McLaren may consider building its own Formula One engine in 2021 if new power unit regulations make it an affordable alternative to being a customer or works team.
After three and a half seasons with the current V6 turbo hybrid engines, F1 is in the process of drafting a new set of regulations from 2021 onwards. The core principles of the next generation of F1 engines are set to address the perceived failings of the existing power units -- such as cost, over-complication and noise -- but have not yet been confirmed in any detail by the FIA.
McLaren's current engine supplier Honda has struggled more than any other under the existing turbo hybrid regulations in F1, to the point that McLaren has been negotiating a potential Renault supply for next year. While McLaren's immediate concern is with securing a competitive engine supply for next season, executive director Zak Brown said the team would look at its long-term options afresh when the 2021 engine regulations are confirmed.
"We're interested to see what the new engine formula is in 2021, whether we'd consider doing our own engine, whether other people would come in under new rules," Brown said. "I think right now we've got to focus on the next three years and as soon as we get that figured out, we've got to look out [longer term].
"But I think the landscape in Formula One is going to change in a very positive way from 2021 onwards with budget caps and revenue redistribution and new engine rules. But it's a little hard to take any decisions on '21 because so many things will change."
The McLaren Group is not equipped to build its own engines and even the V8 turbo that powers its road cars has been developed by engine specialists Ricardo. Given the prohibitive costs involved with the existing F1 power units, Brown said that an in-house engine has never been a viable route out of McLaren's current predicament .
"We don't build our engines for the sports cars in-house, so for us to do our own engine, that's not something we've done before, so that would require good lead time and some expenditure, which we would consider doing. We just need to have an understanding of the path forward, what are the rules and what are they going to cost.
"We certainly wouldn't be in a position to spend the hundreds of millions that it takes now to develop engines, so they're going to have to change the engine formula for it to be something that is economically viable for us."
Above all, Brown believes F1 is crying out for a set of regulations that encourage independent engine manufacturers such as Cosworth and Ilmor to return to the sport on a competitive level.
"I think we'd be very much in favour of there being a competitive independent engine, not just an engine that makes up the numbers," he said. "I think the manufacturers are great, we fully embrace them, but I think it would be healthy for the sport like it's been in the past to have an independent engine that teams can use should they choose, and it be a competitive engine. I think that's key.
"The last time around Cosworth were in at the end, they weren't competitive, so it doesn't work to just have an independent engine if it's not something you can win races with."