The last two years have seen some semblance of respectability return to Formula One racing, so that one could justifiably call it Grand Prix racing once more. The petty bickering that went on amongst the small-time entrepreneurs who posed as businessmen has largely disappeared for the simple fact that some of the “performers” have gone and their places have been taken by industrial concerns of more than serious substance. Industry is too big and too busy to get involved with nit-picking the way some “special-builders” find time to do, so that things have been looking up and while 1983 was a very good year, 1984 is going to be better and the last race of the 1983 season, held in South Africa, indicated that next year will be one not to miss.
Engines: Engines and engineering are playing a big part in Formula One, which is as it should be, and with the exception of Brian Hart’s 4-cylinder 415R engine, power in Formula One is coming from the research and development departments of industrial giants. Over the years the Ferrari factory has probably designed and produced more racing enginrs than all the rest put together, and their turbocharged 120-degree V6 engine is still the standard by which to judge all others. Renault with their 90-degree V6, Alfa Romeo with their 90-degree V8, BMW with their in-line 4-cylinder and Honda and Porsche with their 80-degree V6 engines are all producing racing engines for their own use, or on contract to chassis building teams, that represent the ultimate in power output running on straight petrol. Unlike Cosworth Engineering who have been producing racing engines on a production line with a guaranteed power output and life, as a commercial proposition, today’s engine builders are unhampered by commercial considerations or “customer-reaction”, they are building engines for one purpose only, and that is to beat the opposition. The result has been an impressive escalation in power outputs with no holds barred, and next year should see the engine battle become even fiercer, with more special “sprint” engines for qualifying and even special engines for particular circuits.
Unlike the Cosworth engines which are available for anyone to buy, the Ferrari engines are exclusive to the cars of the Scuderia Ferrari, and when suggestions were made in the corridors of power in Paris that manufacturers engaged in Formula One racing should make a certain number of their engines available to the small teams who lack the ability or finance to build engines, there was a very stony silence of disapproval from Maranello. Renault have made their V6 engines available to Lotus during 1983, guaranteeing a regular supply of engines with the back-up and servicing required and supplying two of their own engine men to stay with the Lotus team all the time. As Renault themselves were not dominating the Formula One scene in the way they would like, and the opposition was getting stronger all the time, it was thought that their deal with Lotus was principally to give their own team some moral support against the Italians and Germans. At the Grand Prix of Europe at Brands Hatch this actually happened, for while the cars of the Regie Renault were not proving fast enough during qualifying the Renault powered Lotus cars were dominating the scene. The only thing the Lotus team have not done is to win any races, especially when the Regie’s own cars have failed, for had they done suit would have held back the real opposition in the points gathering for Championship honours. In 1984 the Ligier team will be using Renault engines on a similar basis to Lotus so that there will be six cars carrying the Renault name, ostensibly all capable of winning. The engines supplied to Team Lotus during 1983 carried an interesting plate riveted to the back of the left-hand cylinder head which read as follows:
“This motor is the absolute property of the company hereinafter appearing and cannot be seized or the subject of an attachment. Renault Sport S.A., 1-15 Avenue du President Kennedy, 91170 Viry-Chatillon, France.”
The BMW firm in Munich have followed Renault’s lead by supplying engines to Gunther Schmidt’s ATS team, but without any useful results apart from ensuring that there was another BMW turbo engine on the grid in addition to the two Brabhams that have the full support of the Bayertsche Motoren Werke. After a lot of prevarication and delay BMW finally announced that they would be supplying engines to the Arrows team for 1984. During 1983 the two Dave Wass designed Arrows cars put up some consistent and reliable performances, using Cosworth DFV engines, and the two drivers Marc Surer and Thierry Boutsen made excellent impressions. The Swiss Surer has proved beyond doubt his driving ability for a year or two now, while the young Belgian Boutsen only did the latter half of the 1983 season but you could have been forgiven for thinking he was in his second or third season. His driving has a very mature character and from his first appearance he always qualified comfortably. Unfortunately part of the deal between the Arrows team management and BMW involves the employment of the likely young German driver Stefan Bellof, so Marc Surer has been dropped from the Arrows line-up, but in these days of fierce competition between the automotive giants there is no room for sentimentality. A number of small amateur teams were angling to do a deal with BMW for the use of their turbocharged 4-cylinder engines, but Paul Roche and the small subsidiary firm BMW-Motorsport behind the BMW headquarters in Munich have a limited output and they could only take on one additional team.
Those two well-proven engine specialists Honda Motors of Tokyo and Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche AG of Stuttgart both dipped a tentative foot into the 1983 Formula One scene with a view to a serious onslaught on Ferrari, Renault, Alfa Romeo and BMW in 1984. Both are supplying engines to proven specialist chassis building teams who have relied on production Cosworth racing engines in the past. Honda allowed their 4-camshaft V6 turbocharged engine, derived from their successful Formula Two engine, out into open competition with a single car from the small Spirit team. Spirit is a small concern formed by John Wickham and Gordon Coppuck, with John Baldwin assisting on the design side. They ran a single car driven by Stefan Johansson which occasionally showed encouraging signs that the Honda V6 engine could not be overlooked.
Before the end of the season an announcement was made that the Williams team would be using the Honda engines exclusively in 1984. As a prelude Frank Williams took two new Honda-powered cars designed by Patrick Head to the last race of the season and they were very impressive. The signs we saw within the small Spirit team were not illusory and the Williams-Hondas are going to be right up at the front in 1984. The Porsche involvement is exclusive to the McLaren International team and McLaren man Ron Dennis formed a subsidiary firm with the Saudi Arabian firm Techniques d’Avant Garde, called TAG-Turbo Engines, and this firm did the deal with Porsche Engineering for the design and supply of engines for the McLaren team. Porsche’s head of engine design Hans Meager came up with what is described as a “third generation turbo engine” in the form of a very compact V6 engine using specially designed KKK turbochargers, rather than the proprietary production units that KKK supply to other firms. After a hesitant start with some problems in the valve drive-gem train, the engine really showed its potential in the last race of the season, so that like the Honda power-unit the Porsche designed one is going to be well to the fore in 1984.
Alfa Romeo took a long while to get their compact V8 turbocharged engine into raceworthy condition, but over the past season it has proved lobe very powerful, but not terribly reliable, though it improved towards the end of the season. Due to internal problems in Alfa Romeo SPA the racing department had to be seen as being supported and paid for by outside money, so Giampaolo Pavanello’s Euroracing team at nearby Limbiate has been the official “front” for the Alfa Romeo efforts. Last, but by no means least, is Brian Hart’s 415R all-alloy monobloc engine that changed from American Garratt AiResearch turbochargers to British Holset turbochargers with an impressive improvement in reliability. Brian Hart Ltd is a small but effective concern in a neat little factory at Harlow in Essex, and on a miniscule budget compared to Ferrari and the others they have produced a racing engine that has kept the Toleman cars right on the tail of the “big boys”. It is difficult to evaluate the Hart engine accurately as we have only ever seen in a Toleman chassis, but it is just possible that it will appear in another car in 1984 which could prove interesting.
People often ask why Cosworth Engineering have not produced a turbocharged Formula One engine, and bearing in mind that Cosworth are a sound commercial engineering concern, the answer is simply that there would not be sufficient market to justify the cost. When Ford financed Cosworth Engineering to produce the DFV unit in 1967 the market place was wide open. Of the ten or twelve teams interested in Formula One at that time only Ferrari and BRM were producing their own engines, the rest were groping around for whatever was available. The highly successful Cosworth DFV swept the market place clean and eventually acquired a near monopoly, only Ferrari standing out against the Northampton-built V8.
Today it is a very different story; the market place is very small, for we have Ferrari, Renault, BMW, Alfa Romeo, Honda, Hart and Porsche all involved with a two-car team so fourteen of the possible twenty-six starters in a race are not in the open market for an engine, no matter how good it might be. Of the remaining twelve entries three are closely tied in with the opposition, which leaves Cosworth Engineering with a potential of only nine cars that could be interested in a new engine and not many of those could honestly afford the purchasing costs, let alone the development costs, and there is no way Cosworth Engineering are going to finance an engine project in the hope that they might sell nine engines. Add to this the fact that the last Indianapolis 500 Mile race saw thirty-two of the thirty-three starters using turbocharged Cosworth DFX engines and you can see where Cosworth Engineering’s business lies. If someone was to put up the total amount of money for a new Cosworth Formula One engine project there is little doubt that the Northampton firm could do the job, for they have been developing turbocharged engines longer than most people, but the little teams who are not already tied in with an industrial giant do not have that sort of money.
Drivers: If Formula One was to be a straightforward battle between engine manufacturers 1984 would be interesting enough, but there is a lot more to it than that, so the coming season should be really interesting. There has been quite a big shuffle round with drivers and 1984 is going to see some reputations made, confirmed or destroyed. It all started when Enzo Ferrari announced he was replacing Patrick Tambay in his team with Michele Alboreto. Renault were immediately interested in having Tambay in their team, but he was not too enthusiastic about joining as number two to Alain Prost, the established Renault team leader. As a Frenchman Tambay dearly wanted to drive for his own National team, but it was no secret that Prost considered the team to be his and the whole effort was motivated by him. Following the South African GP, when mechanical failure of the Renault lost Prost all hope of being World Champion for 1983, there were some harsh words bandied about at a board meeting and Prost demanded some radical changes to the structure of the team, to which the management responded by dispensing with the services of Alain Prost! This left the way open for Tambay to join the Renault team, which he promptly did, and soon afterwards Derek Warwick was enticed to leave the Toleman team and join the Regie Renault. Among the European Formula One journalists a prize known as “le Prix Orange” is given at the end of the season to the team considered to have been the most amiable, helpful and friendly. I think we can donate the 1984 Prix Orange to the Renault team before the season even begins. It takes all sorts to make up a field of twenty-six Grand Prix drivers, and while some are pleasant, others are surly, some are dull, some are a bore, some are arrogant and others are down-right objectionable. Two of the most pleasant characters in Formula One are now in the Renault team, Patrick Tambay exudes charm, style, politeness, elegance and sympathy in or out of a racing car, while Derek Warwick is naturally “a bloody good bloke”. If ever there was a “Team Nice Guys” it has to be the 1984 Renault Team.
With Alain Prost suddenly on the market the Marlboro cigarette people, who have hint on their list of supported drivers, went into action, if they hadn’t already been “wheeling and dealing” behind the scenes anyway and he was smartly placed in the McLaren International team alongside Niki Lauda with the Porsche-engined cars. Almost as an afterthought it was mentioned that John Watson was out of a job as a result of this move. McLaren International were in a somewhat similar position to that in which Ferrari had been when Alboreto was taken on. Someone had to go and you could not see Lauda being dispensed with, so it had to be Watson. Almost as an aside in this change round Riccardo Patrese found himself offered a relatively small sum of money to stay in the Brabham team, which he promptly turned down and went and joined the Euroracing Alfa Romeo team alongside Eddie Cheever, deposed from Renault, Alfa Romeo’s “tearaway” Andrea de Cesaris announced he had left Alfa Romeo and joined Ligier-Renault. Almost from mid-summer we have been hearing how Team Lotus and / or John Player were disenchanted first with Elio de Angelis and then with Nigel Mansell and at one time or another both were said to be getting the sack. After a lot of noise and trumpeting nothing has changed at Team Lotus and both drivers are signed up for another year with the black and gold Lotus-Renault cars.
Now all this shuffling around among the top teams has opened up a fascinating list of questions as to various driver’s ability, various car’s potential and the answers to some previously unanswerable questions. There is nothing like a little animosity to bring the best out in a driver and make him really try hard. Tambay can’t wait to put one over the Ferrari team with a Renault, while Frost will relish the opportunity to dust up the Renault team with a McLaren-Porsche. But one thing that has not changed is the combination of Nelson Piquet, Gordon Murray, the Brabham team and BMW M-Power and that is a combination whose ultimate worth is well-known and it has to be the standard by which to judge everything in 1984. Tambay may be out to beat Ferrari, and Front may be out to beat Renault, but in reality it is Nelson Piquet and Brabham-BMW they are really going to have to beat, and Patrese will undoubtedly be trying to beat Piquet with an Alfa Romeo and de Cesaris will be trying to beat them all with the new Ligier-Renault. 1984 could be very exciting, and I wouldn’t stand too close to the edge if I were you.
Added to all this we are going to find out how good Derek Warwick is, as we have only ever seen hint in a Toleman-Hart Formula One car, and Frost is going to convince us of his driving ability, matched up against Louth’s known ability as we have only ever seen Frost in a Renault since he matured. He shall also receive confirmation of how good or bad the Renault is, as it has never been driven by a driver of external known ability, only by those who grew up with it. Tambay’s ability with a Ferrari is a known factor, so it will be interesting to see it applied to a Renault. Alboreto’s potential was clear to see in a Tyrrell, which was not really competitive, so his moment-of-truth is coming in the Ferrari team. Quietly working away at Didcot is the Williams team, intent on getting back up to the front where they really belong. Keijo Rosberg and Jacques Laffite stay with the team, so there are no personal vendettas involved, but they will have machinery to match the best if the South African race was anything to go by. There isn’t much room on the front of a Formula One starting grid and there are a lot of teams who want to be there. There is plenty of room at the back of the grid, but none of them are interested in that, so we can look forward with mounting excitement as the 1984 season approaches. Not for a long time has the opening of a new season been awaited with such anticipation. Ferrari, Renault, Brabham-BMW, McLaren-Porsche, Alfa Romeo and Williams-Honda could all be on the front row, while Lotus-Renault and Ligier-Renault will be trying to get amongst the big-boys. For drivers take Tambay, Warwick, Arnoux, Alboreto, Piquet, de Cesaris, Lauda, Frost, Patrese, Rosberg and de Angelis and you have as good a bunch of hard racers who know what its like up at the front and enjoy being there. In three months time it will all start happening. — D.S.J.