MAY 11, 1998
Benetton and Ford
BENETTON's alliance with the Ford Motor Company appears to be over with team boss David Richards admitting in Barcelona that the Enstone-based team will be using Mecachrome engines - badged as Playlife V10s - again in 1999. Richards has been involved in lengthy negotiations in recent weeks with Ford Motor Company bosses to discuss the possibility of Benetton getting a second supply of Ford V10 engines next year because of the disappointing performances of the Stewart Grand Prix team so far this season. Richards travelled to Detroit in the week between the San Marino and Spanish GPs to talk to Ford bosses but was unable to get an agreement which would see Benetton using the same engines as those supplied to Stewart.
The decision by Ford not to supply engines to Benetton does not seem to make a great deal of sense using F1 logic. Stewart still has a long way to go before it will be able to compete with the big F1 teams and the best short-term solution is to ally with a top team and thus short-circuit the need to build up an infrastructure at Stewart. To turn down the opportunity to work with a top team like Benetton suggests that perhaps Ford has a hidden agenda in Formula 1. This is quite possible as the investment needed in F1 these days - and in the future - is now so great that car manufacturers are looking more and more at ways to protect their investment in the sport. Honda is planning to build its own team and it is quite possible that Ford may be pkaying with the same idea.
The relationship between Ford and Cosworth may also be coming to an end as there is considerable uncertainty over what is going to happen with Cosworth Engineering in the future. Volkswagen is trying to buy Cosworth Engineering as part of its bid to win control of Rolls Royce Motor Cars, but it is not clear at the moment as to what will happen with Cosworth Racing. Ford owns the intellectual property rights to the F1 engines built by Cosworth but may lose the production facilities if Cosworth Racing is sold to Volkswagen. This would force Ford to establish its own engine-building department in Britain. This idea was discussed last year when Ford was trying to put pressure on Cosworth to produce better engines.
There is also a very clear increase in the number of American engineers in the Ford F1 team and this would seem to suggest that the company may have adopted the Honda idea of using F1 to train and motivate its engineers. Using such logic one can imagine a scenario in which Ford will wait until Stewart has built up a sensible infrastructure and is competitive and will then buy the team. This might explain the strange attitude towards Benetton.
With Benetton needing to settle on an engine supply as quickly as possible Richards returned from Detroit and decided to stick with Mecachrome for one more season. "We have a two-year deal with Mecachrome," Richards said in Spain, "and we are sticking to it." He added that Benetton has no exclusivity clauses in its contracts with Mecachrome.
Richards is now expected to continue his search for a new engine partner for Benetton for the year 2000. Sticking with Mecachrome will mean that in 1999 Benetton will have reliable and proven engines, although the performance of the rebadged Renault V10s is likely to tail off next year. Despite rumors to the contrary Renault has no plans to produce a completely new engine for Mecachrome.
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