MARCH 30, 1998

Ford and Benetton

BENETTON boss David Richards and his technical director Pat Symmonds were recently spotted visiting Cosworth Racing in Northampton, adding to speculation that the Benetton team is discussing a switch to Ford V10 engines next year. The FordÊMotor Company management is understood to be less than happy about the performance of the Stewart team so far this season because of a series of gearbox problems which have hampered development work on the SF2 chassis. This has meant that the team is behind on its development programs and as it does not have the same scale of industrial infrastructure as some of the bigger teams it is going to be very hard for Stewart to make up the lost ground.

The Stewart-Ford alliance was designed to be a five-year exclusive deal but it is clear that Ford management was expecting good results very quickly.

If a deal is struck with Benetton it will not be the first time that Ford has used such tactics. In 1993 Benetton was not performing and so McLaren was used by Ford for a season to put pressure on Benetton. The result was that Benetton improved dramatically and won the 1994 World Championship.

When asked about the visit Richards said that it was not related to engine supply but rather because the Sultan of Brunei is buying two old Benetton chassis for his private car collection but the team cannot get the Ford engines to start without the right electronic package. The visit was to negotiate over this.

This is not a very credible story and we believe that the main thrust of the visit was to enable Richards and Symmonds to see the Cosworth facility. The team is having to pay for its engines this year and the Mecachrome V10s, which have been badged as Playlife engines, are going to be less effective in 1999 than they are this year as development is likely to be limited and the main engine will be getting old. The Ford engine is still developing and has a lot of potential.

The top F1 teams have already begun work on the design of their 1999 cars and thus it is no surprise that Benetton is trying hard to conclude a deal so that the team's design staff can begin work.