I have always enjoyed engines, from the day of my first motorcycle at an illegal age, to the cars and motorcycles of today; the engine to me has always been the most important part of any vehicle, and racing engines in particular are the very breath of life. You can produce the most wonderful looking car, but if it hasn’t an engine it’s about as exciting as a painting as far as I am concerned, but if you produce an engine and have it running on a test bed it comes alive and is a living object that gives pleasure and satisfaction. If there is no vehicle to put it in it does not really matter, I can enjoy an engine for itself, though a complete and working vehicle is obviously the ultimate in enjoyment and satisfaction.
At one time you would always find me near the front of a racing car, especially supercharged ones, and then the scene changed and I moved round to the back, which is where you will find me at today’s Grand Prix races. There was a doldrum a few years ago when almost every Formula One car was powered by a Cosworth DFV engine, and once you had seen one Cosworth DFV you had seen them all, so I tended to wander around the Formula One cars rather aimlessly and peer into the cockpits hoping to see something innovative. Then Renault introduced the turbocharged 1-1/2-litre V6 and life began again for me. It became exciting just to stand alongside a tiny little power unit with unlimited boost that you knew was giving 900 bhp or more, and the driver was either going to set a new pole position lap time or the engine was going to destroy itself in the attempt. Exciting times, with the chassis designers, the suspension design, the aerodynamacists and the tyre technicians all working flat-out to try to keep pace with engine development. Then FISA rule makers stepped in and limited turbo boost pressures and a lot of the excitement evaporated, just when two-stage (and even three-stage) turbocharging was becoming a reality.
For years engine performance was evaluated by bhp per litre, a simple though not very exacting yardstick, that anyone could understand, and an engine going 100 bhp per litre was a good baseline. This was gradually upped to 200 bhp per litre and once the turbocharged development got underway that climbed rapidly to 500 bhp per litre. Engineers prefer to talk about BMEP (Brake Mean Effective Pressure) and torque figures in relation to rpm, rather the simple brake horsepower (BHP) figures, but you really have to have a good knowledge of engine design to appreciate such facts. For general purposes bhp per litre has to suffice and one day in the paddock the head of Honda Research, when talking about turbocharging development casually mentioned that they were looking for a figure of 1 horsepower per cc! After he had gone I realised what he had said. While listening to him my thoughts were of tiny test-and-development units like a 100cc single-cylinder experimental engine giving 100 bhp, but he had been talking about 1500cc engine (1-1/2-litre, the turbo limit of the Formula of that time) which meant 1500 bhp. Sadly FISA put a stop to all that, but it has not put a stop to engine development and the present 3-1/2-litre normally aspirated engine Formula is developing well.
This season, which is about to begin as this letter is being written, will find me round the back of most Formula One cars for the engine scene is looking remarkably healthy, with as big a variety as we have ever had. Honda V12, Honda V10, Ferrari V12, Lamborghini V12, Renault V10, Ilmor V10, Judd V10, Porsche V12 and Yamaha V12 with the Cosworth Mk V (exp) V8 as the ‘joker’ in the pack. For any engine enthusiast it will be a sight and sound enough to make one go weak at the knees. The sad thing is that the number of people allowed to enjoy this scene at close-quarters is very limited, and those of us fortunate enough to do so are continually frustrated by the lack of technical information that is forthcoming from the engine manufacturers. I am not criticising them, for such secrecy means that racing engine development is a serious business, so nobody is going to give much away, but knowledge of the internals of all these racing engines and details of bore and stroke, valve timing, ignition diagrams, compression ratios, fuel mixtures, bearing materials, piston ring design, lubrication systems and soon, would make an already exciting scene very full indeed. Most official information released goes no further than telling you the number of cylinders, the angle of the vee, the number of valves per cylinder and the engine capacity, though some actually quote a weight of the power unit.
A reader in America, who only gets to see Formula One at Phoenix and Montreal, speaks for many racing enthusiasts when he writes to say that the “armchair enthusiasts” who have to rely on television coverage of 14 out of the 16 races, (some even have to rely on TV for all 16 races) get very frustrated if engine design happens to be their major interest in racing because they cannot sit and work out why a Honda engine is better than a Ferrari engine, or vice-versa and how will the Yamaha or Porsche V12s match up this season. There are many accepted parameters in basic engine design, such as the bore/stroke ratio, piston speed, compression ratio and crankshaft revolutions and it would appear that the big international firms like Honda, Renault and Ferrari are surpassing some of the generally accepted criteria, so obviously we all want to know “how”. We know “why”.
This technical and industrial “secrecy” is perfectly normal in design and engineering and is not limited to engines or engine components; in any part of a racing car it exists, especially if there is fierce competition. Koni are continually working to make better shock absorbers than Showra or Bilstein, Goodyear’s objection is to make a better racing tyre than Pirelli, Shell are endeavouring to make better fuels and oils than AGIP, and ELF are out to beat them both, Champion are always working to beat NGK, and so it goes on behind the scenes all the time. Competition is the keynote and all the industrial firms are doing it for one reason, to improve their products, for development and research is important at all times and Formula One racing is one of the best fields in which to make rapid headway. Naturally there are risks to an industrial firm, because you are doing your research in public and everyone can see the result, which is alright if you win, but not so good if you lose. But competition is the spur that brings out that extra effort and success is all the more rewarding.
To return to the subject of engines in Formula One, among the top teams the engines are looked after by the engine manufacturers’ own people, from chief designer to skilled mechanic and tucked away in the back of the pitlane garages is vast quantities of electronic equipment monitoring every function of the engine while it is running out on the track, through some very sophisticated telemetry from sensors and recorders on the car. Ford actually have a specially equipped van behind the Benetton pits receiving all the information from the Cosworth HB (EXP) engines while they are running, with a set of monitors and technicians ensconced in the van receiving and analysing all the information. At one race last year I saw Bernard Dudot, the Renault engine designer, standing all on his own at the back of the Williams pit looking over the shoulder of his two engineers who were monitoring the information being sent back from the cars of Patrese and Boutsen.
It was during Saturday morning testing and it was a delight to see the look of contented bliss on Dudot’s face as he watched his two engineers performing impeccably. He could not see the engines, and probably could not even hear them, but his reading of all the dials, digital displays, oscillographs, and so on was telling him all he wanted to know. It was the face of a very happy man in the real scene of Formula One.
Fortunately the Grand Prix car is made up of many equally important components, each one having its enthusiastic followers, otherwise we could run all the races on the dynamometer or in the wind tunnel, which would badly restrict the victory possibilities, or if we took the drivers seriously we could win the races without leaving the darkened motor homes! It is the complexity and variety that is underneath the multi-coloured, and sometimes vulgar, Kevlar or carbon-fibre exterior of a Formula One car that I find most satisfying, which is why all the one-make, one-class single-seater championships do very little to arouse my interest. Right from my early days it was MOTOR racing that fascinated me, not DRIVER racing, the driver being part of the whole, an interesting and important part of the whole, but not the be-all-and-end-all of racing. Today a lot of followers of the sport see no further than the man in the cockpit, that is their interest and they are entitled to it, but I think they are missing a lot. Similarly a lot of followers only know about the actual race, an important part of the overall scene, but it is only about 2 hours in a 3-1/2 day total activity. People often remark that “There is life outside Formula One, you know,” which is true enough, but once the season starts, it is difficult to find time to take a look outside. — DSJ