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F1 at the crossroads: Finding a path to road car relevance

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Tech Corner: What upgrades can we expect in Canada? (2:39)

Sam Collins joins Jennie Gow to predict which teams will bring which upgrades for the Canadian Grand Prix. (2:39)

F1 is at a crossroads, according to Ross Brawn, but it's one at which the way ahead isn't exactly clear.

Between Friday practice sessions at the Canadian Grand Prix, Brawn was joined by Sean Bratches and Chase Carey at a special press conference during which the three figureheads of Formula One's new owners faced the media for the first time this season.

Brawn and Bratches held a similar press conference at the opening round in Melbourne, during which they sketched out some of their aims for the year ahead, but with the F1 season now rapidly approaching its midpoint the time had come for more concrete statements.

"F1 is a little bit at a crossroads," Brawn said at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. "The automotive world is going off on a different direction now, with fuel cell cars, electric cars, autonomous driving -- and that's not F1. How do we find the relevant path for the future?"

The current generation of power units, the hybrids launched in 2014, were supposed to be F1's answer to future-proofing. At the time of their inception, it was Le Mans' LMP1 class with its free and open engine regulations that was attracting manufacturers, and with victories from diesel and hybrid engines with a range of energy recovery solutions it was the Circuit de la Sarthe that had the most road relevance for OEMs looking for a high-speed laboratory for their R&D efforts.

F1 responded with its own hybrid power units, but failed to properly trumpet the technical achievement in delivering more power for less fuel. Those manufacturers consulted about the 2014 regulations didn't sign on the dotted line, and Formula One found itself with a paucity of engine suppliers: three delivering power units of varying capabilities, and Honda delivering a series of embarrassments.

None of the hoped for interest from the likes of Audi, VW, Porsche, or Aston Martin materialised, and fans rejected the power units on the grounds of the unsatisfying aural experience on offer. What should have been a big win for the sport turned into something of a damp squib.

F1's current set of engine regulations is up for expiry -- or extension, depending on the outcome of ongoing discussions -- in 2021, and the nature of those regulations is currently one of the main preoccupations of the FIA, the teams, and FOM.

"The engine is the key element we have got to get right," Brawn said at the Canadian press conference. "Along with the FIA, the teams and interested engine suppliers, we're debating that at the moment, to understand what sort of engine we want for the future."

The FIA has already held meetings with engine suppliers both active and prospective, discussing the possible shape of F1's power units to come. The consensus was that F1's engines needed to be both louder and cheaper, but more precise specifications are still very much up for discussion.

Also up for discussion is the sense of interest from OEMs: despite the best efforts of the FIA, the only invited party not currently supplying F1 engines who turned up to the latest meeting was Audi's Stefano Domenicali (the former head of the FIA's single-seater commission, in addition to his other better-known roles).

Audi have said this week that Formula E is more philosophically aligned to their road car goals than Formula One, although that statement does not preclude F1 involvement from one of the VW Group's plethora of brands.