Good things come in small packages

… but talk to the chassis designer before you begin building him a Formula 1 engine.

Back in the early 1980s, John Barnard established himself as the dominant design leader within Formula 1. His composite chassis, electrohydraulic finger-flip gear changes and brutally pared-down overall packaging proved both race-winning and trend-setting. He was certainly no politician and tended to bulldoze his way over — or through — any views contrary to his own. I remember him blistering Porsche on one occasion and saying, “Engine designers seem to pay more attention to how they can mount their latest baby on a test-house dyno than how a chassis designer can ever hope to make it fit into a Formula 1 car’ It was against such a background that the TAG Turbo-byPorsche V6 engine, which carried McLaren, Lauda and Prost to multiple World Championship honours, was packaged, constrained and confined dimensionally toJB’s requirements and almost entirely to the complete distraction of Hans Mezger’s engineers at Porsche Weissach.

In recent times, it seems that racing engine designers have learned that lesson and learned it well. Modern Formula 1 engines are tiny when seen in isolation, outside the car on the workshop floor. Back in 1991 Adrian Reynard began to build a friendly relationship with Yamaha of Japan and was developing Formula 1 ambitions. He had 18 people on his Fl project team, had built a wind tunnel, developed software and data acquisition systems, investigated four-wheel steering and designed an in-house active suspension system. Seeking a suitable engine he had spent time courting Nissan and Toyota but, despite both having 3.5-litre endurance racing engines under development, they were aggrieved at being ill-treated in the World Sportscar Championship. Yamaha had no such political grievances, but in practical terms its motor racing record was pretty poor and its centre-seat OX-99 `supercar’ project had become a laughing stock.

There was a real possibility that a Reynard F1 car would emerge with Yamaha power, but when the British engineers saw the full specification of the proposed engine their jaws dropped. Adrian Reynard is on record as recalling that once his team was provided with engine dimensions, weight and cooling requirements, his team was “Dismayed at the size of the radiator ducts we would need. The Yamaha V12 was not that powerful, yet it was big, heavy and in terms of heat rejection it was basically a pressure cooker…”

Reynard and his then-designer Rory Byrne were unconvinced about Yamaha’s promised 700bhp, but more so by its proposed V12’s sheer size. He avoided falling into the same trap as Jackie Oliver, Alan Rees and their Footwork/Arrows project with the Porsche V12, which was effectively two TAG Turbo V6s combined in tandem — immense, overcomplicated, under-powered, clumsy and no credit whatsoever to Zuffenhausen’s finest. Reynard found himself chasing his tail after time and effort wasted with Yamaha. He approached Michael Kranefuss of Ford to use the Cosworth HB engine, but Tom Walkinshaw as a Benetton partner had beaten him to it. Any HB would only be available on a leasing deal that Reynard — having failed to secure any sponsorship in those recession years — could not contemplate. Consequently the British constructor found his options restricted to vanishing point. The recession was threatening to topple even his core business and, by August 1991, it became plain that the writing was on the wall for the F1 programme and that September he closed it down. The core team found new berths at Benetton, and the team’s 1992 car demonstrated clear lineage from Reynard’s long months of clean-sheet research, while the formal stillborn design, wind tunnel model and active ride programme sold to Ligier for £400,000.

Reynard would bounce back from this chastening experience and impending bankruptcy was averted, or in practice postponed as the marque went on to boom most notably in the US-based CART series. But perhaps size is the key here — not just engine size, but also company size, budget size, scale of ambition and a penetrating appreciation of what is possible… and what is not.