The politics of power-sharing

Cosworth could supply a third of the F1 grid in 2010, after the FIA ruled that new teams must use its engine. Will this herald a new era of ‘garagistes’?
By Rob Widdows

The new boys are doing their homework before moving up to senior school. They’re swotting up on the rules, already looking for loopholes, before packing their bags for the biggest move of all. But how many will be there on the first day of term next March?

When the Grand Prix teams land in Bahrain, there will be a common factor among the new boys who do make it – they’ll have Cosworth power. And pay in full for the privilege.

The cars of Campos-Dallara, USF1, Manor Motorsport and Lotus F1 are being prepared to receive the latest version of the Cosworth V8, a development of the engine last used by Williams in 2006. The FIA, with Procrustean guidance from former president Max Mosley, decreed that all four teams must be powered by Cosworth, even if they’d been offered free engines from another supplier. When their entries were confirmed, the teams thought they were signing up to a new budget cap ‘two-tier’ rulebook favouring those running the ‘spec’ Cosworth engine with a higher rev limit and free of the development freeze that applies to every other manufacturer. The FIA subsequently lost its battle to enforce this system, and now Cosworth and its teams are working to the same rules as everyone else.

Despite the summer rules shift, the Cosworth remained mandatory for the new teams. Once upon a time it was de rigeur for teams – other than the likes of Ferrari, Honda or Matra – to bolt on a DFV and go racing. But back then it was a guaranteed winning engine…

The return of Cosworth, one of the all-time great F1 engine builders, comes at an interesting point in the company’s history. When it was owned by Ford, Cosworth was a pure race engine company – a compact unit led and inspired by Keith Duckworth. The remarkable DFV won its first race on the back of Jim Clark’s Lotus at Zandvoort in 1967, Duckworth having designed the engine for Team Lotus using Ford money. From that historic day, the ever-evolving DFV went on to win a staggering 167 races.

It’s a lot to live up to.

Cosworth is now owned by venture capitalist and business ‘tycoon’ Kevin Kalkhoven, who bought it from Ford in 2004. Based in California, Kalkhoven has wide-ranging global interests, many associated with motor sport and leading-edge technologies.

Since the sale, Cosworth is to be found in some surprising places. The motor racing engines division is just one area; others are aerospace and defence, energy and the environment, an engineering consultancy, marine engineering, and performance parts for a wide range of projects. Cosworth recently opened a branch in India, and it is also supplying high-performance electronics to Richard Noble’s Bloodhound SSC Land Speed Record car. It’s a far cry from Duckworth and Costin’s little company of 40 years ago.

The last time Cosworth powered an F1 car was in 2006, when its CA2006 engines sat in the Williams FW28. It was an unhappy marriage: the cars failed to finish 20 of 36 races, and not once did either Nico Rosberg or Mark Webber visit the podium. It was the worst year for Williams since 1977. Williams regrouped and switched to Toyota in 2007. It was at this point that many of the best brains left Cosworth at Northampton, travelling down the road to Brixworth where they joined Mercedes-Benz High Performance Engines Ltd. This exodus included Andy Cowell, credited by insiders as being a key factor in the recent superiority of the Mercedes engine, and also Rob White (now at Renault) and Alex Hitzinger (Red Bull).

Of course, now Williams has joined the new teams, to be powered again by Cosworth for 2010. This is following a decline in relations with Toyota and the absence of a deal to run a Mercedes. For Williams, the British engine is the default option, not the unit of choice.

But Cosworth is back, and back with a vengeance – determined to prove it can still do the business. It will produce a new engine, albeit based on the ’06 unit, with new electronics and a long list of new internals in an attempt to stay on terms with Mercedes and Ferrari.

Cosworth won’t be supplying nearly as many teams as in its heyday, but these are different times. The FIA has stated that the engines “will be supplied to teams at a reasonable price”, whatever that means. Thus far there has been little detail on the latest Cosworth motor. It’s a hot point of discussion, especially since the concession to allow the new CA2009 V8 to rev to 20,000rpm instead of 18,000 was vetoed by the other manufacturers. The rumour mill is churning out tales of woe. A reliable industry source told Motor Sport that the engines are far from race-ready, and that suppliers are still unclear on specifications. These are tales that Mark Gallagher, the recently-appointed business unit leader of Cosworth F1, strongly denies.

“Our facilities and the access we have to new technologies is second to none,” he says. “We have some good people here, and we haven’t been standing still. The F1 engine has been extensively rebuilt since 2006, particularly with regard to fuel consumption and efficiency. We are quietly confident. Of course, things have changed since the summer and this has meant a fundamental re-working of almost every part, so it goes a lot deeper than just a new rev limit.

“Clearly we have to homologate this engine for each team we are supplying and this has meant a huge amount of work. We’ve started testing to ensure the engine has the endurance necessary to live within the new regulations, which demand that engines have a useful life of over 2000km. So far we’ve met our targets, and our engineers are pleased with progress.”

Gallagher is bullish, but rumours persist that the Cosworth will not be able to live with Mercedes and Ferrari. There have been concerns over fuel consumption, which will be vitally important in light of the 2010 refuelling ban.

“I’ve heard the rumours saying it’s more donkey power than horsepower, but this is simply not true,” says Gallagher. “Cosworth knows how to build a racing engine. The line of least resistance was to redevelop the old engine, but that doesn’t mean we’ll be off the pace. The refuelling ban has a dramatic effect on car weight at the start. Therefore fuel tank mass is critical as far as the dimensions of the car and weight distribution are concerned. It’s a challenge, but it will be met.

“Some of the applications Cosworth is using in other fields are much more demanding than anything in F1 and have been vital in this respect. For example, we are developing engines for unmanned military aircraft and these have to fly a long way on a tiny amount of fuel. I assure you that fuel efficiency and compression ratios – and combustion rates – are things we understand.

“I grew up in the 1960s, watching what Cosworth could do. At Jordan in 1991 we did a giant-killing act with a Cosworth engine. Our engineers relish a challenge, especially in F1, and if anyone believes the skills have drained away since ’06 they have another thing coming.”

Engineering aside, how does Cosworth feel about the new teams being forced to run its engines when some have allegedly received better offers from elsewhere? Motor Sport has been told of more than one case where new teams bidding for a place in F1 had the option of free Toyota engines, but were unable to accept – it was ‘race with Cosworth or not at all’.

“I’ve heard one or two manufacturers may have been in a position to offer cheaper – or possibly free – engines,” says Gallagher. “When FOTA was flexing its muscles the FIA declared its desire for economies to be made, and for new teams to be brought in at a time when perhaps it was felt that some existing teams were becoming too reliant on manufacturer support. Things have changed, and I know the new teams are very pleased to be working with us.

“Cosworth is the only independent engine manufacturer which has the motivation, the capability and the desire to take up this challenge. This is our business and we’re not going to turn around in six months and say we’ve had a shareholders meeting and we’re pulling out of F1. Yes, the engines cost money, but we believe that what we provide is good value.”

Might we see a return to the great old days of the DFV? It’s not an impossible scenario, especially in the wake of Toyota’s withdrawal.

“Of course we’ve considered the implications of a withdrawal by multiple manufacturers,” says Gallagher. “We know we could provide, if necessary, engines to the entire grid. This is in part due to the new rules. Each driver is allowed just eight engines per season, and in days gone by it wouldn’t have been unusual for Cosworth to supply as many as 80 engines for one team per season. We still have the capability and resources to produce a large number of engines. And we can put an F1 engine into production, keeping any performance differentials to a minimum. But we hope the manufacturers will stay because that makes it more interesting and competitive for us. We hope to keep them on their toes.”

Back when Clark’s Lotus won at Zandvoort in ’67, who could have imagined that Cosworth would become a global engineering company? Of course, keeping unmanned military planes in the air and building gearboxes for wind turbines is not the same as winning GPs. Only time will tell if Cosworth is right to be so optimistic about its return to the fray. Win or lose, it is going
back to its roots. There will be a great deal of expectation in Bahrain, and more than a few doubters ready to pounce. It was the same among the sand dunes all those years ago.