Sauber looks to the future

Felipe Massa, Chinese GP 2004

Felipe Massa, Chinese GP 2004 

 © The Cahier Archive

Peter Sauber is looking at new engine supply arrangements resulting from the FIA's decision to introduce the new 2.4-litre V8 formula. This should, in theory at least, mean that the engines will be cheaper for manufacturers to make once they have overcome the massive investment needed to create a completely new engine. This should mean that more engines will be available in 2006 and it might even mean that there will be new engine manufacturers entering F1.

If new companies are going to get into Grand Prix racing at the start of the new formula, engine makers will need to be making moves now to hire engine designers and get on with testing and so it is likely that if there are any new players we will know about them soon enough as they will have to start to recruit existing engine men. It is possible, of course, that some of the manufacturers might have sufficient expertise in-house to build F1 engines but it would be wiser to have the people involved having an intricate knowledge of the existing situation.

There are, of course, possibilities of engine supply deals through third parties, notably Cosworth, which could produce engines badged by a manufacturer. Cosworth has been doing this in IRL in recent years with Chevrolet and rival Mercedes-Ilmor has done the same for Honda in the US series. Cosworth is also supplying Ford-badged engines for the Champ Car series.

One possibility which could be on the cards for Sauber is a revival of the original idea of the team building its own engines. This was part of the programme with Petronas when the two companies first got together back in 1996. The plan then was to use Ferrari engines and then develop a new Sauber Petronas V10 engine in Switzerland. A company called Sauber Petronas Engineering was established in Hinwil headed by Osamu Goto, who had been head of the Honda F1 programme in the early 1990s. The aim was for the company to design and build its own V10 engines for the 1999 season, while also designing road car engines for the Malaysian national car company Proton, which Petronas part-owned. These engines were built but the F1 engine programme was stopped by the economic crisis which hit Asia in 1998. Since those days Proton and Petronas have gone their separate ways and the oil company has sold most of its shares in the national car company. Proton in turn has turned to Volkswagen and has recently signed a long-term strategic partnership which will result in VW building cars in Proton's factories in Malaysia.

Petronas, which tends to be treated as the national cash-cow is now heavily involved in paying for Putrajaya, the country's new administrative city, but remains keen on the development of indigenous technological capabilities in automotive engineering. Since designing the road car engines Sauber Petronas Engineering has turned to the development of the high performance motorcycle engine which was unveiled in April 2001 and has been raced in recent seasons in the World Superbike series by Carl Fogarty's Team Foggy Petronas Racing. The first roadgoing versions of the bikes were launched in 2003. The programme has now reached fruition and it may be that Petronas is now willing to invest in the design and manufacture of an F1 V8 engine for 2006.

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