Dieter Rencken on powering F1
THE REAL POWER BEHIND F1 MUST NOT BE ALIENATED
Quiz question: can you name all the makes of engine that have powered world championship F1 winners? Between the first (Alfa Romeo) and the most recent (due to take place after this column was written, but most likely Mercedes or Ferrari) the list is shorter than you might think.
Disregard naming arrangements and just 17 makes have taken a GP win (16 if you don’t include the Offenhausers that powered the Indy 500s of the 1950s). Of those, just a few (Climax, Vanwall etc) could truly be defined as ‘independent’, and were gone from the scene by the end of the 1960s.
Of course, not all ‘works’ engines were designed and built by the car companies whose name they bore, which is why I separate Honda from MugenHonda while counting the TAG turbo as a Porsche (since it was designed and built in Weissach to McLaren’s specification) and Red Bull’s current TAG Heuer units as Renaults. But whatever the name on the cam cover, manufacturers are seldom far away and their influence has been far-reaching.
You could argue that without manufacturer involvement there would be no F1; certainly, 1970s grids would have been massively depleted had Ford not bankrolled the Cosworth V8. Then consider the famous alignment of drivers and marques: Jackie Stewart and Ford, Ayrton Senna and Honda, Michael Schumacher and Ferrari. Even when you think of the famously multimarque Juan-Manuel Fangio, the image in your mind is probably of him drifting a Maserati.
Manufacturers enter F1, as team owners or engine suppliers, for either or both of two reasons: image, and technical challenge. At times, F1 has been ahead of road-car curves (think four-valve technology and turbos) and at others lagging behind. The fact, though, remains: racing does improve the breed. Win on Sunday, sell on Monday never was truer than with Ford in the ’90s.
By the end of the current engine formula, motor manufacturers will have played pivotal roles in powering winners for 70 years. Thus it was surprising to hear suggestions from Liberty Media, that: “The automotive world is going off in a different direction – fuel cell cars, electric cars, autonomous driving – and that’s not F1. So how do we find the relevant path for the future?”
The implication is that F1 will in future forge ahead without said motor manufacturers, unless they accept that F1 technologies will have as little in common with road cars as water wheels have with jets. Why would marques such as Mercedes go against market (and societal) trends by building loud, thirsty big-bore units that display zero commonality with showroom cars, simply to be in F1?
And who then would power grids? Folk point to the past, then speak wistfully of Ilmor and Cosworth being capable of building 1,000bhp bi-turbo V6 units without hybrid paraphernalia – but they overlook that motor manufacturers bankrolled these success stories. Enoch Powell once wrote that all political careers end in failure; so too have the many attempts at building ‘independent’ engines.
These are BRM, Vanwall, Coventry Climax and Repco (who all won titles) and Weslake (a single grand prix winner). Pray, where are they now? Ilmor and Cosworth? The former, in its original iteration, was acquired by Mercedes, while the present entity is actively seeking backing for a Formula 1 project; the latter made clear it would not re-enter F1 without a bullet-proof business case, for which read ‘manufacturer support’.
True, electric cars are Formula E, not Formula 1, and autonomous racing will never be considered a ‘sport’ even if it can claim to be a form of auto racing, being more auto even than motor racing. But F1 could contribute to the development of alternative fuels, and sensors and GPS systems could be adapted for autonomy. These alone are gold dust for car makers.
Manufacturers have not restricted their involvements to technical activities, either. Whenever their cars win, they broadcast the fact far and wide to the overall benefit of F1. They (and their dealers and trade partners) buy tickets and hospitality packages, take merchandising stalls and ‘bridge and board’ signage. The biggest spenders during F1 broadcasts? Funders of the best young driver programmes? You’ve guessed it.
Car makers come and go, but since the late ’60s others have stepped into the breach. They play to F1’s tech fans, provide funding for independents and empower the likes of Force India to go Ferrarihunting. Liberty risk alienating them at their peril at a time when they need all the technical and commercial support going. Seventy years should not be chucked aside so casually.
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Engine marques tend to align with drivers. Think Stewart/Ford, Senna/Honda, Schumacher/Ferrari