Features - News Feature

JULY 31, 1999

The Ford Motor Company and F1


Jac Nasser, the president and chief executive of the Ford Motor Company, jetted in to Hockenheim to have talks with members of the Formula 1 circus while avoiding giving away any of the company's plans in Grand Prix racing.

Jac Nasser, the president and chief executive of the Ford Motor Company, jetted in to Hockenheim to have talks with members of the Formula 1 circus while avoiding giving away any of the company's plans in Grand Prix racing. There have been a lot of rumours about the recently-acquired Stewart Grand Prix team being turned into a Jaguar team and the next Formula 1 Commission will consider a request from Ford for the team to change its name. But what will that name be?

"We haven't decided that," says Nasser. "There has been a lot of talk about Jaguar and I will not rule that out. Motorsport is an integral part of Ford's business. It isn't different from other areas such as production, sales and so on. It is therefore global and so it must be integrated with our brands because we want motorsport to run through the bloodstream of our people. We are in a transition phase as far as the brands are concerned with the purchase of Volvo, the establishment of the Premier Automotive Group of luxury brands and the changes in the management at Ford of Europe."

Nasser insists, however, that no matter what happens Jackie Stewart will still be linked to Ford - although perhaps not in F1.

"We have had a relationship of 30 years with Jackie," he explains and that will continue. It is not only a long relationship it is also very broad ranging from vehicle testing to giving advice to people like me. That will continue but exactly how we organize the racing side is under discussion and we are right in the middle of that.

"The aim is clearly to win and I don't think that will take long. if you go back and look at the performance of Stewart Grand Prix over the whole programme we are ahead of where we expected to be. But this is a tough business and we would not be proceeding if our intention was not to win. Being there is not enough but we don't have to win every time. We want to be among the winners. We do not do it for the marketing impact alone. We would not do it for that. Marketing is more impactful if you win but that is only about 20% of the reason for the programme. The other 80% is divided equally between people and technology."

Nasser's battle cry is a familiar one amongst the Ford men in F1 and is echoed by John Valentine, head of the company's Advanced Engineering racing technology division in Dearborn, Michigan.

"F1 is very valuable for training engineers," he says. "They learn not only how to do things quickly but they also have an increased scope of responsibility . One week they might be working on drive shaft problems and the next they will be on aerodynamics and then it might be braking systems. They also learn a lot about how to deal with people at a lot of different levels. They have to deal with teams, suppliers, the media, drivers and F1 personalities such as Jackie Stewart. These people are legendary and they have an air about them which is unique. It is good for young engineers to come and be awed by that. It helps their personal growth. Often when hey arrive they are shy but after a couple of years you can really see the change and that is good.

"From the technology standpoint motorsport really lends itself to things like computer modelling. The computers allow you to do a lot of quick testing so that instead of having to build five prototypes you can do them in a computer and get a lot closer to the idea you want. in racing the quick turnaround time really lends itself to developing the computer-modelling.

"We are now so confident in our computer-modelling software models that we do about 10% of the rig testing we used to do In other areas were are struggling more because thermal and aerodynamic modelling is much more difficult because you need to do the whole car and the number of cells needed is unbelievable and we need more computing power. We are just at the tip of the iceberg on this stuff and it's very exciting. As computers get faster and we get better it will get better and better.

"F1 is also useful for material and electronic development and, for instance, we have technology transfer deals with people like Boeing. Recently we have been looking at some of the wiring on the Apache attack helicopter for Cosworth engine looms."

Valentine now admits that Ford has had a much bigger involvement with Stewart than was immediately obvious.

"We have been using our technology all along but in a very quiet way. You are seeing improvements in the car as a result of that. We were not at all pleased last year with the carbonfibre gearbox but we did not own the team. W e suggested that the carbonfibre not be used. We strongly suggested that. We strongly suggested a back-up programme - but it all fell on deaf ears. We could only suggest. Unfortunately a lot of our suggestions were not taken and the results last year were disastrous. The fallout of that was that there was a change for this year and there is more Advanced Engineering presence in the new car. We have just had the Stewart-Ford SF3 in Dearborn doing advanced analysis for the next generation car. It is like taking an F1 car to a doctor for a physical. We looked at structural rigidity, both overall and in localized areas. We looked at suspension and engine attachment points; global and local structures, suspension geometries, centre of gravity and these types of things.

"We have had people working at Stewart for the last three years. It started with one engineer and has now increased to three. It will increase again. Once you have an equity position in a company the commitment is such that you are absolutely free to bring in all of your technology without the risk of it going somewhere else. When you don't own a team or an engine manufacturer you are always a little bit in an "us" and "them" situation. And that goes both ways because the team does not necessarily want to share everything with you. Now we can get serious. We are unencumbered in what we would like to do. It wasn't that one day we just woke up and decided that we wanted to do. It has been in the back of our minds since my group was formed in 1996. The idea was to renew our commitment to racing, increase our involvement and get the technology transfer going to help train our engineers and use racing as a test ground for new ideas and technologies.

"In the back of our minds we kept saying "we would like to do more with Cosworth" but it was not for sale. In the end we got what we wanted and buying the team is icing on the cake. we are going to have a complete entity and we are very pleased about it. The working relationship is going to change and I envisage more Ford engineers involved . We are going to step up our technical presence in Europe with more racing engineers being posted to Cologne to help not only with the F1 but also with the rally and touring car teams."

Valentine also envisages a Ford motorsport "campus" where all the company's racing activities could be concentrated.

"Stewart Grand Prix does not own its own building and there is no room to expand and Cosworth is surrounded by Audi facilities. They are also grossly outdated. We knew when we bought it that we would not stay there but we have put in a lot of effort reorganize the machine shop and put in new machines. In the long-term we want to grow the racing engine business at certain levels."

That will not be in Formula 1.

The company is spending money with rumours of talks with engineers like Adrian Newey and drivers such as Mika Hakkinen and Michael Schumacher but, according to Valentine, budgets are not unlimited.

"it is clearly our intention to win," he says. "We have seen people spend cubic dollars and not win in F1. Just because you have a lot of money does not guarantee success. you have to look for value."

Nasser says it will not be long before all is revealed and promises "a real magic mix of involvement in motorsport."

We can hardly wait...