All of a sudden there's an engine glut in F1
News broke the week before the British Grand Prix that Williams had done a deal with Toyota to supply engines for the 2007 season. This week Renault has announced that they are willing and able to supply a second team with engines for next season. This article goes over some of the recent history of engine supply in Formula 1 and takes a look at the future with this news in mind.
It was only a few years ago that there was an engine crisis in Formula 1. Over the years innovations in engine technology had made F1 engines more and more expensive to manufacturer. Only automobile manufacturers could afford to spend the money required to develop fully competitve and reliable engines and they prefered to manufacture the engines themselves rather than contract a specialist engine builder to do the work. Thus the independent enginge manufacturer became a thing of the past in Formula 1. The last year for John Judd's Engine Developments Limited (EDL) in F1 was 1997 when they made an pneumatic-valve V10 that was badged by Yamaha and located in the back of an Arrows, driven at the time by reigning world champion Damon Hill. When Yamaha got out of F1 that was it for EDL. They continue to make V10 engines to a similar design (minus the pneumatic-valves) for sportscars and Euroboss to this day though, so there is a happy ending.
The last privately manufactured engine in Formula 1 also ran in the back of an Arrows. Brian Hart had been designing Formula 1 engines since the turbo era, but eventually sold up to Tom Walkinshaw's TWG. Arrows ran Hart's engines for two seasons from 1998 to 1999 before a string of customer deals with over engine manufacturers were done: Supertec in 2000, Asiatech in 2001 and Cosworth in 2002; at which point they folded, their performance probably not helped by switching engine supplier every year (although there was obviously a lot more to it than that). Arguably Asiatech was the last "privately manufactured" engine rather than the Hart because although it was essentially the same engine as the works Peugeot and made by the same employees, it was funded by a secretive Japanese investorment group under the Asiatech banner. Either way it is remarkable how Arrows was the centre of all these events.
Renault sold their old V10 under the Playlife and Supertec names for several years until they returned to the sport by buying out the Benetton team. BMW had come in to supply Williams so they were OK (for then anyway). Then Ford got into Formula 1 as a team owner by buying the Stewart team. The only downside of this at the time was that Cosworth didn't want to supply customer engines any more so they could concentrate all their efforts on the Jaguar works effort. After a lot of grovelling, Cosworth agreed to continue servicing the then two year old customer units they were using so they were safe.
Meanwhile Jordan had used customer Mugen-Honda engines for it's most sucessful season ever in 1999. When Honda did a deal to supply works engines to BAR in 2000, Eddie Jordan was livid. He continued with the Mugen-Honda unit for 2000 (and finished 6th in the constructors championship only 3 points behind the BAR Honda). Jordan got works engines for 2001 but after a lacklustre season Honda reportedly demanded payment to carry on the deal, so in 2002 he did a deal to run Ford engines once more. The odd thing about that deal was that these were ordinary customer Cosworth V10s (one generation behind the Jaguar engines but still a lot better than what Minardi were forced to run) paid for not by the Ford Motor Company, but by the Ford Europe dealer network.
Minardi's engine problems went further and there were times when they throught they might have to build their own engines from whatever wheeler-dealer boss Paul Stoddart had in stock (AFAIR he had those old Cosworths which were about 4 years old by then, plus the Hart engines from when Arrows went bust, as well as possibly some Asiatech units). All was complicated though by the extended engine life rules that were brought in from 2003, but each time Minardi managed, seemingly at the last moment, to do a deal with Cosworth to supply engines that were not modern but worked.
Some years ago, during the political wrangling over the influence of the auto-manufacturers on Formula 1, the manufacturers offered to supply the private teams with engines at "an affordable price" in return for some concessions from the FIA. The manufacturers got their concessions, but never made good on their promise, much to the chargrin of Eddie Jordan and particularly Paul Stoddart. When the FIA introduced a minimum engine life of two race meetings for the 2005 season, Toyota finally made good on that promise by signing a deal to supply Jordan Grand Prix. Soon after Eddie Jordan sold the team to Alex Schnieder. That's another story altogether, but it's generally agreed that the deal with Toyota save the team from going under as the Ford dealer sponsorship had come to an end by then.
Mid-way through the 2005 season, BMW announced that they would be buying the Sauber Formula 1 team and that inevitably meant they would no longer supply Williams with works BMW engines (even though they still had a multi-year deal). With Toyota already in a deal to supply what is now Midland F1 there were only two possibilities - customer engines from Ferrari or Cosworth. Although Ferrari would no longer supply Sauber due to the BMW takeover, they were off the table because Red Bull signed a deal to be powered by Ferrari for 2006. That left Cosworth without a customer for it's top-level engines (Minardi had already done a deal to run restricted V10 engines before they were bought out by Red Bull and renamed Scuderia Toro Rosso). Williams did the deal but only for one season - 2006.
The Present and Future
The Cosworth V8 has been a good engine for Williams, but it's thought that Toyota are willing to subsidise the cost of the engine supply in return for a naming deal involving their Lexus brand. Toyota get next to nothing out of supplying Midland at the back of the grid and while Williams might take the shine off the works Toyota operation if they beat them too often with their own engine, it seems like a better deal overall for Toyota.
That leaves Midland F1 without an engine for 2007. Until the announcement this week from Renault, it was assumed they would end up paying for Cosworths. Now there's an opportunity to get one of the best engines in F1 (aside from winning all but two races, they are the only engine manufacturer to not suffer a single failure all season so far), probably for a similar price, they will be keen to pursue that option. They might have some competition though if the rumours surrounding Super Aguri come true. Supposedly the team formed to take the heat off Honda for dropping Takuma Sato is no longer of any interest to the Japanese manufacturer; they are in financial trouble; their team manager Daniel Audetto isn't talking to their team principle Aguri Suzuki; etc. It happens that Audetto has close links with Renault manager Flavio Britatore and may get involved in a buy-out of the team and invoke a switch to Renault engines as part of the deal.
If that turns out to just be a rumour and Midland F1 end up with the Renault engines, that still doesn't quite leave Cosworth out of F1. They still have a contract to supply STR with rev-limited V10 engines for 2007. There is also a possibility that given the performance of the Cosworth V8 in the Williams this year, they might re-negotiate to supply the main Red Bull team with that and push the Ferrari contract (which has another year to run) onto STR. That would tally with Red Bull handing down their chassis to STR like they did this year.
It's all just rumour for now though, but it's nice to see that the engine supply situation is a bit more stable now than it has been in the past.
Certainly easy to believe that Super Aguri are in financial trouble – they don’t seem to have any sponsors at any rate (can’t imagine the handbag makers are paying much to have ‘Samantha Kingz’ on the side of the car)
I think Suzuki was just a convenient figurehead for Audetto and Mark Preston to get their team up and running – they’ve been trying to do so for years – and if Suzuki can’t bring Honda money then he isn’t a whole lot of use to anyone.
Nice summary of the engine situation by the way. Don’t suppose you know what on earth the story was behind Asiatech?
Patrick (URL) - 18 06 06 - 13:24
Hi Patrick, thanks for the comments. I don’t buy the “Super-Aguri is going under” rumours as much as some people on the Atlas BB. It could be that Honda is fed up with supporting SA, but OTOH, Honda apparently ponied up the money for the FIA bond, so they’re not just going to drop the team and forfeit their $48M. It’s not clear what the share structure is with SA and how much of it Aguri himself owns, but if Honda lent them the money for the FIA bond, they are the companies largest creditor and thus effectively own them – all share ownership becomes meaningless.
If Honda decide to stop supporting SA, they will attempt to recover their bond money by putting the company into administration. The only likely buyer is Direxiv. Whether Audetto or any of the other staff get to keep their jobs is uncertain because Direxiv already have people they want to use as well as the use of the old McLaren factory in Surrey. It would be a shame for the SA story to end that way though.
As for the Asiatech story, I think I have some info about that from Race Engine Tech magazine. I’ll run up another post on that story if I can find it.
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