Atlas F1 Get Your Motors Running

  by Alexander Law, Australia

A look at the history of manufacturers' involvement in F1 engine building, and why manufacturers are returning in numbers to F1

In 1996, there had been worries amongst the Formula One community with the announcement by Renault that the all-conquering engine builder was to end its Formula One involvement after the 1997 championship season. The confounding problem was that Renault supplied two front-running teams at the time (Williams and Benetton). Where would these teams find engines? This problem was solved when Mecachrome initially, and then Supertec stepped in and supplied the two respective teams with customer versions of the Renault engine in 1998 and 1999.

Before the Brazilian Grand Prix this year, Renault announced that they would be entering Formula One again, this time with their own team, in 2002. Benetton became the second team to be bought out completely by a car manufacturer in Formula One, as Renault prepared to take on the Formula One world once again in a car and engine combination designed completely in-house. As a preparatory measure, Renault would be increasing expenditure on the customer Supertec engines - ironically based on the championship winning 1997 Renault RS9 V10 engine - that would form the basis of their research and development in time for their 2002 assault.

With Renault's return in 2002, Toyota's expected Formula One launch in 2001, and Honda's return after an eight year sabbatical powering the BAR chassis, car manufacturers (builders) involvement has never been as strong in the sport. For the 2000 season, there are eight different engines for a grid of twenty-two cars, from eleven teams. This is unprecedented in Formula One, as most of these teams now have a major car manufacturer behind their engine interests.

Interestingly, not only are the major car manufacturers building engines, they are also getting interested in buying out current car constructors. Renault now has total control of Benetton, Jaguar Racing is Ford's purchase of the former Stewart Racing, and DaimlerChrysler owns 40% of McLaren. Other teams have very close ties with their manufacturer. BAR, through Adrian Reynard, has close links to Honda, while Williams and BMW have been testing engines since 1999, and also collaborated on the 1998 and 1999 BMW LeMans projects.

From the release of the Ford Cosworth DFV in 1968 to last season, there have been eleven manufacturers that have won a Grand Prix. The rules in that time have undergone constant change. The most significant changes came during the turbocharging era (1977-1988), that brought in a two-tier setup of rules and the subsequent championship setup as well. Turbocharged engines were limited to 1.5 litres and eventually had boost and fuel limitations placed on them to reduce the performance advantage. This culminated in the elimination of turbocharging in 1989, and a return to a normally aspirated displacement of 3.5 litres. In 1995, this was reduced to 3.0 litres after the horrific accidents in 1994 at Imola, Monaco and Barcelona. This year, the teams have agreed that all engines be limited to the V10 (10 cylinder, Vee cylinder alignment) configuration until 2007.

During the 1970s, manufacturer interest was at an all time low, especially with the Ford-Cosworth DFVs being virtually unbeatable. The strength of the DFV was that every team had one, anyone could get one if they wanted, it was extremely reliable, and no team would have a serious advantage over another. One or two teams would have the newest parts, and then the rest of the grid would get them if they worked. It made for close racing, since engine power was thrown out of the equation.

When Renault introduced their turbocharged engine in 1977, the entire Formula One establishment was thrown into chaos, and led to the FISA/FIA "war" of 1981. Renault's extremely powerful but very fragile engines began to set times previously thought unachievable. Ferrari caught on quickly that this was the future, and BMW soon also entered the sport with its own design. Other smaller companies tried their hand in order to also get a march on the Ford powered teams. Ironically, it was BMW, not Renault, that won the first driver's championship for a turbocharged powered car in 1983, but it began a long period of Formula One racing where there were teams that had a manufacturer (or works) deal, and others that had a customer deal. Soon Honda and a Porsche (with TAG engineering) came along and took up the challenge where Renault and BMW had pioneered. In the end, Ford never had a truly competitive turbocharged engine in Formula One.

In the mid 1980s, Honda and TAG-Porsche made Formula One their own. Renault had become an also-ran, BMW were in its twilight, and other teams didn't have the enormous backing of a car maker. Honda made F1 its domain through to the banning of turbocharged engines in 1989, and continued to dominate F1 until just before it left in 1992. But the idea of a works engine deal, with all of its exclusivity and potential winning ability, appealed to many manufacturers.

Renault returned in 1989 with the Williams team, and proceeded to dominate Formula One from 1991 until 1997, after which Mercedes, who had arrived in 1994, took up the mantle, along with Ferrari. Other manufacturers have tried and been unsuccessful. Lamborghini maintained a Formula One presence in lower order teams until 1993, while Porsche had a brief attempt to recapture past glories in 1991. Mugen-Honda have only come good in the last 3 years with its parent company's influence, while Yamaha continued doggedly until finally pulling the plug in 1997. One successful privateer engine builder story has been Brian Hart, and while he has never won a race, he has always built an engine that was workmanlike, simple and functional. His most successful period would be his association with Jordan during the 1993-1994 campaigns, but unfortunately he has disappeared from Formula One after a number of years unsuccessfully working on firstly his own and then Arrows' engine projects.

Engine builders build engines through two means: completely in-house, or contracted out to another organisation. Mercedes-Benz signed Mario Illien's Ilmor tuning house to build their engines. Ford traditionally used Cosworth Engineering to do their work, and now completely own the company. Renault contracted out some of its engine building and rebuilding work to Mecachrome during the 1990s. The other manufacturers set up their own internal organisations to do everything from scratch. BMW, Honda, Ferrari and Peugeot currently head this brigade.

There is some peril to building an engine in-house, as Peugeot's engine has shown. In 1997, it was reputedly the most powerful engine in the field, and was touted to win races. However, a top-heavy management, coupled with an unusual funding structure (it was reported that Total, the fuel sponsor associated with Peugeot directed all its sponsorship money to Peugeot to fund its engine development) has bogged the development down. Despite this, it has not yet learned from its own mistakes.

Even Honda had its own power wrangling, although it was between teams. One of the reasons that Williams lost its Honda deal to Lotus in 1988 was because Frank Williams and Patrick Head would not acquiesce to Honda's demands to run Satoru Nakajima in one of their cars. But this obstinacy, combined with other reasons, left Williams out in the cold.

On the other hand, contracting out development has its perils too. While Ford won the driver's championship in 1994, it did not taste victory again until 1999. It has struggled with uncompetitive teams, fundamental engine design problems, and maintaining a customer support base. Rebuilding has taken four long years, with countless failures, but encouragement in 1999 with a small and powerful unit.

But what does manufacturer (or works) support mean to a team? One less bill. The car maker shoulders the cost of engine R&D, design, construction and testing. Building and designing a new engine is very expensive, and what better way to alleviate costs than to get someone else to pay for you? Instead of paying nearly 20 million dollars for a customer engine supply, that money can be pushed back into chassis development, and other R&D.

The effects of a works engine deal are enormous. Benetton and Williams have not won a race between them after Renault's withdrawal in 1997. True, Williams lost Adrian Newey and had to develop the BMW engine, and Benetton were in a decline, but nevertheless the customer Renault engines were heavier and less powerful than the third and fourth generation engines. It was only through Ayrton Senna that McLaren-Ford won five races in 1993, for the Williams-Renault were by far the fastest cars. What was the result of Williams losing Honda engines in 1988, after winning both championships in 1987? Two points finishes, one podium, and a huge string of retirements.

But why would a car maker want to spend millions on engine development? While some engine technology has flowed down to the average car, there is an element of prestige in engine supply. The old adage "win on Sunday, sell on Monday" has taken a whole new meaning. Ford's purchase of Stewart Racing and rebranding it is a blatant attempt to use this idea. Ford CEO Jac Nasser and his counterpart at Jaguar, Wolfgang Reitzle confirm that they are attempting to revitalise the memories of the victorious p confirm that they are attempting to revitalise the memories of the victorious past at Le Mans, and turn them into Formula One victories. Others see the benefits of developing technologies in Formula One that can then be used in road vehicles, while others have had a long association with motorsports in general. All of the current generation of manufacturers - bar Jaguar - have had a long association with competing in motorsports at the highest level.

Interestingly, while the works teams get the best, the customer teams also receive a flow-on effect. While Sauber has always been a perennial midfield team, the engine is never the weak point. Their use of year-old Ferrari technology gave them an edge over the customer Supertec teams in terms of power last year, not to mention reliability, and should also do the same this year in light of the number of new manufacturers entering the sport. However, having the engine that powered the car to the constructor's championship the previous year doesn't guarantee points, as it has shown.

Jordan and Arrows may have customer deals, but they are in good positions to take advantage if their works counterparts falter. While BAR may have signed a works deal with Honda, it doesn't preclude that funding and technology is passed down to their lesser Mugen-Honda siblings if BAR prove to be a lemon. Flavio Briatore, the boss of Benetton and Renault Sport, has made it clear that supply of another team was a definite possibility. In fact, having two teams has much going for it. The works team gets the best, while the customer team backs up and pays partly for the development. It could lead to the Renault sweep that happened at France in 1996, when Renault power took the first four places. Only Minardi and Prost look in peril when it comes to engines. Prost will almost certainly lose Peugeot at the end of 2000, and Minardi cannot continue using three-year old technology which was not front-running in the first place.

While manufacturer involvement is at an all time high, what will happen when the major car manufacturers tire of Formula One? This problem exists in both the World Rally Championship and Formula One, where there are many manufacturers for the six points places available. Not every team will be in a position to score points in each race, but all manufacturers want results. While there will be a core group of manufacturers that now have bought into Formula One (Mercedes, Ford, Renault, and Toyota in 2001) the remainder may fall away and leave the rest of the grid in a desperate battle to secure an engine deal. I doubt this scenario would ever happen, but I also do not see any more manufacturers getting involved. General Motors, Chrysler and Volkswagen have never entered Formula One before, but all have involvement in motorsports. Chrysler and General Motors may never directly enter Formula One, although General Motors, through one of its European luxury brands may. Chrysler is already involved, being one half of DaimlerChrysler who are in Formula One with Mercedes-Benz engines at McLaren, and Volkswagen boss Ferdinand Piech has made noises that VW or any of its subsidiaries will not enter Formula One on cost/benefit grounds.

Manufacturer involvement will be a necessary part of Formula One in the 21st century. All the events have led to the this new era where manufacturers become the dominant power in Formula One. In the past, a works engine deal was just that. Today, it's a much more complex marriage between constructor and engine builder. Both stand to benefit much from the other, as does the sport. However, the level of competitiveness must slowly increase so that no single team has a dominant position. This may lead to some manufacturers quitting the sport, throwing Formula One into a perilous situation.


Manufacturers which have won a race in that year since 1968:

Ferrari (24 years)
(1968, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999)

Ford (23 years)
(1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1999)

Renault (16 years)
(1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1985, 1986, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997)

Honda (9 years)
(1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992)

BMW (5 years)
(1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986)

TAG-Porsche (4 years)
(1984, 1985, 1986, 1987)

Mercedes (3 years)
(1997, 1998, 1999)

Mugen-Honda (3 years)
(1996, 1998, 1999)

BRM (3 years)
(1970, 1971, 1972)

Matra (2 years)
(1977, 1981)

Alfa Romeo (1 year)


1967 Ford Cosworth DFV released
1977 Renault turbocharged engine introduced
1983 BMW wins first turign="left" valign="top">Honda begins second involvement with F1, with a turbocharged engine
TAG-Porsche wins world championship
1986 Renault withdraw from Formula One
BMW withdraw from Formula One
1988 McLaren-Honda win 15 out of 16 races, an unprecedented number for chassis-engine
1989 Banning of turbocharged engines to a control 3.5L naturally aspirated formula
Renault restarts involvement in Formula One with Williams team
1992 Honda end involvement in Formula One
1994 Last championship win by a Ford V8 engine
1995 Reduction of engine size from 3500cc to 3000cc
1996 Yamaha release their revolutionary OX11 engine, the first small-block V10 engine
1997 Renault end official support of Formula One engine supply
1998 BMW officially announce engine supply contract to Williams beginning in 2000
Honda confirm official involvement in Formula One beginning in 2000
1999 Toyota end WRC involvement to begin Formula One development, slated for 2001
Ford as a brand ends involvement in F1, to be replaced by Jaguar in 2000.
2000 V10 setup sanctioned as the only engine type until 2007
Renault buy Benetton team with official involvement beginning 2002
2001 Toyota starts in Formula One (provisional)


Bold stands for known full works support
Italics stands for possible works support and customer teams

2000 (10 engine manufacturers for 11 teams)

Mercedes (McLaren)
Honda (BAR)
Ford-Cosworth (Jaguar)
BMW (Williams)
Supertec (Benetton, Arrows)
Peugeot (Prost)
Mugen-Honda (Jordan)
Petronas (Sauber) *
Fondmetal (Minardi) **

* Petronas engine is year-old Ferrari engine rebadged. Sauber develops engine in-house during year
** Fondmetal engine is early evolution of 1998 Ford Zetec-R V10 engine

1999 (8 engine manufacturers for 11 teams)

Mercedes (McLaren)
Ford (Stewart, Minardi *)
Peugeot (Prost)
Arrows **
Supertec (Williams, Benetton, BAR)
Mugen-Honda (Jordan)
Petronas (Sauber) ***

* Minardi uses year-old Ford engines
** Arrows engine development overseen by Brian Hart
*** Petronas engine is year-old Ferrari engine rebadged. Sauber develops engine in-house during year

1998 (8 engine manufacturers for 11 teams)

Mercedes (McLaren)
Ford (Stewart, Tyrrell *, Minardi *)
Peugeot (Prost)
Arrows **
Mugen-Honda (Jordan)
Petronas (Sauber) ***
Mecachrome (Williams, Benetton)

* Tyrrell and Minardi use Ford Zetec-R engines 3-5 evolutions behind works engine
** Arrows engine development overseen by Brian Hart
*** Petronas engine is year-old Ferrari engine rebadged. Sauber develops engine in-house during year

1997 (9 engine manufacturers for 12 teams)

Renault (Williams, Benetton)
Mercedes (McLaren)
Peugeot (Jordan)
Ford (Stewart, Tyrrell, Lola) *
Yamaha (Arrows)
Hart (Minardi)
Mugen-Honda (Prost)
Petronas (Sauber) **

* Tyrrell use Ford Cosworth ED series engine, Lola use Ford Zetec-R V8 engines
** Petronas engine is year-old Ferrari engine rebadged. Sauber develops engine in-house during year

1996 (8 engine manufacturers for 11 teams)

Renault (Williams, Benetton)
Mercedes (McLaren)
Peugeot (Jordan)
Ford (Sauber, Minardi, Forti) *
Yamaha (Tyrrell)
Hart (Arrows)
Mugen Honda (Ligier)

* Minardi use Ford Cosworth ED series engine, Forti use Ford Zetec-R V8 engines

1995 (8 engine manufacturers for 13 teams)

Renault (Benetton, Williams)
Yamaha (Tyrrell)
Mercedes (McLaren)
Peugeot (Jordan)
Ford (Sauber, Minardi, Forti, Pacific) *
Hart (Footwork)
Mugen Honda (Ligier)

* Minardi, Forti and Pacific use variants of Ford EC and ED V8 engines

1994 (9 engine manufacturers for 14 teams)

Renault (Williams, Ligier) *
Ford (Benetton, Minardi, Simtek, Larrousse, Footwork) **
Peugeot (McLaren)
Mercedes (Sauber)
Hart (Jordan)
Yamaha (Tyrrell)
Mugen Honda (Lotus)
Ilmor (Pacific)

* Williams was works team, Ligier usually received new engines later than Williams
** Only Benetton used Ford Zetec-R V8 engines. Others used Ford HB variants.

1993 (8 engine manufacturers for 13 teams)

Renault (Williams, Ligier)
Ferrari (Ferrari, Lola)
Ford (Benetton, McLaren, Lotus, Minardi)
Mercedes (Sauber)
Hart (Jordan)
Yamaha (Tyrrell)
Mugen-Honda (Footwork)
Lamborghini (Larrousse)

1992 (9 engine manufacturers for 15 teams)

Renault (Williams, Ligier)
Ford (Benetton, Fondmetal, Lotus)
Ferrari (Ferrari, Dallara)
Honda (McLaren)
Yamaha (Jordan)
Lamborghini (Minardi, Venturi)
Mugen-Honda (Footwork)
Ilmor (Tyrrell, March)
Judd (Brabham)

1991 (8 engine manufacturers for 17 teams)

Renault (Williams)
Honda (McLaren, Tyrrell)
Ford (Benetton, Jordan, Lola, Coloni, AGS, Fondmetal)
Ferrari (Ferrari, Minardi)
Yamaha (Brabham)
Porsche (Footwork)
Lamborghini (Lamborghini, Ligier)
Judd (Lotus, Dallara)

1990 (8 engine manufacturers for 19 teams)

Honda (McLaren)
Renault (Williams)
Ford (Benetton, Tyrrell, Arrows, Osella, AGS, Dallara, Minardi, Ligier, Onyx)
Judd (Brabham, Leyton House, EuroBrun)
Lamborghini (Lotus, Lola)
Coloni (Subaru)

1989 (7 engine manufacturers for 19 teams)

Honda (McLaren)
Renault (Williams)
Ford (Benetton, Tyrrell, Arrows, Ligier, Minardi, Osella, Dallara, Coloni, Onyx, Rial, AGS)
Judd (Brabham, Lotus, March, EuroBrun)
Lamborghini (Lola)
Yamaha (Zakspeed)

      Related Articles:

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(Nov-24, 1999)

The Road to Victory
(Dec-24, 1999)

Engines are Essential
(Apr-12, 2000)

Alexander Law© 2000 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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