How and why Cosworth Engineering has developed such a successful “closer focus on winning” with the Ford Zetec-R V8
Suggest to Cosworth Engineering Chief Executive Chris Woodwark that the company’s latest rampant success in Formula One stems from the fresh attitude and determination he has brought, and he adopts a wellmeaning, ‘We’ll talk about that, attitude, but personal modesty notwithstanding it’s quite clear that he has fostered a completely new outlook and rekindled the spirit of the workforce. Sectors of the racing world have talked of little else since the start of the season. Gone is the conservative Cosworth of old. Everyone in the company exudes a fresh motivation and determination to succeed. It’s as if they have been freed from strait jackets. And the results speak for themselves. “Cosworth is a team effort, very much,” says Woodwark immediately. “It’s a widespread company, and I guess it’s got three key strengths. First of all, its engineers. We’re fairly unique in British industry: we look after our engineers very well, take a lot of care and trouble to recruit them, train them and nurture
them. We have a low staff turnover, a lot of long-service people.
“Next is its racing heritage, which is why it exists. It’s what drives the whole company. What gives it a competitive spirit. And it’s harnessing the racing spirit, the engineering skills, that’s the key thing.
“The third key strength is that Cosworth makes so much in-house. There’s no other engine builder in the world that I know of that casts its own blocks and heads and other parts of the engine timing covers for instance makes its own crankshafts, its own con-rods, its own pistons.
“And it’s that ability to do that, and to do it so quickly; we’ve had instances this year with the Zetec-R where we wanted to change certain parts of the cylinder head where we’ve been able to hand-rub the cores in our Worcester plant and get a new head casting back within two or three days. The same with the pistons. This year we are running very big, heavy pistons, and we had to change the specification several times before the start of the season…”
He is not shy to admit tacitly that there was a problem, as suspected by the outside world, in that area when the Zetec-R first appeared. “We were developing right at the limit,” he says candidly, and that’s another change for Cosworth to be heard to make such admissions. “You’ve got a lovely comment in Motoring News last week where Dick Scammell said that the engine didn’t quite last long enough…” (speaking of Michael Schumacher’s Friday afternoon Zetec-R eruption in Canada). “Well that’s what it’s about. We’re only designing this engine to last long enough to win, and sometimes we skate a bit close to the edge. We have to come back. But by doing so much in-house, we’re able to do that.
“It’s a matter of pulling that team together and setting that strategic intent, and what we’ve done is established, across Cosworth, that its aim is to win. So Cosworth’s strategic intent is to win wherever it competes.
“When I came in I sat down with the management team and we decided that we have tremendous resources here, but we had to get a closer focus on winning. Now that means improving, and getting very close to, the other important elements: Benetton, the management of that team and the engineers within it, and the drivers. It meant getting close to major sponsors, and our major sponsor in this is Ford. We were able to get a focus which was agreed between Ford, Benetton and Cosworth that we want to win. So it sharpened up on all of that, and it means that we’re taking decisions in Cosworth now, and spending money. and getting a speed of reaction, because we want to win.
“The key thing about the Zetec-R project is that it was building on the heritage and the engineering expertise that exists within Cosworth. And we had embarked on a new project, Project 95, which of course, now, under the new regulations, has been stillborn. We’ve invested quite a lot of money in a new engine for 1995, which we’ve now had to wrap up. We’ve brought it to a state where, if things ever change, we could pick it up and go again, but we’ve had to close that down completely because the regulations changed and that engine was no longer going to be suitable.”
So much for rule stability.
Woodwark feels no malice, understanding the underlying reasons for the change in the regulations, but it’s naturally frustrating to lose such a project when it’s built a real head of steam.
“I said to the guy that drew it that it must have hurt a bit to scrap it, but he said, ‘No. We’ve got to win, and that engine wasn’t going to win any more. I’ve now got to start work on one that will.’
“That’s a really refreshing attitude, and that’s the sort of spirit that I have to harness.”
The alternative would have been a fuel flow valve formula, and Cosworth, in common with all the other engine manufacturers, had no wish to see that even if it had meant 3.5 litre engines could be retained. “I can’t speak for the competition,” he stresses, “but Cosworth’s attitude is that it’s got to continue to invest in new engine developments to stay in front. We will find the money to do that. We could have linered down, or whatever, but I think that any engine that’s built round a compromise can only be a short-term solution. After all, you wouldn’t do it with the chassis, so why think of doing it with the engine?” In the past Cosworth’s perceived conservatism has tended to overshadow its inherent engineering integrity, but the Zetec-R went racing with far less angst than the HB, and with but one wet race
distance run to its credit from Silverstone before it was shipped out to Interlagos. This year the whole process has deliberately been calculated far more finely than in the past.
“We set out to speed up the process. We decided last year we wanted to be first out testing, we wanted to have the largest number of miles run under our belt and we spent a lot of time during the winter establishing a very much uprated mechanism of working between Cosworth and Benetton, with Ford involvement where necessary. Ford was very much behind this and wanted to see it happen, so that we were able to make sure that any changes in the design of the Zetec-R engine as they went in were completely compatible with the chassis. Or, if the chassis was demanding certain things, that we looked at what we did with the engine.” There has been a significant increase in investment to back up the change in philosophy as Ford and Cosworth tackle Renault, Peugeot and Ferrari, and Woodwark admits that the Zetec-R costs a considerable amount more to operate than the HB. But the research lessons of the stillborn brace of V12s the VBs that were created in the past few years have frugally been incorporated into the new unit, which is far and away the fastest-revving V8 engine in history. He throws a few statistics at you: 110 litres of water are circulated per minute, the piston crowns take loads of nine tonnes, the air valves (whose components resemble those of jewelled watches) operate 250 times per second; and doesn’t demur when you suggest revs
well in excess of 14,000.
“Design is an iterative process and it’s an evolutionary thing. It’s continuing to build on what you do and get right, and our new engine would have been a further development on that although it would possibly have been a different configuration. So we learn lessons and apply them as we go along. We have the confidence to do that because we do so much in-house.
“Continuity has been very important to us. There’s the continuity of Martin Walters working with Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne down at Benetton, and at the commercial level working with Flavio Briatore and Ingvar Sviggum of Ford and myself, is so important. And we had all that in place. We worked at it and we improved it a lot, as we set out to. We’ve brought a businesslike attitude towards it. Ford has exploited the engine name far more clearly and carefully for this year, and we set out to give them far more value out of winning.”
Ford and Cosworth have the same sort of ring as Marks and Spencer, but earlier this year rumours linked the latter very strongly indeed with a possible Audi Fl project. Even now, Ford’s future Fl plans are beyond the knowledge of the majority. Woodwark pauses. “At the end of the day Cosworth is a completely independent company wholly owned by Vickers. I’m answerable to the Chief Executive of Vickers, so I have to deliver a business plan at the same time as winning the World Championship. Sometimes we have to work hard to marry the two things up. But, with our strategic intent, that gives us the focus. We have, over the years, had a number of evolutions of the Ford contract. It rolls along and every so often it has to be renewed. 1994 is a year
in which the contract is renewed, there’s no secret about that. Cosworth or Ford have not made any comment about it, and we’re not going to now. We are working closely with Benetton and Ford to win the Word Championship this year. And you will see the outcome of our commercial discussions.” Whatever happens, Woodwark is ada
mant that the company will always be involved in Fl. “Cosworth has to tread a fine line between exposing its engineering secrets, and showing the world that it is a company that it should do business with. That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to lift the veil. Formula One being the pre-eminent form of motor racing, and our ambition being to be the best in the world and to win, Cosworth fully intends to stay with the very best combination of team, driver and sponsor that it can obtain. Formula One has got to be the top of the pyramid, because it demands the best engineering, it demands the best machine shop, it demands the best customer support.” Chris Woodwark took over the reins last September and up to Montreal, its 171st Grand Prix victory, Cosworth Engi
neering’s engines had won II of the intervening 12 races. Ford is once more regarded as a totally serious player after seeming for a while just to play at Grand Prix racing. All thanks to a fresh management style at Cosworth and its concentrated strategic intent. DAVID TREMAYNE