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Engine battle shapes up for 1996

THE current status quo in F1 could be turned on its head next year as the engine manufacturers produce a new generation of engines.

The sudden change in the F1 engine rules from 3.5-liter to 3-liter at the end of 1994 left most of the manufacturers with no time to design new engines and so they simply converted the existing 3.5-liter units.

Mercedes-Benz was the only marque to risk an all-new 3-liter engine and this meant that Mercedes started the year behind the opposition. This disadvantage should turn into an advantage next year as the other manufacturers start from scratch. The Mercedes engines are built by Ilmor Engineering but Ilmor boss Mario Illien refuses to give details of 1996 engine plans, saying only that his V10 will be an evolution of the current engine.

Such reticence is not unusual as there is intense rivalry between the manufacturers. This has resulted in a spate of head-hunting in recent months. Ilmor, for example, has poached engineers Stuart Groves and Massimo de Novelis from Ferrari while the Italians have been very active, luring several ex-Peugeot men to Maranello plus Renault Sport's Noel Canvy, the first Renault man to be poached in six years.

Ferrari's aim was to produce the best possible V10 engine in 1996 and the engine now being tested in Italy is the work of project leader Gilles Simon. Ferrari says that it will not decide whether to use a V10 or a V12 until both have been tested by 1996 drivers Michael Schumacher and Eddie Irvine. There are currently three Ferrari engine development teams in action simultaneously on V12s.

Just as Ferrari is breaking with its V12 tradition, so Ford is finally dumping V8s in favor of a V10 engine. The new Ford engine - which will be supplied exclusively to Sauber - is being designed by Martin Walters and his team of engineers at Cosworth Engineering in Northampton. Once again details are sketchy.

Currently dominant in F1, Renault Sport will have another V10 - to be called the RS8 - but technical director Bernard Dudot will say nothing about it. He even refuses to say which engineer is in charge of the project. Most people expect a fairly conventional engine although there is likely to be a lot of development in the materials being used and the technology employed. This comes largely through Renault Sport's research programs with technical partners Aerospatiale (advanced materials), Messier (castings) and Magneti-Marelli (electronics).

Rival French company Peugeot is to continue its tradition of V10 engines, despite having lost engineer Simon and pneumatic valve specialist Christophe Marie to Ferrari and combustion specialist Jean-Claude Fayard to Elf.

Japanese marque Yamaha says its F1 program in 1996 is going to be much more serious than in recent seasons and a brand new V10 engine has been designed by Takaaki Kimura's team of engineers, working closely with John Judd's Engine Developments operation in Rugby.

The remaining engines in F1 next year will all be customer units and development is dependent on finance. Mugen - still believed to be a holding operation for Honda - is updating its current V10 for Ligier; Brian Hart wanted to go to V10s but is stuck with his V8 program because Arrows cannot fund the bigger engine. Minardi and Forti are expected to stay with customer Fords, the choice being limited to converted 3.5-liter units.

In the longer term the switch to 3-liter regulations could attract several new engine companies to F1. Britain's NeilĘBrownĘEngineering is expecting to service this year's Yamaha engines for Pacific. These will be badged as Judd V10s. Other companies such as Switzerland's Heini Mader and Nicholson-McLaren from England are also looking for work as F3000, where they have been tuning 3-liter engines for years, has been changed to a single engine formula in 1996.

Tom Walkinshaw also has plans to build his own F1 engines and is currently recruiting engineers to assist ex-Cosworth engineer Geoff Goddard.

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