Formula One Seasonal review

A Bright Outlook

The racing may have stopped last November, but Formula One itself never stops, and development, design and testing has been on full throttle in preparation for the 1991, which starts in March. The scene is rapidly becoming an engine competition, with the big wheels of the industry forcing the pace and causing the chassis constructors to stay on their toes to keep up. With Goodyear and Pirelli sharing the front-runners there will be no let up on the tyre front, nor will there be any room for drivers who do not give 100% effort.

The engine manufacturers are spreading their efforts forming, in effect, A and B teams, even Fiat-Ferrari joining in this spread of effort. Honda’s A-team will once again be McLaren, using the new V12 Honda engine, while their B-team will be Tyrell, using the 1990 Honda V10 engine in its championship-winning form. The Ferrari team will have the 1991 version of the 5-valve per cylinder V12 engine, and the Minardi team will be the Ferrari-B team using the 1990 version of the Maranello V12 to start with. Benetton will continue to use the latest versions of the narrow-angle Cosworth V8, with all the help available from Ford (USA) on electronics and engine management, while a production version of the HB 1990 engine will power the new Jordan car, to form the Ford B-team.

Renault will still be concentrating all their efforts on their 1991 engines for the Williams team, but have promised to supply their V10 engines to the Ligier team for 1992.

Entirely new, and already undergoing track testing is the Yamaha 5-valve-per-cylinder V12 engine for the new Brabham BT60, and the Illmor V10 engine for the Leyton House team. The new Judd V10 is on test with the Scuderia Italia Dallara team, and the Lamborghini V12 is being developed along with the new Modena team with a car that is virtually a works Lamborghini. Brian Hart is continuing development of the wide-angle Cosworth DFR engine, the Osella team using the engines to the specification used last year by Tyrell, and the Larrousse team having the benefit of continual Hart development., if all goes to plan.

A totally new engine is the Porsche V12 designed and built for the Japanese Footwork organisation, who have taken over the Arrows concern and changed the name to Footwork. There will still be some Judd EV8 engines about and production Cosworth V8 DFR engines, among the lesser teams, which regrettably includes Team Lotus.

Taking the teams in the most likely order, though quite unofficially, the scene should read like this:

McLaren-Honda: while the team has not undergone any major personnel changes which aids stability, they are embarking on an all-new season mechanically. Prompted by the new Honda V12 engine, the new chassis will be the MP4/6 and a form of electro-automatic transmission is being developed. Drivers remain as before with Ayrton Senna (the reigning World Champion) and Gerhard Berger to back him up. The Honda V12 first appeared on test at Silverstone last June since when it has done many test miles, installed in a modified 1990 MP4/5B chassis. The initial design work on the V12 began in the Spring of 1989 at about the time that the V10 engine was taking part in its first race. I recall looking at the V10 engine that was about to set new standards and saying to a colleague that it was interesting, but obsolete in the mind of any reputable Research and Development department, and I was sure Honda designers were already starting on their next engine for the 3½-litre Formula, and I wondered what it would be. I don’t think my colleague really understood, even after I went into the logic that goes on in Research and Development. I wasn’t being clairvoyant, I was merely confirming known facts in engineering.

It took about 9 months to design and build the first V12 engine and it was on the dynamometer by October 1989 while out on the track the ‘Obsolete’ V10 was sweeping the board. The first track test of the V12 in a modified MP4/5 chassis was in June 1990 at Silverstone and since then testing and development have continues apace so that by the end of the year all the basic details of the required specifications for the 1991 engines had been settled in readiness for the start of the season. Now the thought is, what is R&D thinking about for the next Formula One engine? The 1991 engine is designated RA121E, the 121 figure denoting 12 cylinder, ’91 year and Honda expressed certain amount of satisfaction in announcing that on test-bed running it was showing ‘much more power than version E of the V10 engine.’ Not a bad starting point for 1991.

All this was in an interesting document put out by the Honda Formula 1 Grand Prix team, from their UK base at Langley, to the West of London. In this document they explained much of the development work that went on with the V10 engine during 1990 while taking the Constructors’ World Championship. Designated RA100E the V10 appeared in six different versions, to suit varying circuit conditions as well as overall development. Before the season started they set themselves three targets, all of which were achieved handsomely. These were:-

(1) To achieve an increase of 30 bhp over the 1989 engine.

(2) To concentrate on reliability to prevent engine-orientated retirements.

(3) To improve the level of ease of driving by making the engine characteristics more driver-friendly.

Object (1) was surpassed comfortably, the ultimate version of the 1990 engine developed 40 bhp more than the best 1989 engine, and during this improvement the maximum engine speed was raised by 800 rpm, (from 13,000 to 13,800 rpm), though Honda do not officially admit to a figure for maximum rpm. This 40 horsepower increase did not all happen at once, it was a continuous process, there being a 10 horsepower increase between Versions 1 and 2, brought about principally by modifications to combustion, which also involved new fuel provided by Shell and changing from leaded fuel to an unleaded fuel. Version 3 had a lot of attention paid to reducing internal engine friction, which obviously involved oil development, again in conjunction with Shell, and at the same times there were improvements to engine response and to fuel economy, all of which produced another 8 horsepower. Modifications to valve springs and valve operating mechanism, along with a reduction in piston weight raised the rpm from Version 3 and produced another 7 horsepower, this being Version 4.

For really high-speed circuits (Francorchamps and Monza) more top-end power was essential so Version 5 appeared, with modifications to the inlet tracts and the induction system in general, This was when they changed from butterfly throttles to slide throttles with unrestricted inlet ports, and the result was another 5 horsepower, so before the end of the season they had achieved their 30 bhp objective. Not content with that, Version 6 was produced for the final two races, and embodied all the things they had learned during the season which resulted in another 10 bhp and rpm up 800 over the 1989 engine.

Throughout all this continual development a weight reduction of 2kg (4.4lbs) was achieved by minute attention to details on ten different engine components. While all this progress was very satisfactory Honda were well aware that Ferrari, Renault and Cosworth were making similar progress, Ferrari undoudtably equalling the Honda development, but Maranello never tell us anything about what they are doing. Honda make the point that if teams are matching each other on development then the one that does it in the shorter time will be the winner. They ended their report on the RA100E by saying, “Formula One racing is an extremely competitive world,”- and who will argue with that?

The Honda V10 engine finished the season with a quoted 690 bhp and already the RA121E engine is giving “much more power” as well as proving to be an engine that is much more “driver-friendly”. This means throttle response is much more precise, the control of mixture and ignition is being more precisely controlled by the engine management system, and the torque of the engine has a wider spread. It all looks most promising for Senna and Berger, providing that the McLaren part of the equation is equally progressive and of course, that Goodyear can match anything that Pirelli come up with on the tyre front.

Tyrell-Honda: Ken Tyrell’s team are on the threshold of a new lease of life near the top. 1990 saw the introduction of the distinctive 019 with its high nose and drooping front wings, to promote downforce under the cockpit without infringing the rules. With Brian Hart doing remarkable things with the old Cosworth V8 DFR and Jean Alesi doing remarkable things anyway, the Tyrell stirred things up a bit last year. Sadly, Tyrell has lost Alesi to Ferrari, and has replaced him with Stefano Modena, still keeping Satoru Nakajima as his second driver, and while he may not be a number one driver, he is the best passport-to-Japan technology.

Honda are producing the RA101E engine for 1991 for the exclusive use of Team Tyrell, this being a production engine to the Version 6 engine specification V10 of last year, which means 690 bhp with complete reliability. Obviously Honda will be occupied with their new V12 for McLaren, but the Tyrell V10 engines will undoubtedly be looked after by Honda and undoubtedly further development is possible. Dr Harvey Postlethwhaite has designed the new 020 Tyrell, which is a logical development of the sleek 019 used last year, completely redesigned to merge in with the V10 Honda engine and its characteristics.

Put into simple terms, Team Tyrell are starting off anew at the point which McLaren-Honda ended the 1990 season, which can’t be a bad thing for everyone concerned. Naturally with the close liaison with Honda, who have strong connections with Shell, Ken Tyrell has had to terminate his fuel and oil contracts with ELF, with whom he has been for longer than most people care to remember, and contracted to use Shell fuel and oil.

It is a pity that Jean Alesi decided to leave Tyrell for he set some interesting standards in 1990 with the 019 with Cosworth and it would have been instructive to see how well he would have performed in the new car with Honda power. He has left behind a pretty serious “benchmark” in Team Tyrell.

Fiat-Ferrari:There is little doubt that the 1990 Ferrari V12 was a virtual match for the McLaren-Honda V10, even though Maranello quoted 685 bhp for their engine against the 690 of the Honda. Horsepower may not be everything, but it is a good starting point for equating cars, but it is one thing having horsepower and another thing altogether in knowing how to make the most of it. Ferrari indicated that they were not lacking in knowing how to make the most of their 685 bhp and their seven-speed gearbox with electro-magnetic gear selection enabled the drivers to keep both hands on the steering wheel at all times. This is undoubtedly the way to goa s engines get more “peaky” with rpm heading for 14,000 before 1991 is over. The ultimate must surely be a constant speed power unit with infinitely variable transmission so that the driver controls everything with a single pedal only. The engine management system would keep the engine running at constant speed and the automatic infinitely-variable would let out exactly the power that the rear wheels required; the driver would merely steer the car and put the brakes on! To listen to a Ferrari on a lap somewhere like Silverstone, where it never gets out of ear-shot makes you realise that the electronically-controlled 7-speed gearbox doesn’t let the rpm vary much already.

Ferrari may be very secretive about what they have done, unlike other firms who are secretive about what they are going to do, and even more so about what they are thinking, but we can rest assured that the Prancing Horse team with Fiat technology behind it, will be as competitive as ever. The Ferrari driver team is as potentially explosive as ever it was, maybe even more so, for Jean Alesi is about to get his big chance to show us how good he is. Prost will continue to lead the team in his usual variable fashion, brilliant one weekend, driving like an old woman the next. Variable in temperament Prost may be, but the does win races, though mostly from the back, rather than from the front as Senna does. Alesi has yet to show that he can win races, but my guess is that if he does he will do it from the front, in Senna fashion.

Minardi-Ferrari: This Ferrari B-team is very much the equivalent of Tyrell being the Honda B-team. Having struggled along with fairly standard Cosworth DFR engines, 1991 offers them a real “moment of truth” and should see them either make-it or break-it. The Ferrari factory are supplying them with the 1990 spec V12 engines which should keep both designers and drivers more that busy enough. Pierluigi Martini leads the team and his driving partner will be Gianni Morbidelli. Until now the Minardi team has never been more than good midfield runners, with occasional flashes of brilliance, while the Ferrari V12 engine will not necessarily guarantee them instant success, even if they do perform well, since much of their midfield opposition also have new armament for 1991. Minardi has always been a friendly and popular team in the pit-lane and any success they achieve in 1991 will be warmly applauded by everyone.

Williams-Renault: Frank Williams’ and Patrick Head’s team will once more be the sole users of the efficient Renault V10 engines, but this year one of their big unknowns will be solved. In the past drivers Thierry Boutsen and Ricardo Patrese have produced some useful results, but there was always the question of their driving ability compared to Senna or Prost. With Nigel Mansell replacing Boutson we are about to find out something that could be dramatically interesting. If Mansell is not in between Senna (Honda V12) and Prost (Ferrari V12) then we can safely say that the combination of Williams-Renault is just not up to it. If Mansell can contain his destructive criticisms and get stuck into the job (he has already started complaining about having to use an old-fashioned gear lever after two years with the Ferrari finger-tip control) we should be in for some exciting moments. My feeling is the Renault engine is as good as they come, and Head’s chassis and aerodynamics are seldom found wanting. A completely new car is on the way, and R&D is well into automatic transmission and controlled suspension. I am sure that all true-blue Brits will be urging Mansell on, and if he is way out front when he spins or blows up, I am sure we won’t be hard on him, for “trying” is the name of the Mansell game. While all the drama and hysterics are hopefully way out in front, the immensely matured Ricardo Patrese will be keeping station ready to profit from anyone else’s disaster, and for a solid number two driver you can’t ask for more than that.

Benetton-Cosworth: Last year the Benetton team won the final two races of the Formula One season mainly because McLaren and Ferrari fell down. But all credit to Nelson Piquet for he was well ahead of everyone else when the opposition fell by the wayside. With the experimental works Cosworth V8 with Ford electronics and engine management giving only a claimed 650 bhp, against the more powerful V10 and V12 engines, the team could hardly expect to be other than “the best of the rest.” They maintained that position all season and race reliability netted some good placing that accrued points towards 3rd place in the Constructors’ Championship.

Just before the Japanese Grand Prix Alessandro Nannini had a severe accident in a private helicopter, the result of which puts a big question mark over the likelihood of him ever being able to drive a Formula One car again. At the last moment Roberto Mareno was co-opted to take the second Benetton and he rose to the occasion magnificently, following it up with a good placing in the last race. While we wait and see how Nannini recovers from his accident, Moreno will be driving again for the Benetton team, with Piquet as team leader for another season. The B191, from the pencil of John Barnard, has yet to be seen, but however good the chassis is it will still be handicapped by having less power than the major opposition. Chassis designers and aerodynamicists frequently tell me that the engine is of no great importance in a Formula One car, but I have yet to see a true race winner that did not have a strong engine. Remove all the aerodynamic aids and suspension movement from a Formula One car and it would still leave the start-line. Remove the engine from a Formula One car and noting would happen. It won’t even make a nice noise!

Jordan-Cosworth: The Jordan Grand Prix team is a newcomer to the Formula One scene put together by Irishman Eddie Jordan who cut his teeth in Formula 3 and other small formulae, working his way up to Formula 3000, and now into Formula 1. Chief designer is Gary Anderson who has been working his way up the design ladder since 1975, first with his own F3 project and progressing via a spell in America with Indycar projects, to F3000, and now Jordan has given him his big opportunity to get into the top echelon of Formula One. The car uses the very latest Cosworth V8 engine, now known as the HB since being offered for sale. The initial two years of this narrow-angle V8 development was exclusive to the Benetton team and further development is still exclusive for another year, especially in the field of electronics and engine management systems . The Jordan team is very much Ford’s B-team in the overall Grand Prix scene, and the Jordan 911 was out on test by November 1990, well on schedule which is a good start for any team.

Bertrand Gachot has been contracted to drive for the team, the young Luxembourgious who lives in Belgium, having being trying in vain to generate a bit of Formula One credibility for himself with rather hopeless teams at the back-end of the grid. The team’s first obstacle is to do well in the pre-qualifying hour early on Friday morning before the race.

Brabham-Yamaha: This is one of the most exciting of the new projects for 1991. On the face of things the Japanese owner of the Brabham team has got himself a very strong hand of cards. Sergio Rinland’s BT59 design, used last year with a Judd V8 engine, was a neat and tidy car that invariably looked good, even if it was underpowered. An exclusive tie-up between Brabham and Yamaha was announced last summer and some initial testing was done with the old Yamaha V8 installed in the rear of a BT59 chassis. This was not intended to provide anything more than a contact session between the Brabham engineers and the Yamaha engineers. There is no better way for a team of engineers and mechanics to get to know their opposite numbers than to have a car to play with.

The brand new Yamaha V12 engine was announced last autumn by which time the Brabham people already had a good working relationship with the Yamaha people so that when the first engine was installed in a 1990 chassis for test purposes, everyone knew each other. At the time of writing two BT59Y cars are out in South Africa, on the new Kyalami circuit undergoing extensive testing with the Pirelli tyre company.

The two drivers for this exciting new project are Martin Brundle, making a welcome return to Formula One, and Mark Blundell who, while he had yet to compete in a Formula One race, has been doing a lot of test and development driving for Williams-Renault until he landed the number two seat at Brabham-Yamaha. His chance to join Brabham came from competence and attitude, as certified by Patrick Head, not from PR-hype and money the way some drivers get themselves into Formula One.

A more serious and level-headed pair of drivers would be hard to find and in the South African testing Brundle’s car had a fixed specification V12 engine and 6-speed gearbox, but all matter of telemetry to monitor brakes, suspension, tyres, steering and all other chassis components. Blundell’s car had a fixed chassis specification and all experiments were being carried out on the engine and gearbox. Naturally there is complete integration between the respective drivers and engineers, each car being modified as testing provided concrete results. If all goes well they should return with all the relevant data for the finalisation of the BT60 design which Rinland was completing while the African testing was underway. Already there is a batch of three engines for each car, with more to follow as the start of the season approaches.

Engine preparation and maintenance will be carried out, together with test-bed work, at a workshop in Newport Pagnell which Yamaha have acquired from Aston Martin. The V12 engine, with 5-valves per cylinder to Yamaha patents, and four overhead camshafts sits incredibly low in the chassis and the step-up to the rear axle centre-line allows for a three shaft transverse gearbox of very compact design. There is something a bit special about the sharpness of Japanese racing engines, and the Yamaha V12 sounds impressive. This is a project that will be well worth keeping a close eye on, for there do not seem to be any weak links in the chain.

Leyton House-Illmor: This combination of two well-known firms, each with its own good track record, for the 1991 season and beyond, is another project that generates interest merely in contemplation. Leyton House is a Japanese concern that took over the old March Formula One team, and have made some good impressions until now using Judd EV8 engines. The driving team of Ivan Capelli and Mauricio Gugelmin are as good a pair of “likely-lads” as anyone could wish for. Give Capelli a good car and he will race it well; give Gugelmin a good car and he will test drive and develop it into a better one.

Paul Morgan and Mario Illien set up Illmor engineering with the express purpose of building a racing engine for Indianapolis-type racing, at a time when the Cosworth DFR turbocharged Indy engine was ruling the Speedways. The Illmor V8 very quickly changed the face of American racing indicating that these two young engineers really knew what they were doing. They have now designed and built a Formula One engine, of V10 configuration, to be used exclusively by the Leyton House team and much track testing has already been carried out. This new project is an exact parallel to the Brabham-Yamaha, both of them setting out into pastures new and exciting in 1991.

Footwork-Porsche: Something of an unknown quantity this new combination must be taken seriously. The Arrows team which promised so much but achieved so little over the years, looked as if it was going to flounder when it was rescued by the Japanese industrial concern known as Footwork. After a season when the team was known as Arrows-Footwork, and drivers Michele Alboreto and Alessandro Caffi achieved virtually nothing, even though they had Brian Hart-prepared Cosworth DFR engines, the team was renamed Footwork. An industrial deal was done with Porsche’s Weissach Research and Development centre for the German firm to design and build a V12 engine for a new Footwork Formula One car. The Porsche engine was announced last October and testing was begun using a 1990 Arrows A11B chassis. The new Footwork-Porsche car is awaited with much interest.

Scuderia Italia: Based around a Gianpaolo Dallara-designed car, this Italian team were seldom in the picture, having to rely on Cosworth DFR engines prepared by Heini Mader’s Swiss-based engine shop. For 1991 the team have made a contract to use the newly designed V10 engine from the design department of John Judd’s engine firm. In the past the Judd V8 engines have powered various Formula One cars, but real success has eluded them. This new V10 project adds another new and interesting feature to the 1991 season, with Emanuele Pirro and JJ Lehto driving the Scuderia Italia cars.

Lamborghini Formula 1: After many years as chief designer at Ferrari Mauro Forghieri left the Maranello firm and joined Lamborghini at St Agata on the opposite side of Modena. Ready for the new 3½-litre Formula Forghieri designed a 4-cam V12 engine which was taken up by the Larrousse team, who had contracted to use a Lola-designed chassis. Gerard Larrousse had formed his own team after leaving Renault Sport and over the past two years his Lola-Lamborghini cars have shown good promise, though not many results. Last year Lotus also contracted to use the Lamborghini engine in their Frank Dernie-designed Lotus 102. Before the end of 1990 Lamborghini announced that no further contracts would be made with either team. In the meantime Forghieri had designed and built a complete car to the order of a Mexican entrepreneur. Before it could turn a wheel in anger the Mexican disappeared and the whole thing folded up. Having gone that far Lamborghini decided to keep the car and run it themselves, though it was not yet to appear at a race. Nicola Larini has been contracted to drive it, and hopefully a second car will be available for the Belgian F3000 driver Eric van de Poole. However, something of a question mark hangs over the whole affair.

With hindsight it would appear that Lamborghini knew that 1991 finances at Lotus and Larrousse were going to be in a rather shaky state, which no doubt prompted their withdrawal of any further engine supply.

Lotus-Judd V8: Team Lotus management has been taken over by a new group of people, though the Chapman family still retain an interest. Having been at the top of the Formula One tree Lotus got on the slippery slope once the inertia of Colin Chapman had gone, and demise was inevitable. The change of management will salvage what they can, but it means starting from the bottom. With only second-hand Judd V8 engines to power the cars, the future does not look very happy. The young Finnish driver Mika Hakkinen, fresh from Formula 3 is the only driver nominated so far, but a car is promised to Martin Donnelly when he recovers from the injuries received in a big accident at Jerez last year.

Ligier-Cosworth: With the promise of Renault V10 engines for 1992 the Ligier team can do little but “tread water” during 1991. However, Thierry Boutsen has joined the team as number one driver, so he must be planning well ahead in his career. Second driver is Erik Comas making the transition from F3000 to Formula One. Having to rely on Cosworth DFR power is not going to make it easy for the team to be competitive in 1991 but they can consolidate themselves for a bright future.

Osella-Cosworth: Enzo Osella has sold the major interest in his Formula One team to his long term sponsor and supporter Fondmetal, the Italian metallurgy and casting firm. A new factory has been set up in Bicester to many of the components for the 1991 cars, though the preparation and final assembly be will be from a new factory in Italy. Cosworth DFR engines will be prepared by Brian Hart to the specifications used by Tyrell last year, so driver Olivier Grouillard will have no excuse for not matching the performance of Nakajima last year. One can hardly expect him to match the performances of Jean Alesi however.

Larrousse-Cosworth: Plans are a bit uncertain, for Gerard Larrousse has lost the financial support of the Japanese concern ESPO, and there is talk of a merger with the little AGS team of Henri Julien. If the team goes ahead in some shape of form it will have the support of Brian Hart engine development on the Cosworth DFR units. At the moment Eric Bernard and Aguri Suzuki are contracted to drive for Larrousse, and Gabriele Tarquini is signed for AGS.

From the foregoing it will be appreciated that there is much in store for the 1991 Formula One season with McLaren-Honda and Ferrari almost certain to start where they left off while Williams-Renault is in with the best chance they have ever had. Tyrell, Minardi, Brabham, Leyton House and Footwork (ex-Arrows) are all being given their big chance, and newcomers Jordan, Modena-Lamborghini are about to plunge into the thick of fighting. There is indeed a bright outlook for Formula One as we start the third season of the 3½-litre Formula. Such is the pace and interest these days that the turbocharged era seems to have been in another age. DSJ