The Season Underway

Now that we have had the first two races of the 1990 Formula One World Championship season we can take stock of reality and forget the rumours and surmise of the past winter. At the front nothing has changed much from last year, McLaren-Honda, Ferrari and Williams-Renault are setting the pace once again, with the same six drivers at the top, but slightly shuffled about as regards teams and numbers. These six are Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell, Gerhard Berger, Thierry Boutsen and Riccardo Patrese but the changes involve Prost joining the Ferrari team, changing places with Berger, who now partners Senna and McLaren and Ferrari changing places in the number sequence. So we have Prost and Mansell in the red cars from Maranello carrying the numbers 1 and 2 respectively, just when Mansell was about to market himself with the emotional number 27! Boutsen and Patrese are still numbers 5 and 6 with the Williams cars, powered by the new 1990 Renault RS2 engines and Senna and Berger with 27 and 28 in the McLaren MP4/5B with Honda power, (not the MP4/6 as was predicted during the winter). As the designation suggests, these new cars are a development of last year’s cars which didn’t do too badly for a first season. Berger in number 28 is as last year, except that it is an entirely different car, colour and team.

There is little doubt that Ferrari and McLaren-Honda are going to be the main protagonists, as they were last year, and we go into the third round of the season at Imola for the San Marino Grand Prix with the score at one all. Senna dominated the first event, held in early March in Phoenix, Arizona in an attempt to avoid the heat of the Arizona summer, whereupon it promptly rained on the second day of practice! In Brazil, at the rebuilt Interlagos circuit at Sao Paulo, Senna was once again dominating until he tripped over Nakajima’s Tyrrell, letting Prost through to finish first. As the McLaren team boss said afterwards, “We didn’t win, but we weren’t beaten”. While things were running normally the two Williams-Renault cars were up with the McLarens and Ferraris, which augurs well for the coming races.

In the world of V8 engines, which means the second division in reality, the Cosworth derivatives still hold sway, with the Ford-sponsored EXP in the Benefton cars, and DFR versions in Tyrrell and Minardi. Already there are strong pointers to the V8’s being left behind, with Ford thinking around a 12 cylinder engine for Benetton, Tyrrell being promised the Honda V10 for next year, once McLaren have got the new Honda V12, and Minardi being promised Ferrari engines for 1991. Although this season has only just begun there is much to look forward to, but we must be patient, we cannot have it all now.

The Judd V8 engines are still keeping some teams from dropping off the back of the grid, although the March-Leyton House team suffered the ignominy of both its cars failing to qualify in Brazil, and you cannot put that down to driver problems, for both Ivan Capelli and Mauricio Gugelmin are first rate drivers. It can only be the car that was at fault and rest assured that if Adrian Newey knew what the problem was he would have corrected it. Let’s hope they improve at Imola. If their immediate hopes look fragile, there is much in store for them. An agreement has been signed between Leyton House Racing Limited and Ilmor Engineering Limited, for the design, manufacture and development of a brand new Formula One engine by Ilmor for the exclusive use of the Leyton House (March) team.

Now we hear a lot about new engines for Formula One, some of which have appeared, some may appear and others are pie-in-the-sky drawing board fantasies. The name Ilmor may not mean much in Formula One circles at the moment, but it is a name you have to take seriously. The firm was started in 1984 by Mario Illien, Paul Morgan and Roger Penske for the express purpose of producing an engine for Indianapolis and CART racing in North America. All three men had a strong background of engine design and development centred around Indianapolis and the Cosworth DFX turbocharged Indy engine. Penske’s connection soon brought along a 25% interest in the firm from General Motors, and in particular Chevrolet. This was a serious attack on Cosworth and any Ford glory that might have been rubbing off, and what started out as an Ilmor V8 engine soon became a Chevrolet V8 engine and it won most of what there was to win in American Indycar racing last year.

It might be naïve to think that in 1991 we shall see Chevrolet in Formula One with Leyton House racing, but then on the other hand it might not.

Another engine project that makes you pay attention is the announced Porsche Formula One engine for 1991. Once again Japanese industry takes a major part in the scenario, for the Footwork Corporation of Japan have become the principal shareholder in the Arrows team, and it is the Footwork-Arrows team who are having the exclusive use of the new Porsche Formula One engine. Remember the Porsche Formula One engine in the McLarens in 1984 and 1985, though it was thinly disguised as a TAG-Turbo for financial reasons. The new engine from the Weissach Test and Development Centre may well be called a Footwork Formula One engine, but make no mistake, it will be a Porsche engine.

In the first two races of this year a new engine appeared in an Italian car called a Life, but it failed miserably. It was a 12 cylinder unit of unusual configuration for an automotive engine. Technically the layout is called “an inverted broad arrow” and one of the most famous engines of all time with this layout was the Napier Lion aero engine, and its sister the Napier Sea Lion for marine work. “Inverted Broad Arrow” means exactly what it says, there being three banks each with four cylinders, one bank standing vertically above the crankshaft, one off to the left at an angle, and one off to the right at a similar angle. The broad-arrow has long been the insignia of a prison inmate, convict’s clothes being covered in such logos. If you turn one of these upside down you get the configuration of the Napier Lion engine, and the new Life engine, as well as a French engine that we have yet to see.

In no way can this cylinder layout be described as a W engine, yet most of the race reporters (including MOTOR SPORT) have used the symbol W, which is totally wrong. In the Daimler-Benz museum in Stuttgart there is a true W engine of 24 cylinders. It is a vast aero engine, built during the 1939-45 war and is basically two V12 engines on a single crankcase, which makes for a very wide power unit. The Broad Arrow (inverted) layout makes for a much more compact engine, and with a 12 cylinder makes it a very short engine. Whether either of these Broad Arrow engines come to anything time will tell, but who knows, one day Honda, Ferrari or Porsche may make a three-bank engine. If they do it will not be a W12. End of technical sermon.

Last year the Japanese Yamaha concern produced a V8 Formula One engine that looked as though it might lead to something interesting. It was used by the Zakspeed team but never fulfilled its promise, maybe due to the car, maybe the drivers, maybe the engine. With the sudden withdrawal of Zakspeed before the beginning of this season the Yamaha V8 had also disappeared, which is a pity, because if their Grand Prix motorcycle technology is anything to go by, Yamaha could build a Honda-beater, but not a V8.

In the interval between the Brazilian GP on March 25 and the forthcoming San Marino GP on May 13 most of the teams have been hard at work, modifying existing cars, improving their 1990 cars, or completing new cars, so it was no surprise that there was very little interest for a non-championship Formula One race at Donington Park in mid-April. At the best most teams were only prepared to spare their number two driver with a test and development car, so wisely the whole thing was scrubbed. While some of the lesser teams at the back of the field are still in a state of flux as regards who owns what, and where the money is coming from, the important teams have been busy testing and developing or completing new designs.

The next race should see the first appearance of the new Benetton B190, already out on test driven by Nelson Piquet and Alessandro Nannini. This latest in the line of cars designed by Benetton’s Chief Designer Rory Byrne, follows much of his previous thinking with aerodynamic improvements and a change from the two shoulder-height air intakes for the Cosworth-Ford EXP engine on each side of the cockpit used in the B189, to a tall single air-box behind the driver’s head. The suspension system has been designed to incorporate an active-ride system, as and when the Benetton system is deemed race-worthy. In the meantime the suspension is non-active.

The engine and gearbox are the same as used in the B189, with detail improvements, but the monocoque is all new and conforms with the 1990 FIA regulations. This is the first time that Rory Byrne has had two consecutive seasons with the same engine design, at least since the original Toleman team was bought by the Benetton family, which has meant more time for detail design changes.

From Tyrrell came brief news of the new 019, also due to appear at Imola, this car having a new and advanced monocoque complying with the ultimate specification changes that are mandatory as from 1991, with particular regard to structural strength and integrity of design, with the driver’s ‘survival cell’ being of paramount importance. Until Honda release their V10 engine to Tyrrell the team continues with the Cosworth DFR engines. The Tyrrell 019 has an unusual aerodynamic nose piece, with a tunnel funelling air under the monocoque nose.

On medium slow and slow circuits the Tyrrell team has been very encouraged by the driving of the Frenchman Jean Alesi, who appeared on the scene in the middle of last season. We hadn’t seen a Tyrrell car being driven like that for a long time, and Alesi’s appearance caused the demise of Jonathan Palmer’s Formula One career. The appearance of Satoru Nakajima in the Tyrrell team is one of pure expedience to comply with the wishes of Honda to have a Japanese driver in Formula One, and Tyrrell’s acceptance of him ensured good relations with Honda for the future.

Leaving the Formula One scene are a number of drivers, either for personal reasons or lack of talent and ability resulting in no position being available. Rene Arnoux and Piercarlo Ghinzani have retired from Formula One driving, Eddie Cheever has gone to America to try his hand at Indycar racing, Martin Brundle has returned to sports car racing, and Perez-Sala has also gone to sports cars. As mentioned, the Zakspeed team has left the scene and the Brabham and Onyx teams seem to be here one day and gone the next and they probably don’t know themselves exactly where they are going. The Life team appeared briefly and one can’t help wondering whether EuroBrun and Coloni will be able to keep going. Considering that we are only just at the beginning of the second season of the new 31/2-litre normally aspirated formula, enormous progress has been made by the major teams and with the various interesting projects already under way for 1991 the future of Formula One looks very good. Inevitably, as the top teams make progress upwards it becomes all the more difficult for the lesser teams to keep on the pace, but it is nothing new, for equality in racing is a dream-world. If racing is serious, rather than entertainment, then it is a case of the strongest and the fittest will survive and win, and the stronger the winners the less chance there is for the weak to survive. Honda, Fiat, Renault, Ford, Porsche and Chevrolet do not race for fun, they race to learn something or prove something technically and that means progress, which has always been the reason for Grand Prix racing. DSJ