NEWS FEATURE

Peugeot's F1 plans

The 1994 season may well be remembered as the year Peugeot finally came to Formula 1, having long resisted the challenge to battle it out with other manufacturers where it really matters. For years Peugeot Talbot Sport, under its own little Napoleon - Jean Todt - had collected Trophies and titles in World Championship rallying, on rally raids like the daunting Paris-Dakar, at Pikes Peak hillclimb in the United States and more recently in the World Sportscar Championship and at the Le Mans 24 Hours. In June last year Peugeot achieved an historic 1-2-3 at Le Mans.

Todt had wanted to go to F1 with a complete Peugeot team, building chassis and engines. It was a dream and when the board of Automobiles Peugeot told Jean that they could not pay for his plan, he took up an offer to join Ferrari.

Peugeot named former Grand Prix driver Jean-Pierre Jabouille as Todt's replacement.

Jabouille was convinced that Peugeot had to enter F1 and set the Peugeot Talbot Sport technological think-tank - under engineer Jean-Pierre Boudy - to do a design study into an F1 V10 engine. Jabouille put together a budget for Peugeot to enter F1 as an engine supplier and on September 15 1993 the board of Automobiles Peugeot bit the bullet and announced that the company would supply a completely new V10 Formula 1 engine to one F1 team in 1994. Jabouille had been given the green light. Boudy and his engineering team went into overdrive.

"The main thing was that I could not spend more than in 1993," says Jabouille, "We had to do F1 on the same budget that we had for sportscars last year."

Right through the summer PTS had been talking to a variety of Formula 1 teams - notably Larrousse, Benetton and Jordan, but no deals had been signed. Larrousse came closest to the deal with Larrousse design engineers visiting the Peugeot factory to discuss engine installation.

In fact, Gerard Larrousse would be left standing as events overtook him. Two days after Peugeot announced its intention to go F1, Jabouille received a telephone call from TAG McLaren partner Mansour Ojjeh. The following day Jabouille flew to Britain and met McLaren's Ron Dennis.

"I quickly understood that Ron and I have the same direction so the deal happened very quickly after that," says Jabouille.

On October 8 Peugeot announced that it had signed a four-year exclusive engine supply deal with Formula 1's most successful team.

But going to F1 with McLaren is a double-edged sword. If everything goes well the combination will be winning races very quickly, but if things go wrong, Peugeot will have to take the blame because McLaren's record is proven beyond doubt.

"We have an important job ahead of us," says Automobiles Peugeot's Frederic St Geours. "Formula 1 is a very exact science and we must have total humility for this first season."

But Jabouille - ever the risk-taker - is not worried: "The board of Peugeot expects success," he admits, "and they want it quickly. They hope to win races in 1995 and the World Championship in 1996. I think it will be possible to win races in 1994 and I'd be very happy if we could do that."

So the spotlight now shifts to the engineers - and the pressure goes on to Jean-Pierre Boudy to produce competitive machinery.

Boudy knows all about competition. From the late 1960s he has been involved in the sport and for nearly 15 years he worked alongside the man who will be his biggest enemy in future - Bernard Dudot of Renault Sport.

"We are friends," says Boudy, "but only away from the race track."

Boudy was given a clean sheet of paper to design his F1 engine and the only similarity between the new Peugeot engine and the old sportscar unit is that they are both V10s. Everything else is different.

Boudy's job was not made easier by Jean Todt hiring several of Peugeot's middle-ranking engineers to join Ferrari, but Boudy is tight-lipped about that. Jabouille is less diplomatic.

"Yes, we are upset with Ferrari because it took the engine designers who specialize in the pneumatic valve systems and they know everything about the Peugeot system.

"But," he adds, "that is the F1 works."

Jabouille and Boudy say they don't know very much about the opposition's engines, but they are being polite. The truth is that Peugeot engineers know all about the Renault V10 thanks to its recruitment of former Elf engineer and fuel specialist Jean-Claude Fayard.

It was Fayard who designed Elf's fuels for the Renault V10 engine and with fuel now playing an important role in engine design - dictating the shape of combustion chambers and materials used - Fayard's knowledge of the Renault engine will be vital to the Peugeot engine designers. Boudy won't talk about that, but Fayard is officially responsible for the internal combustion of the Peugeot V10.

But even with Fayard on board, Peugeot is up against it. F1 engines take time to design and build and it has been a rush to get things together. The prototype Peugeot F1 engine ran for the first time on the test beds at Peugeot Talbot Sport's headquarters at Velizy-Villacoublay, in the suburbs of Paris, on December 20.

Since then the first batch of engines - there were four of them - have been running on the dynos almost non-stop. McLaren was expected to get its first batch of engines on January 20 and the first tests in a chassis were due for the end of January.

That will leave the new McLaren-Peugeot combination with just six weeks to test before everything has to be sent off to South America for the first race of the 1994 season in Brazil.

According to Boudy the first Peugeot F1 engines will be relatively simple. They will have pneumatic valve operation and may have four or five valves per cylinder. "We will decide as late as possible to see which is better," says Boudy. "Variable inlet trumpets will come later."

Boudy will say that his engine weighs in at only 133 kilogrammes and that he chose a V10 because it was the best compromise for F1's current 3.5-litre engine regulations and that it made sense to have a V10 because his team has experience with such engines from its sportscar days.

He will also tell you that he - and all his staff - are flat out to get up to speed. They have plans for 80 engine blocks this year, but with revisions Boudy reckons they will produce a total of about 200 versions of the engine by the end of the season.

Things are certainly on the move at Velizy-Villacoublay. The F1 programme now employs 130 of the 220 staff at Peugeot Sport - the name was changed on January 1 1994 because Talbot cars are no longer being built - and 7000 square metres of workshop space has been given over to F1 and more will follow as the team gets new engine assembly areas and electronic laboratories.

Peugeot's adventure into Formula 1 is already in a race. A race to be competitive at the first race...

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