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Building engines for 1996


The change in the Formula 1 engine regulations at the end of last year from 3.5-litre to 3-litre was a dramatic change, the first since the banning of turbocharged engines at the end of 1988. It was introduced because the FIA wanted the cars to be slowed down on the grounds of safety. For most of the engine manufacturers there was no time to build completely new engines and, in the interests of cost and speed, they simply converted the 3.5 engines to 3-litre spec.

The only major manufacturer to risk a completely new engine was Mercedes-Benz. This has proved to be a disadvantage this year because the new design needed to be developed, but it will become an advantage in 1996 when Mercedes will have a year of 3-litre experience while the other manufacturers have to start from scratch.

The Mercedes-Benz V10 engines are designed and built for Mercedes-Benz by Ilmor Engineering and Ilmor boss Mario Illien says that his 1996 engine will be an evolution of the current V10, although its exact specification is yet to be finalised. This means that the engine will be smaller, lighter, stiffer and will rev higher. No-one is willing to say how this will be achieved by much of it will be down to advances in materials and in electronics.

Illien is not the only enginemaker in F1 who is reticent about his plans for the future. No-one wants to give anything away. As a result there is a lot of poaching between the manufacturers as they try to get the best men into their camp and away from their opposition. In the last few months, for example, Ilmor has head-hunted engineers Stuart Groves and Massimo de Novelis from Ferrari.

This is ironic because Ferrari has done more poaching of engineers than any other team. Last year the team did feasibility studies on a V12, a V10 and a V8 engine. The V8 design was done by Groves, who Ferrari had lured from Cosworth. The V10 by engineers hired from Peugeot.

In the end Ferrari boss Jean Todt decided to build V10s. Groves quit. The V10 programme is well-advanced. Under project leader Gilles Simon, formerly with Peugeot, the prototype began bench testing on May 31. It will be run in a car in the first few days of October by Ferrari test driver Nicola Larini and later by Michael Schumacher. But the V12 has not been abandoned yet. In fact, Ferrari has three teams of engineers working on different evolutions of the engine. The current V12 is the work of Luca Marmiroli with input from ex-Peugeot engineer Christophe Marie (an expert in pneumatic valve systems).

All this is coordinated by the team's head of engine design Paolo Martinelli, who replaced Claudio Lombardi earlier this year. In addition to the various engine projects, Martinelli also controls engine research and development, which is headed by Osamu Goto.

Ferrari says that it will not decide whether to use a V10 or a V12 until both have been tested. The V12 can rev higher but it is bigger and heavier than the V10, which is a better overall package. We hear that the V10 is 7cm shorter than the V12 and will be a lot lighter. The current V12 weighs 265lbs, the V10 is rumoured to weigh just 220lbs.

Initial rumours from Italy suggested that the engine was going to radically different and would not be load-bearing. This would be a revolutionary step as since the mid-1950s F1 engines has been used to link the chassis and the gearbox. As a result engines have been heavier than is necessary but with the aerospace composite materials available today it could be possible for a team to build a load-bearing frame for the engine. This would mean a smaller and lighter engine block. Ferrari sources, however, say that these rumours are not true because the packaging of the exhaust systems would be far too complicated and heavy.

There have also been stories that Renault is working on some radical new ideas. Renault Sport's technical director Bernard Dudot will only say that he is building a V10 for 1996. He even refuses to say if there will be any new ideas. The new engine, which will be called the RS8, is currently being built at Renault Sport in Viry-Chatillon, near Paris, and such is the secrecy that Dudot refuses to even name the engineer in charge of the project.

Renault Sport's research and development department, under 48-year-old Jean-Jacques His, are constantly pushing forward with engine technology, working with its technical partners such as Aerospatiale (advanced materials), Messier castings and Magneti-Marelli electronics and rumours suggest that the new V10 will have a radical distribution system.

Dudot's caution is probably well-founded because rival engine manufacturers would like to poach some of Dudot's top men. In recent weeks, for the first time in six years, Renault Sport has lost an engineer to another team - Noel Canvy being hired by Maranello.

The Ford Motor Company is funding the building of a V10 engine - a complete break with tradition for Cosworth Engineering, which builds all Ford's F1 power units. The new power unit will be supplied exclusively to Sauber and is being designed Martin Walters and his team of engineers, although this has been weakened in recent months by the departures of Stuart Groves and Geoff Goddard.

Once again details are sketchy but we do not expect there to be any revolutionary features - just what Ford F1 boss Peter Gillitzer calls "a couple of new ideas".

Peugeot has a tradition of V10 engines, but has lost several important staff - notably Marie and Simon to Ferrari. The team seems to be confident, however, that the new V10 will be a big step forward.

"Up to now we have been forced to press on regardless, as much in the development programme as in the racing," says Peugeot's Guy Audoux. "We have had to use new ideas far too quickly. We had to get to the right level of competitiveness very quickly. Now we feel we have reached that level and so we can use the off-season to sort out the reliability problems we have been having. We know what is causing them and we know how to solve them, but there has not been time to do it."

Yamaha is already testing its new V10 on the test beds at John Judd's Engine Developments company in Rugby, England. This new engine has been designed by ex-Honda man Hiro Kaneda and is smaller and lighter than the existing engines - but not radically new. Mugen is doing a similar programme in Japan.

For the smaller teams such as Minardi, Pacific, Forti and any new teams - such as DAMS - there is little choice but to use Ford customer engines once again. Arrows uses Brian Hart's V8s but Hart has been unable to sell these to a manufacturer, despite talks with Daewoo last winter.

Finding a manufacturer-backed engine is a problem because the only viable way for a big motor company to enter F1 is to use the experience of the existing engine-builders and badge the engine. The problem is that all the experienced F1 engine-builders are already contracted: Cosworth with Ford; Yamaha with Judd; Mugen with Honda and Ilmor with Mercedes. Renault, Peugeot and Ferrari build their engines in-house.

The change from 3.5-litre to 3-litre may, however, attract new engine companies to F1. Switzerland's Heini Mader and British firms Neil Brown Engineering and Nicholson-McLaren have been tuning 3-liter engines in Formula 3000 for years but, with the F3000 rules changing to a single engine formula in 1996, now is a good time for these companies to move into F1 with backing from new manufacturers.

Ligier's Tom Walkinshaw also has plans to build his own engines in the future and is currently recruiting engineers for his own F1 engine programme around ex-Cosworth engineer Geoff Goddard.

None of these companies will be ready in 1996 and so the small teams will again use Ford customer V8 engines. Cosworth is offering three options: the cheapest will be a uprated HB V8; if teams have more money they can use uprated Zetec-Rs. If any of them have serious money to invest Cosworth also has a completely new 3-litre V8 engine in the planning stages - known as the JS.