JULY 28, 1997
Bernie pressures Mercedes
FORMULA 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone wants Mercedes-Benz to supply a second team with its V10 engines next year - but the German car-maker (which has an exclusive arrangement with McLaren) is refusing to give way. At a meeting of the F1 engine companies at Hockenheim on Friday, Ecclestone turned up and suggested that he was willing to do a deal over private testing if manufacturers agreed to expand their supplies. Further restrictions on testing would make life a lot easier for the engine-builders as they currently have to produce almost as many engine for testing as they do for the races. Ecclestone spiced up his offer with the suggestion that if they were not willing to play ball he might have to consider a 13000 rpm rev limiter. This left the engineers speechless as they would all have to completely redesign their engines if such a regulation was passed - and that would be prohibitively expensive.
Ecclestone's problem is that F1 is currently two competitive engine supplies short for the 12 teams expected to be racing in F1 in 1999. Yamaha is expected to disappear at the end of this year and so both Arrows and Benetton still need engines for next year. Williams has a contract with Mecachrome which restricts the French firm to supplying only one other team. If, as is being rumored, the BA Team Reynard operation has a Mecachrome test deal for 1998 it is logical that they will also have a deal to race the engines in 1999. It is pointless to test a car if one is going to race it with a different engine the following year. This means that if Williams refuses to budge there might be only one supply of Mecachromes available. It would also mean that whoever gets the French engines could only use them for one season, a package which is not very interesting for either Benetton or Arrows. This appears to be the reason for the delays in the announcement of the second Mecachrome supply and it appears to have led Ecclestone to try to look elsewhere for engines for Benetton and Arrows. We hear his aim is to get Mercedes to agree to supply Benetton so that the Mecachromes can be given to Walkinshaw for 1998.
This does not take into account the views of the Mercedes-Benz management, which argues that not only does it not have the capacity to produce more engines but that the plan does not fit into the strategy of building up the "Silver Arrows" image. In addition there are contractual difficulties with McLaren as Ron Dennis has an exclusive Mercedes-Benz deal and there is no reason he should give it up. It seems that to make the idea more attractive to Mercedes-Benz, Ecclestone is trying to broker a deal to turn Benetton into a second "Silver Arrows" team with Ralf Schumacher drafted in from Jordan to drive. This would give Mercedes the German driver they would like to have.
The pressure on Mercedes-Benz for this to happen may help to explain the rumors some months ago that Audi was keen to enter F1 with Benetton. Audi is not only a modern rival of Mercedes-Benz but also ran "Silver Arrow" cars in the 1930s under the AutoUnion banner.
Ecclestone is also understood to be leaning on Ford, Peugeot and Mugen, but only Ford is showing signs of helping him out. Peugeot is believed to have said that it will withdraw from F1 if the rules are changed and Mugen says it is not logistically possible to supply more engines before 1999.
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