OCTOBER 21, 1996
...bad news for Williams, Benetton and TWR
WITH Honda saying that it is not going to enter Grand Prix racing in 1998 Williams, Benetton and TWR Arrows are going to have to look elsewhere for engine deals.
TWR is well-placed in that it has a one-year deal with Yamaha and may be able to develop this into a much more successful relationship than Tyrrell managed to do. The Yamaha V10 is a remarkable engine but has not been reliable this year. If the quality-control problems can be solved, the team should be a lot more competitive in 1997, and if that is the case Walkinshaw will no doubt take up the option to develop the Yamaha deal into a longer-term program.
Williams and Benetton have fewer choices available. There are plenty of rumors of companies interested in entering F1 in 1998 but no such deals have yet become reality - and time is running out if company's want to have competitive packages in place for the start of 1998.
The two top teams will, therefore, probably have to turn to existing F1 engine suppliers for their 1998 power units. The choice is limited to Mercedes, Peugeot, Ford and Yamaha.
Mercedes is in a long-term relationship with McLaren. If the team fails to deliver next year (the third year of the relationship) there will be enormous pressure inside Mercedes to dump Ron Dennis's operation and find a team which can win. There are contracts in place but, as Dennis has proved in the past, such documents can easily be overcome.
Peugeot will be available as its contract with Jordan runs out at the end of next year. The relationship has not been successful to date and there is pressure within Peugeot to get the job done or pull out. Jordan is extremely exposed at the moment as not only are Williams and Benetton beginning to sniff around Peugeot but also Alain Prost is trying hard to put together a deal for Peugeot to power his planned team (Ligier) in 1998.
Ford is tied to the new Stewart Grand Prix operation until the end of 2001, and if things go wrong top management in Detroit are not going to want to have admit that they made a mistake supporting high-profile Jackie Stewart, and so are likely to increase their effort rather than dumping JYS and starting with someone else. There will, however, be changes in the top management at Ford as current Chairman Alex Trotman reaches the mandatory retirement age of 65 in 1998. A shake-up last week in Dearborn has put Jacques Nasser into a very strong position as President, Ford Automotive Operations. Nasser, who made his name as head of Ford's Australian and then European operations, is a big fan of Tom Walkinshaw. Jackie Stewart's major supporter is Bob Rewey, Vice President (Marketing and Sales). He is seven years older than Nasser and so will be less of a challenger for the top job. Current speculation in Detroit is that 39-year-old William Clay Ford Jr., a great-grandson of the company founder Henry Ford could become a non-executive chairman with Nasser or current Deputy Chairman Ed Hagenlocker being chief executive.
Yamaha is currently in league with Walkinshaw and if the alliance proves to be successful it is logical that Walkinshaw, Bridgestone, Yamaha and Damon Hill continue together.
One or even two of the big teams in F1 look to be in danger of losing out on a decent engine deal in 1998.