JULY 13, 1998

When is a Mecachrome not a Supertec?

THE politics of Formula 1 engines was bubbling away at Silverstone last weekend with some mystery as to exactly what is the difference between a Mecachrome V10 and a Supertec V10. In theory a Mecachrome V10 is a rebadged Renault V10 but our spies tell us that the new Super Performance Competition Engineering - which has the distribution rights for Mecachrome engines - may be rather more ambitious than was originally thought and may be building a completely new engine, funded by its customers. SPCE is currently being fronted by Flavio Briatore although it is uncertain as to whether he owns any shares in the Amsterdam-registered firm.

There is also some doubt as to who will design the new engine although logic would suggest that Renault Sport engineers will be involved. The problem for Renault Sport is that both Bernard Dudot and Jean-Jacques His have left and their replacements do not have anywhere near the same kind of experience in building F1 engines. Renault Sport also has no budget whatsoever to fund a new engine.

At the moment Benetton and British American Racing have announced deals with Supertec. Each will be paying the company around $16m a year. Williams will run Mecachrome V10s.

Sauber's plans remain unclear at the moment although we believe that the Swiss team will run the same engines as Benetton and BAR. It remains to be seen what these will be called but plans for an all-new Malaysian-funded Sauber PetronasÊV10 engine to be built by Osamu Goto's team in Switzerland seem to have faded away.

This is interesting because Sauber Petronas Engineering had done considerable preparation and design work for a new V10 engine and this work could be going to waste. It would therefore be logical to suggest that rather than relying on a weakened Renault Sport, SPCE might be better placed if it adopted the Sauber plans and used Mecachrome or another nearby facility to build the engines. The biggest problem faced by Sauber was that it was very difficult to attract foreign engineers to Switzerland because of visa problems.

The best place to open an F1 engine facility these days is in France as there is a great deal of F1 engine expertise at RenaultÊSport, Peugeot Sport and Mecachrome. It is worth noting that the old Ligier factory at Magny-Cours has been empty since the departure of Prost to Paris. This could be used as an engine-assembly facility.