The Asiatech (and Peugeot) story
Well firstly I should point out something I missed in my previous article, which is that I'd completey forgotten that Asiatech supplied Minardi after Arrows dumped them, so if you consider Asiatech to be the last privately manufactured engine in F1, then Minardi were the last to run such an engine, not Arrows as I implied.
Issue #4 of Race Engine Technology magazine had an in-depth article on the Asiatech engine. After Asia Motor Technologies (AMT) were wound-up in 2002, a lot of their engines and other moveable assets were bought by a German collector, Harald Fuch, who also happened to own some of the Arrows chassis that ran the engines in 2001. Minardi bought the engines that had been run by them in 2002, although Fuch later acquired those as well. At the time of the article's publication (summer 2004), Fuch had contracted Langford Performance Engines to make these engines runnable and put them up for sale to potential customers. That is why he also allowed Race Engine Technology to examine and photograph the internals of the engine in great detail. It's a very interesting article and in the same issue they have a similar article on the Ferrari F2000's engine, although this is just an excerpt from the Peter Wright book on that car. I'm not sure if back-issues are still available (I'm not even sure if the magazine is still published as there's no up-to-date information on the website, but interested parties can email or phone the publisher, Racecar Graphic)
Anyway, a sidebar in that article goes into some detail on the whole saga. After Peugeot had won Le Mans with the V10 engined 905, the decided to get into Formula 1. Jean Todt had run the sportscar programme for them and he established a factory at Velizy-Villacoublay in France. They were originally to enter Formula 1 and make chassis and engine and when that was stopped, Todt left Peugeot and was promptly hired by Ferrari. We all know what might have happened had things turned out differently :). Anyway, Peugeot went on to make a 72 degree V10 with pneumatic valves and supplied it to McLaren in 1994. That, ironically, was Peugeot's best season in Formula 1. McLaren switched to Mercedes engines in 1995, taking them from Sauber (who had brought Mercedes back into Formula 1 having run their sportscar programme for them). Peugeot were left to supply Jordan from 1995 to 1997. When Alain Prost took over Ligier in 1997 and graciously renamed it after himself, he snatched the Peugeot engine supply from Jordan (handing them the Mugen-Honda that Jordan almost won the championship with in 1999 incidentally) and ran that from 1998. After a rotten 2000 season, Peugeot had enough and decided to pull out of Formula 1 altogether to concentrate of rallying once more. Prost gambled the team's future on a supply of Ferrari engines for 2001. Not the smartest move as it turned out.
With French employment law making it very expensive to lay off staff, Peugeot looked for a buyer for the Velizy-Villacoublay operation. In comes Asia Motor Technologies, a new company headed by Anglo-Japanese investment banker John Gano and funded (as far as anyone knows) by Hideo Morita, son of Sony founder Akio Morita. They had been looking to buy an F1 team originally but then entered negotiations to buy the Peugeot engine programme lock-stock as a precursor to entering as a full team. Staff levels at Velizy-Villacoublay increased from 165 to 221, so you can see this was a pretty expensive operation (as far as I know, no more than that are employed to build Renault's F1 engines even today). The engines were barely modified from the 2000 Peugeot model and supplied to Arrows as "Asiatech" for 2001 at no charge to the team. Arrows decided free wasn't a good enough deal and gave up the supply to pay for Cosworth V10 engines in 2002 (not the martest move as it turned out). A series two engine was designed with a larger bore and some other modifications for 2002, when it was supplied to Minardi, again free of charge.
The plan had always been for AMT to build a car in order to run their engines - that was the only reason they were willing to supply the engines to other teams for free in the meantime. They set up a chassis design programme at a former Williams factory in England and had got as far as wind-tunnel testing a design, but they were still looking for a title sponsor to fund the team (I seem to remember from the press at the time, Proton was talked about a lot). Eventually they decided to call it a day and wound up the business. All the assets were sold and a most of the French staff went back to either Peugeot or Renault. I've no idea where the chassis staff came from or went to.
There is one inaccuracy in that article…McLaren ran Ford engines in 1993 after Honda withdrew at the end of 1992, and McLaren failed to land an engine deal with Renault (Michael Andretti commented that when he signed for McLaren in September 1992, he was assured at the time that McLaren would have Renault engines in 1993). In the Summer of 1994, Ron Dennis told Peugeot that he wanted a divorce, and McLaren formed a long-term relationship with Mercedes from 1995 onwards. Sauber became the Ford factory team for 1995 and 1996.
Graham Shevlin () (URL) - 20 06 06 - 11:24
Thanks for that Graham, I’ve updated the original post to reflect that correction.
Richard () - 20 06 06 - 12:14
Thanks for that – answers most of the questions I had about who was behind Asiatech, and why on earth they were willing to spend so much money on providing backmarkers with second rate engines for free.
patrick () (URL) - 30 06 06 - 16:57
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pneumatic press () (URL) - 15 12 12 - 00:27