Formula One Scene

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The Engine Era

Sackcloth and ashes for DSJ. Last month in Formula One Scene when writing about the future of the Benetton team I said that Ford owned the Cosworth engine firm prompting a shoal of letters and cards from north, south, east and west telling me that Vickers own Cosworth, and that they also own the car division of Rolls-Royce. I don’t think we shall see a Cosworth-powered Rolls-Royce Formula One car, but I was interested to read in an industry reference book in our local library while doing a little research on the subject that among the activities listed for Rolls-Royce Motors was “Racing Engines”.

In quick succession we have had two Formula One races that are so different to one another that it is difficult to understand how they came about. I refer to the Hockenheimring in Germany and the Hungaroring in Hungary, near Budapest. In Germany the fastest cars were topping 210 mph and the average speed for a good qualifying lap was over 155 mph, while in Hungary lap speeds were not much over 100 mph, a speed at which some drivers left the pit lane at the Hockenheimring!

Taking a look at the speed-trap results in the Saturday qualifying session in Germany we find both Williams-Renault cars were a fraction over 210mph, visibly faster than the next fastest which was Alesi’s Ferrari at 206mph, followed by Senna’s McLaren-Honda V12 at 205.9mph, with Berger next at 205.1mph. The Benettons, Tyrrells and one of the Brabham-Yamaha V12 cars were closely matched at over 202mph, while Jordan, Leyton-House-Ilmor V10 and Ligier-Lamborghini V12 were over 199mph.

These speeds were recorded electronically by Longines-Olivetti on the outward run from the stadium to the first ‘chicane’ on a long right-handed sweep, and made me think that perhaps the Hockenheimring ‘chicanes’ were a nice move after all. The impressive thing is the way maximum speeds have progressed in such a short space of time since the abolition of the turbochargers, though we must not overlook the fact that the turbocharged engines had only 1500cc capacity and today’s engines are 3500cc capacity. One expects Honda, Renault and Ferrari engines to produce that sort of performance, but even the ‘rabbits’ and ‘no-hopers’ were impressively fast, Lotus-Judd V8 and Lola-Cosworth V8’s recording 196/197 mph, the AGS clocked 195 mph, a speed that is impressive by any standards, yet was 15 mph ‘off-the-pace’…

The pace in Formula One at the moment IS very hot indeed. We are undoubtedly in an ‘engine era’ and the top designers are not giving away too many secrets at the moment, because Formula One is not a sport or friendly game, it is a serious engineering exercise. Bernard Dudot, the head of the Renault racing engine division and the father of the Renault V10 which powers the Williams, told the French press that the Renault engine ran at “between 13,000 rpm and 14,000 rpm” and that it developed “between 700 and 800 horsepower” and he said it without smiling. In testing on Saturday morning Mansell recorded a lap time of 36.998sec (156.866 mph average), the fastest lap ever, though not counting for the starting grid. I could not help murmuring to a colleague “795bhp at 13,950rpm, probably”.

If you have the opportunity to follow the movements closely in testing and qualifying, which I am fortunate in being able to do, there is so much development going on behind the scenes, on all aspects of the Formula One car, that by Saturday evening I am ready to return home, for quite often race day is an anti-climax technically. One of the first great racing car engineers to express this feeling was the late Rudolf Uhlenhaut, of Mercedes-Benz back in 1955. He considered his work, and the work of his Research Development Department, was finished on Saturday evening and it was now up to the racing team management to win the race on Sunday, which they usually did. Since then many top engineers in Grand Prix racing have expressed the same sentiments, and if there is important design work in progress back at the factory you will often find them missing on Sunday morning. They have done their job and handed over to the race-engineers.

Something that I could not help noticing walking from the car park to the paddock at Hockenheimring, was a line of 34 Honda Super-Cars, the very potent and purposeful looking NSX coupés. They were aligned in echelon in a special parking area and were depressingly immaculate and identical. At first glance it looked as though they had been brought there direct from the factory on transporters, but a run down the registration plates showed that they had come from all parts of Germany, and judging by the squashed flies on the number plates some had come down the Autobahns at very high speed. They were all painted bright red and looked like a line-up of Grenadier Guards; the motley collection of Ferraris in the car park opposite looked as though they were already beaten by this industrial invasion from the land of the Rising Sun.

For those of us who are Senna supporters it was good to see the ‘Status Quo’ restored in Hungary, though how he managed to pull out an advantage of one and a quarter seconds in one qualifying lap, over the second place man, is hard to visualize on the “mickey-mouse” Hungaroring. In Germany Alain Prost had a bit of a run-in with Senna on the approach to one of the chicanes and had come off second best; in Hungary he had little opportunity to retaliate as he never got close to the McLaren and his Ferrari engine expired before the race was barely one-third run. McLaren and Honda managed to pare 15 kilogrammes off the combined car and engine, bringing the weight down nearer to the legal minimum, but it is interesting that when the drivers were weighed in full race trim there was 21 kilogrammes difference between the heaviest (Mansell-80kgs) and the lightest (Nakajima and Moreno-59kgs). If McLaren-Honda had swapped Senna (72kgs) for Prost (61kgs) they would have saved 11kgs out of their lightening process that resulted in 15kgs. On the face of things imagine how fast a Williams-Renault would be if you removed Mansell (80kgs) and substituted Prost (61kgs), assuming all drivers were of equal ability. The important thing to remember is that Honda did not explain where they reduced their engine weight; it could have been somewhere important like reciprocating weight or rotating weight, and there is no driver substitute for a reduction in design weights. A friend calculated for me that, all things equal, a reduction in driver weight of 21kgs could make a difference of 1 second a lap on an average circuit, so is Prost cheating by being so light, or is Mansell heavily (!) handicapped.

After qualifying a number of cars are picked at random and given a detailed inspection by the FIA scrutineering team to check that weights and sizes and constructional dimensions are adhered to. Nobody has been caught deliberately cheating on the basic rules, but occasionally a team has been reprimanded for being careless and if the offence is considered serious enough the lap times for that car will be erased from the relevant qualifying session. In Germany Mark Blundell’s Brabham-Yamaha was found to have its clutch pedal closer to the front bulkhead than is permitted. This is a dimensional rule to safeguard the driver’s feet in the event of a head on crash, brought in some years ago when drivers had their feet sticking through the front bulkhead, ahead of the steering rack.

It transpired that Blundell’s car had developed clutch trouble on his first qualifying run and the pedal adjustment had been used to temporarily cure the problem and in the heat of the moment nobody had cross-checked the measurement. It made no difference to the outcome of his second qualifying time, but rules are rules and in such cases no excuses are permitted, so his run with the pedal in the illegal position was discounted. It may seem like pettiness, but it was really a matter of a slap on the wrist and a warning to be more careful, taken in good part by the Brabham team. The irony of this little scenario was that the FIA scrutineer who did the measuring was Charlie Whitney, who used to be chief mechanic at Brabham in the days when Bernie Ecclestone owned the team.

I was interested to see Bertrand Gachot make fastest race lap in the Hungarian GP, in one of the Jordan cars. He did this on lap 71, after he had been in for a new set of Goodyear tyres, recording 1.20.655, a praiseworthy effort. For a young man in his first serious season of Formula One racing he seems to know where he is going, without a lot of fuss and publicity. Eddie Jordan seems to have picked a very likely lad. Gachot (pronounced Gasho) was born in Luxembourg on 23 February 1963, went to live in Belgium, then in France and now in London, and considers himself to be ‘a European’ speaking four languages fluently, hence his nationality in our results tables is shown as EU (Europe Unie). — DSJ