After returning Aston Martin to profit, Andy Palmer envisions the British supercar maker entering Formula One as an engine supplier by 2021. F1 is trying to lure well-known brands such as Aston Martin and Porsche to the race series by promising to make the sport’s complicated and expensive hybrid engines simpler and therefore cheaper. F1 is a risky move for any automaker, but as Palmer told Automotive News Europe UK Correspondent Nick Gibbs, Aston Martin needs the F1 marketing magic to promote its new mid-engine supercar that is due in 2020.
You've been waiting to find out what the new Formula One rules will be in 2021 before committing to the series. The FIA proposals call for a simpler version of the current V-6 turbo hybrid. Is this enough to persuade you to build F1 engines?
The proposals are promising. Cost reduction is the key.
How would committing to F1 as an engine supplier help when you already have such strong brand recognition?
It's about [strengthening our position in] mid-engine cars. We're doing mid-engine cars. The Valkyrie [low-volume hypercar] is the first, then we're preparing the ground for our [Ferrari] 488 rival. McLaren and Ferrari are present [in F1], and they are the two major competitors [in the mid-engine supercar segment]. In my experience of the industry, just making a great car is never enough. To make it really successful you have to prepare the ground, prepare the customers, and this is the long-play.
Honda has struggled as an F1 engine supplier. Are you hoping it will be easier to succeed because the engines will be simpler in the future?
Simpler and we're sitting in the middle of the F1 triangle here in Gaydon [central England]. Access to talent is easier. We have no objections to collaborations and we've got [race-engine] builders such as Cosworth, Ricardo and Ilmor here.
Do you think there is an economical way to be part of F1?
The key is control of the development costs. We've already won the argument about [dropping] heat recovery in the turbo, where an awful lot of the technology exists. The cost therefore comes down. Then there's commonizing the bottom-end of the engine, with the possibility to share parts between teams. The bit that hasn’t been debated is the number of dyno hours you're allowed. Obviously, you can iterate and iterate, but limit those and you limit the development costs.