This Is It this is what it is
Brian Hart is a no-nonsense but charming engineer who refuses to compromise in his search for mechanical perfection We look at why his E2M V10 engine is matching Peugeot’s far better funded effort
The first thing you need to understand about Brian Hart is that he loves engines. Loves them, and takes an inestimable pride in them. To see the familiar bronzed bald head bent over one of his units at a race meeting is to watch one of the sport’s more straightforward racers doing what he loves best.
There is a story from the old days that epitomises Hart. A racer of competitive stature right up to F2 level, he gradually made the transition to engine builder, and his standards were always high. “In the old days,” recalls a former mechanic, “nobody ever returned their engines to Brian for a rebuild if they were dirty. He wouldn’t accept them. He actually left his staff instructions that they weren’t to touch them if they came back oily, with bits of rag stuffed in the exhaust pipe. Old Jam Tart made them send them back as clean as when he’d delivered them, then he’d do the rebuild. But not before. He’s still got that sense of pride and discipline about him…” It’s one of the things that has stood Brian Hart Ltd in good stead, even through the lean years when the odd Fl team has used his engines and services but forgotten to settle its bills. He’s not a loner, but he is a man who likes to work in his own way. That’s one reason why he bought himself back out of Cosworth ownership a while ago. He was born to be an independent. One senses that he also relishes the sort of David and Goliath situation, such as that highlighted by the similarities between his engine and Peugeot’s. On the one hand there is the French company with its very strong budget and personnel resources, and then there is a small British company from Harlow cocking a quiet snook. in the nicest possible way. Hart employs only 26 people, looked after by the indefatigably loyal lane Brace, “a super lady who has been with the company almost since Day One. She’s got a great understanding for it, and it doesn’t matter who it is, if I’m busy
Hart is not a great man for meetings or committees, but he knows that he can have components taking shape by the Tuesday after a race if need be. “I suppose one thing that we have, and it’s completely obvious, is response. If I go back on Sunday night, I can have faxes and it’s happening on Monday morning. I presume Renault can do that, but it’s got to go through a certain process of engineers and decision making, and maybe even cost. But I can just decide, ‘Bang! Do it!’ I think that just because we’re small doesn’t necessarily mean that’s a hindrance.”
More like an artist who creates things in metal than simply an engineer, he hates to see his creations suffer. So far, since his 10.35 VI started racing in South Africa in 1993, he can count the number of serious failures on some of the fingers of one hand, and that is a matter of tremendous pride to him. Grudgingly he will allow Jordan a handful of extra revs here, another handful there, but much of his conservatism is the product of limited resources.
Hart began to look at the feasibility of the project in late ’91. “In actual fact it started off as a V8 for a variety of reasons. Then I went to a couple of races and completely reappraised my thoughts. Long-term. given all the stability that we thought we had, there would be more potential, as I saw it, in a VI O. You have to remember then how the fuel regs were, too, things like that. So we decided on a 10. We laid down three prototypes and ran those continuously from very early 1992 onwards.
“It took us about five months, full concept, design and drawing. All the major components, so that the long lead items, such as crankshafts, were in process. I did the design work myself, with a friend at work called John Lievesley.”
That little comment encapsulates lam Tart. Somehow you couldn’t imagine anyone he worked with being anything other than a friend, such is the manner in which he conducts his business.
“He’s particularly into cams and valve gear. that sort of thing, whereas I tend to do the structures more. So having sort of laid the concept, the pencil lines, we pressed on with some detail drawing. My brother, who is semi-retired, did some for us as well. He used to work for me.
“During 1992 we were faced with a bit of a dilemma, really. Should we plough in the remaining money that we had because we weren’t with a team then but were financing everything ourselves. But it was a matter of biting the bullet, really, because it was the only way that we could really carry the company forward. So we just bit the bullet and went for it with our own engine.
“Having made that decision we then had to make another: How long do we carry on doing the initial work? The actual cost of getting to a prototype engine is fairly calculatable, if you know what I mean. You know how long people are going to work on the drawings, you know how much the patterns are going to cost, you know how much the castings are going to be. The bit that then costs a lot of money is running it on the dyno, and finding what you need to change.
“I went to Imola, to the Grand Prix in 1992, just to feel what was going on, see who might be interested. There wasn’t really a lot of response, although there was interest from a variety of teams. We got to talk, through Trevor Foster and Gary Anderson at Jordan, with Yamaha. But it wasn’t really anything more perhaps than some joint effort to help look at the V12. We got a ‘phone call from Trevor and we got together with Yamaha, but in short it didn’t work out. We got very close to coming to an agreement to do something with them but, I might as well be honest, we decided not to do it. We looked at it from the long-term future thing, and it probably wouldn’t lead us where we wanted to go.”
All of these discussions concerned the unloved Yamaha VI2, which Hart is too polite to say that he didn’t rate. At no time was his emergent VI discussed at all. “So we carried on talking to various teams, then I went along to the pre-Grand Prix test at Sil verstone for a look round, got to talk to Gary again, and by this stage it was fair to
say that they were wondering what they were going to have to do, or where to go. So after the Grand Prix he said, ‘Well, what about your engine, then? That’s fact. That was the first time he or Trevor had mentioned my engine. Even when they’d been down to the factory to talk with the Yamaha people, it was totally Yamaha. Nobody had asked about the 10 at all. So I said, ‘Come down and have a look.’ They came down, we showed them the prototypes, how many hours we’d been running. We talked in great detail. All the basics. Weight, size, length, what we thought it would take to cool it. So then Gary said, ‘Well I’d like to do a proposal to Eddie.’
“This was early August, and the problem was that it was very tight to get it built. And the regulation changes meant that it would almost have to be in a hybrid VI 2 chassis, which isn’t what Gary or I wanted but we really didn’t have a choice.
“Then from Monza the deal was all done by telephone and fax, and in midOctober we signed a deal for two years exclusive, which we both thought was very important. We both thought, and still do, that you have to work on a one-to-one basis in Grand Prix racing. It has to be a one hundred percent effort with one team.” There are some interesting little stories within the main narrative, but you have to know them. Hart isn’t about to blow his own trumpet. In his days with TOM’S Toyota John Barnard was very interested in the VI and there was for a while a possibility that it might be badged by the Japanese company. Then when Barnard went back to Ferrari he tried to interest the Italians, but that was Motoring New. & MOTOR SPORT Supplement in
more than their pride could swallow. Then, legend had it that Jordan literally beat Ron Dennis to the Hart 10.35 by a matter of days. Hart smiles, and the grin widens as he says: “That’s not far off. The only people that we hadn’t talked to, direct, were McLaren, funnily enough. The information we had is that they were almost certainly going to attempt to do a deal with Ligier, or the Ford. Then we received a call from Ron, and I told him we’d done a deal with Eddie. They went off to Japan, and there Eddie said that was correct, we’d done a deal, it was fixed and we were very happy with it. It was one of those things. 1 don’t know . . .”
He is quite comfortable with the idea of a major manufacturer badging his engine. “We have had an approach. It would be improper to say who from,” he is not referring to Rover, whom Jordan attempted to lure in with a publicity stunt that backfired early last year, and came at a time when Rover’s financial resources were too stretched even though its technical staff were very keen. “We agreed that Jordan could co-seek engineering back-up finance for the engine, leading up to badging it, which we were quite happy to do provided the terms were agreeable. We were very happy to do that. I think it’s probably fair to say though that the recession killed off any chance of it happening. But we are still actively looking for more engineering finance.” Hart would have no problem cementing the sort of deal that Ford enjoys with Cosworth, rather than just assisting a manufacturer. The Yamaha situation, for example, was more a direct consultancy on research and development, whereas he would far prefer to be hands on. Brian Hart has come a long, long way on the sort of budget that wouldn’t keep the publicity machines of Renault, Peugeot or Honda lubricated for a season. To the point of going racing with Sasol Jordan last year, he had probably spent very little more than f2M. Small beer to a grandee, a vast sum of your own money. If he was a film maker, he would be a Mike Leigh character, cap
able of turning in the fantastic performance and coaxing something similar from his actors through a mixture of pragmatism, practicality and pure commonsense. He derives great pleasure from seeing the Jordan-Harts running ahead of the likes of the McLarenPeugeots, as they did at TI and again recently in Canada, but is far too goodmannered to crow about it. He’s disarmingly modest, too, when asked to quantify the attributes behind his engine’s creation.
“There were a lot of small things. There was no one major thing. Part of it is having a reasonable understanding of the priorities, I would think. Like, it has to cool and it has to be pretty reliable, otherwise you can’t improve the car. You can’t try and make the engine work at the track. When it arrives here it’s like a set of tyres. You just put them in and take them out. Though we weren’t funded enough, we did have the benefit of several months of r&d without the pressure of going racing as well. And I think that had quite a bit to do with it.
“I think another percentage reason is that at the end of 1992 we finished up with a fairly highly developed version of the DFR, and without being too specific, we were able to cross-fertilise development between the two. Certain components. The oil system. We did a lot of development on the oil system, and carried that straight over. That helped a lot.”
To date the closest a Hart engine has come to a GP win was at Monaco with Ayrton Senna and the turbo four in the Toleman in 1984. The Brazilian always had a soft spot for Hart the man and Hart the engineer, appreciating the invstment he makes in his projects, the personal touch. It’s the indefinable little extra that’s hard to quantify but harder still to duplicate, and it has its roots in his vocational approach to his work. Brian Hart plays a straight game, with no time for subterfuge or politics. “This is it, this is what it is…” is how a past collaborator summarises his approach. Blunt, maybe, but charming.
When you hear those words, you know you can bank on them. DAVID TREMAYNE