This time next year Formula One will be using 1.6 litre turbocharged V6 engines after dropping the current 2.4 litre V8s. The new regulations have been set in stone for some time but that hasn't stopped them changing repeatedly and F1's boss Bernie Ecclestone has revealed that there may be more modifications to come.
The new regulations were first announced by FIA in December 2010 and at that time the replacement was due to be a four-cylinder, 1.6-litre turbocharged engine. It faced immediate criticism over fears that it would sound so different to the current engines that it would drive fans away. Ecclestone was so concerned that he revealed to Pitpass' business editor Christian Sylt that he "may have to sue the FIA." He believed the decision to introduce the new engines breached his contract with the governing body and he had plenty of support.
In June 2011 Pitpass revealed that F1's race organisers had taken the historic step of forming a union - the Formula One Promoters Association - and its chairman Ron Walker promptly threatened to switch to IndyCar if the engine sound changes in 2014. The following month the FIA improved the specification to the turbocharged V6s but yet another change was still to come.
The technical regulations originally required the V6 engines to run on electric power only in the pitlane but Pitpass also revealed that this too was opposed by Ecclestone who said it would be dangerous if cars could not be heard approaching. Finally, in November last year, FIA president Jean Todt confirmed that the introduction of electric power in the pitlane "will be delayed for around three years." There may be more to come.
In February, giving an example of how F1 can be self-destructive, McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh said "every other weekend we seem to say 'shall we really go V6 or shall we stay with V8s?'" The manufacturers are set on them and are adamant that the sound of the new engines will not harm F1's appeal. Ecclestone isn't so sure. In a telephone interview he told Sylt that the only way to guarantee this may be to artificially adjust the tone of the V6s.
Writing in US magazine Autoweek, Sylt quotes Ecclestone saying "maybe we can make them sound like the current engines." It certainly isn't his first choice and the race organisers also aren't in favour of it.
Walker adds that in 2011 "Todt told me in Australia that the next thing is they are going to have a hybrid. I said what about the noise and he said they will put a squeak box on the back of the car. God almighty!"
Artificially enhancing the engine sound would seem to be a rather ignominious touch to engines which have cost Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault a combined total of around £330m ($500m) to develop. Ecclestone says that if the manufacturers have to spend more tweaking the engines it could force them out of F1.
"The trouble is that manufacturers have spent a lot of money on the engines. What I tried to say to them the other day is that they will have to spend a lot more money if they get it wrong... The danger is that what will happen is what always happens with the manufacturers which is that if it doesn't work they will stop," he says.
The real question is how serious is Ecclestone. He insists that "there is a danger that the public may not visit the races because the sound isn't what it was. I absolutely think it is a real possibility. People like what we have got. They like everything about it." He adds that he "can't stop the V6 engines. The regulations have been passed and approved." Ecclestone seems resigned to them but Walker certainly does not.
"We are fighting our battle with the FIA over the sound of the proposed new engine to be implemented in 2014," says Walker. "As Bernie will attest, it sounds like a lawnmower engine, and we will be fighting this tooth and nail. So, I am planning to get all the promoters together in Geneva some time together before June to work out an agenda in order to preserve the status of the circuits once and for all."
One of the reasons for the difference in sound is that the new engines will rev to 15,000rpm which is 3,000 less than the V8s. "What Ron is saying is that you have to make sure that the engines will make it to 16,000 revs," says Ecclestone. "That was agreed and now we know they won't rev to anything like that. The fuel flow has been agreed so even if you have big tanks it still can't rev [to 16,000rpm]. That is what Ron is talking about and he is 100% right. I heard the Ferrari engine. I heard the car they have and the new one. So did Todt and he said anyway, you don't hear the noise on television."
This time next year spectators at the track may have a thing or two to say about that.