JULY 23, 2001
One team or two? Which way for the engine manufacturers?
Niki Lauda, F1 light in Ford's Premier Performance group, neatly summed it up at Silverstone when he said; "I'm in the business of performance, not politics." One must certainly hope that he is right, for there will surely be people inside the Jaguar F1 operation who believe such a strategy could take the fine edge off their front line effort.
Truth be told, this is a finely balanced argument. Lauda is pinning his argument in favor of such a move on the basis that input from two teams will speed up development work and help cross-referencing for the purpose of establishing precisely where there might be any lingering weaknesses in the Jaguar squad.
It could also yield useful income, reputedly around $15.5 million annually for the privilege of using the engines. This is a lesson which has been well learned in recent years by Ferrari who are now earning more than $30 million annually leasing customer engines to Sauber and Prost.
Honda, of course, already have two teams. BMW and Mercedes have strong partnerships with two strong teams but Mercedes has been tempted in the past to expand its supply arrangements, having detailed talks with Prost towards the end of last year. Eventually the deal never came about, although whether through straightforward caution on Mercedes-Benz's part or the right of veto from McLaren boss Ron Dennis has never been made clear.
There is a political advantage of supplying more than one team, of course. Jean Todt has already made it clear this year that Ferrari customer teams are expected to tow Maranello's line when it comes to the various FIA forums. Perhaps Ford can see some merit in this area, although quite where Jaguar and Arrows would position themselves within the wider F1 political landscape is by no means clear.