LETTER TO READERS, January 1990

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LETTER TO READERS

DEAR Reader There are some strange people who do not like the Honda Motor Company of Tokyo, mainly because they are so successful in Formula One and keep on winning. From outside, the change from 172-litre turbocharger V6 in 1988 to normally aspirated 3 -litre V10, was hardly noticeable. It was the Honda-powered McLarens which set the pace throughout 1989, winning 10 of the 16 Formula One races almost as if there had not been any change to the Formula.

Personally I find the Honda Formula One engine project a fascinating and highly interesting activity that pays dividends for watching closely. Even the little we are allowed to know about the engines and the hi-tech telemetry operation in the back of the pit garages is fascinating to watch even though most of it is unintelligible to the untrained eye. The 1989 season had barely ended before a five page document arrived from the Honda Fl engine team head

quarters in Langley, in Buckinghamshire. The title was “Development of Honda’s Formula One RA109E V-10 Engine” and it was written by Mr Osamu Goto, the Project leader of the Formula One engine. Apart from reviewing progress and development of the engine through its five variations used during the 1989 season, it also gave a detailed analysis of the engine failures they suffered.

Of particular interest was the story of what happened to Ayrton Senna’s engine in the United States GP in Phoenix, Arizona. During the race the engine was plagued by a misfire that could not be traced or rectified, even though he stopped at the pits and had all the ignition and electronics checked and changed, the misfire still persisted and he finally had to retire. Prost, on the other hand, had a trouble-free run to victory at Senna’s expense.

After the race the engine was sent straight back to Japan and put back in the test-bed. Everything was tested under even greater heat conditions than those at Phoenix, but the engine never missed a beat. It looked as though the engine electronics and all the sensors were not the cause of the misfire. Then the complete wiring loom was removed from the car, checked, tested, taken apart and inspected, but nothing could be found to be faulty. Everything was put back together and the car was given further testing at Hockenheimring, but the misfire never reappeared. Although Honda are not prepared to be dogmatic about the results of their researches, they feel that the trouble had something to do with the car-to-pit radio signals, somehow affecting the engine management electronic system. Whether due to the Phoenix circuit being hemmed in by tall buildings, or something in the town being on a similar radio wave band to that used on Senna’s car, they still do not know. As a result of this investigation

the radio installation on the car was repositioned at the following event.

Now the interesting thing about this clear and frank explanation from Honda, brings to mind a peculiar happening in the Canadian Grand Prix in 1988; on this occasion effecting Berger’s Ferrari. Through-out practice and the race Berger’s Ferrari had a persistent misfire which nothing would cure. The new engine fitted for the race also misfired like the practice engine had done. Everything was checked, tested, replaced but still the misfire was there. What was particularly frustrating was that Alboreto’s engine was running perfectly. During the race Berger’s trouble got so bad that he finally had to give up.

The Ferrari engineers were totally baffled, and when they got back to Maranello the car was tested on their Fiorano track before anything was touched, and the engine ran perfectly. Having nowhere else to look for the trouble it was shrugged off as a mystery or a phenomena. However the chief engineer was not easily put off and spent some time thinking over the whole episode.

1988 was the occasion when new pits were built on the Montreal circuit, and when everyone arrived the pits were usable, but not finished. They had been built in a remarkably short space of time and the wiring and electrical installations were not finalised. The day before practice it was realised that the whole pit complex was only served by 110 volts, and the “brain cells” of modern Formula One runs on 240 volts. To solve the problem, an enormous generating plant mounted on a lorry was produced and parked behind the new control tower. This huge diesel/electric plant ran continuously throughout the two days of practice and the day of the race, pushing out an enormous quantity of 240 volt electricity to keep everything working, and it did a magnificent job. Now the Ferrari team was in the first two pits, very close to this generator and it was the only piece of equipment that is

not normally at a Formula One Race meeting. Ferrari’s engineer could not prove anything, but much later he told me that he was pretty convinced that the generator was somehow involved with the misfire on Berger’s car. The two Ferraris are identical apart from the radio wavelength on the car-to-pit radio, so he felt sure that there was something in the generator plant that Berger’s radio signal was picking up and this was affecting the engine management system.

Honda’s problem in Phoenix in 1989 sounds exactly like Ferrari’s problem at Montreal in 1988. The difference is that Ferrari did not publish any information or explanation of their problem, and I was only told about it privately and unofficially. Honda have recounted it openly and unashamedly. But that is the difference between following Honda racing and following Ferrari racing, one team tells you nothing, the other team tells you quite a lot. Obviously Honda will not tell you everything you want to know, though once a project is finished and obsolete,it publishes a lot of interesting knowledge. Ferrari publishes nothing. If it wasn’t that the V12 Ferraris have been snapping at the heels of the McLarenHondas this past season, you could be forgiven for not knowing there was anything technical going on in Maranello.

Following Berger’s monumental accident at Imola early last season, there was a lot of talk about Ferrari carrying out a thorough investigation into the cause of the accident. If it did carry out the investigation nothing has ever been published about it, and I am still waiting to hear what really caused that crash, even on the “off the record” grapevine. Just two different ways of going about running a racing programme. I know which I enjoy most.

Information from teams varies enormously and at times it is rather sad to see a small team with nothing to say, nothing to rejoice about, trying so hard to inform us of what it is doing.

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