MARCH 8, 1999
The search for engines begins
THE Australian Grand Prix gave the Formula 1 circus the first true indication of the relative levels of competitiveness this season, and while several teams were delighted with what they found others were rather disappointed. Although RalfÊSchumacher finished third for the Williams team, the Melbourne race underlined the belief that the Supertec V10 engine is not a competitive power unit this year. This is not a problem for Williams as the team is planning to switch to BMW engines next season but it is bad news for Benetton and British American Racing, both of which have Supertec deals for this year and next.
There were some particularly long faces at Benetton, the team having last year turned down the chance to work with the Ford Motor Company. The new Ford V10 engines were highly impressive even if there was some embarrassment when both Stewart-Fords caught fire simultaneously at the start of the race.
Although no-one is publicly commenting, there is no doubt that Benetton's bosses are now looking for a new engine deal in 2000, hopefully with a major car manufacturer. The obvious target is Toyota, although the Japanese giant is currently planning to enter the sport with its own team in 2002 or 2003 rather than as an engine supplier. There are possibilities, however, that the company might fund the development of a Judd-based engine to ensure that when the Toyota Team is ready to come into F1 it would have a power unit which was already developed. Judd has a Formula 1 engine which he developed for Yamaha.
Such a move would make a lot of sense for Toyota from a strategic point of view although large motor companies tend to think that they will have no problems beating the best in Formula 1. Usually they discover, to their cost, that it is not as simple as they think.
BAR seems to be continuing with its policy of waiting for Renault to make a return to Grand Prix racing. This could happen, but it is unlikely to be for some time as the French company has other more important priorities at the moment. It should also be noted that the highly-successful Renault Sport team of engineers has lost a lot of its important members in the last couple of years and would need to be completely restructured.
The other teams on the lookout for engines are Jordan and Sauber. Eddie Jordan knows that the arrival of Honda is going to have a detrimental effect on his engine supply and needs to find a better alternative. He is negotiating with Mugen's Hirotoshi Honda about continuing their relationship but this is going to be complicated as any independent Mugen effort would be frowned upon by the Honda Motor Company and Mr. Honda is a major shareholder in the company founded by his father.
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