A Promising Season
THE 1989 season ended in a bit of a shambles, but there were two interesting aspects that boded well for the future. At the Tokyo Motor Show the Honda Motor Company displayed a brand new V12 Formula One engine, with the news that it would be ready for testing in 1990, and ready for the McLaren team to use in 1991. By then the present V10 engine will be obsolete (by Honda standards!) and a production racing version will be made by the Japanese Mugen concern, and among those who can look forward to using it (if they can afford it) will be the Tyrrell team.
The second important end of season aspect was that almost as soon as the dust had settled from the last event, a lot of testing began in preparation for 1990. The 1989 season ended with a lot of driver changes planned for the new year, some significant, some merely interesting and totally insignificant, but all through the spectrum drivers and teams that had changes planned wasted no time in doing some test runs with 1989, or prototype 1990, cars in order to get to know each other.
Thus we had Gerhard Berger, who is now second driver to Ayrton Senna at McLaren, trying an MP4/5 with Honda V10 engine, and learning now to use a normal gear lever again. Alain Prost, who has joined Nigel Mansell at Ferrari was soon into learning about the little leveroperated electrical contacts on the steering column of the F1/89 Ferrari, that tell the gearbox whether to change up a gear or down a gear.
After a dreadful season with their Judd V8 powered Lotus 101 the Norfolk team started afresh with a prototype car with a Lamborghini V12 engine in the back. During the past season much of the management of Team Lotus swept itself under the carpet, and Tony Rudd moved in from Lotus Car Division, to take over the running of the racing team. All thoughts of V8 Judd engines, and Tickford 5-valve cylinder heads, have also been swept under the carpet, and both their drivers from 1989 have gone as well. 1990 will see a new Team Lotus, unfortunately still painted the same horrendous Camel yellow, but now led by Derek Warwick, moving over from the Arrows team, supported by Martin Donnelly who was already on the Lotus sidelines. The Chrysler sponsored Lamborghini power unit, designed by Mauro Forghieri, showed good potential on occasions, in the back of the Larrousse Lolas, during the past season and is to be the mainstay of the Lotus revival. Warwick wasted no time at all before trying the prototype with V12 Power, and if anything is to lift him out of the doldrums he had got himself into with the Arrows team, this will be it. The Team Lotus biggest disappointment, in the form of three times World Champion Nelson Piquet, has moved across from Hethel to Witney and joined the Benetton team, alongside Sandro Nannini. He was equally as quick in
getting into a Benetton B189 before the year ended, in order to get to know the team and to sample the Cosworth V8-EXP engine, of which a 1990 version, still financed by Ford, will remain exclusively for the Benetton team.
Of all the front running teams Williams seem to be the most stable and after their second place in the Constructors Championship, behind McLaren, and Riccardo Patrese’s third place in the Driver Championship behind Prost and Senna, the Didcot team can build directly on their end of season situation, unlike a lot of teams that are starting all over again. In good time Regie-Renault announced continued support of the Williams Team,and exclusive use of the French company’s V10 engine, and promptly produced a brand new version of the engine in readiness for winter track-testing. Following the lead by Honda last winter, the new Renault RS2 engine has its four camshafts driven by an enclosed gear train, in place of the previous exposed toothed-rubber-belt drive. As Honda explained, a gear drive system gives much closer tolerances of valve gear mechanism and valve timing, which is desirable when operating in the 13,000 rpm area. It is an indication of the sort of design details needed for really high output, and an indication that both Honda and Renault are exploiting the upper reaches of their engine designs to very fine limits. It also indicates that there is some very sophisticated engine management going on at these high rpm, bearing in mind that the engines are of 372-litre capacity, not tiny little 1500cc units. Among other engineers there is a general belief that Honda went to gear drive for their camshafts in order to exploit automatic variable valve timing, in the
quest for both high rpm and bhp, and torque spread down to around 8500 rpm. It is what Honda refer to as “driveability” and when questioned about automatic, or silicon-chip programmed, valve-timing variations they have been known to smile and say “not yet”. Maybe Renault have come up with a solution to the problem; after all, they solved the steel valve spring problem some years ago on their turbocharged engines, with their still very secret pneumatic valve springs, which are still used on the V10 and have been completely trouble free.
The McLaren team have the full force of Honda Research and Development behind them on the engine front, and Williams have the similar force of RegieRenault’s engine research. Meanwhile down in Maranello the Ferrari team must be on a level with the Japanese and the French, and Ferrari engines are for Ferrari cars. Both Honda and Renault have published some interesting information on their current state of play, but Ferrari have said nothing. But then they never have said very much, even when it is all over and they have moved ahead to the next stage. The day the Scuderia Ferrari releases some useful engine information will be quite a special one!
You do not have to be clairvoyant to see that by and large the 1990 Formula One scene is going to be similar to 1989, with Honda, Renault and Ferrari engines setting the pace with the others doing their best to keep up. At the time of writing the final list of entries, both of teams and drivers, for the 1990 World Championship series, has not been settled, nor for that matter has the venue for the early season round in Brazil. The front running teams are well organ
ised, as one would expect, and some of the mid-field teams as well, but the rag, tag and bobtail lot at the back of the grid, and those who may not even get on the grid, are far from settled, and some may not even return.
Some of the 1989 drivers are not returning, either due to openly “retiring from Formula One” or being unable to find work, or being elbowed out of the cockpit by a hard-charging newcomer. Eddie Cheever has “retired”, so has Rene Arnoux, Christian Danner, Piercarlo Ghinzani and Jonathan Palmer. All the other names that floated round the Formula One scene last year have either changed teams, from one small team to an even smaller one, or are standing around hopefully, crash hat and Super Licence at the ready. Much of this mishmash should be sorted out by the end of February and if not, certainly by March 11 when the first of the sixteen races is due, which is scheduled to run round the streets of Phoenix, Arizona. In addition to the “musical chairs” game played by the drivers during the
winter, there have been similar games going on among designers (1 use the term loosely), engineers, and staff members of team management. The world of people in Formula One is something that would fit into politics, but not in serious industry and commerce, for the people are notorious for being unwilling, or unable, to tell the truth. Life would be a lot simpler if some of them were to say to “investigating” journalists, “—off, and mind your own business”. Better still if they were to be open and honest and say “Yes, I am going to work for “Ferronda” but I have not told my boss yet”. When it is suggested that someone is moving from one team to another, the person in question gets all indignant and says “No way!” and three weeks later he has done exactly what was suggested; you begin to wonder . . . These sort of people do not instill confidence, like politicians. The media then announce “SHOCK MOVE BY so-and-so” whereas they should say “The man is a plain liar”. While the nitty-gritty of Formula One is pressing on furiously in readiness for the 1990 season in a most encouraging manner, those with nothing better to do are still stirring thing up over incidents from the last season, raking over the ashes of something that should be dead and buried, or trying to settle scores that were not resolved last year. 1990 is only the second season of the new normally aspirated 31/2-litre Formula and it has yet to begin, but already the technical development pace has virtually outstripped the peak of the turbocharged era, before boost pressures were limited, and that can’t be bad. In 12 months time we should be moving into the second phase of the new Formula and then you can almost hear officialdom saying “Too fast, too powerful, too complicated, too expensive” and those who have got left behind will again be saying “Unfair” and then we will have to start all over again. But that all encourages progress, though at times I get the feeling that the end of the 20th century is seeing “Progress moving sideways, whereas it always used to move forwards. DSJ