McLaren team, Force India through a technical partnership deal signed in 2008, and more recently they took on Brawn in order to help the survival of the team. In order to supply the Brawn team though, Mercedes had to seek permission from Force India boss Vijay Mallya, and the FIA who normally only allow manufacturers to have one other customer.
It is unlikely that Mercedes-Benz will be able to break their agreement with Force India, and the team will surely do anything they could to prevent such a move if it was to ever be attempted. Brawn too would be crazy to split from Mercedes, especially as they are winning the 2009 championships at the moment and have been very reliable all year. And if Mercedes can export their KERS with the engines for next season (and assuming the device stays) then based on the reliability of the KERS currently in the McLaren, you would have to say that Mercedes are the best choice of engine suppliers at the moment.
McLaren-Mercedes, Force India-Mercedes, Brawn-Mercedes, Williams-Mercedes, Red Bull Racing-Mercedes… Any more for any more?