AUGUST 10, 1998

Stewart's engines in 2000

STEWART GRAND PRIX had been hoping to continue as the Ford Motor Company's only factory-supported team until the end of the 2000 season, but the team's failure to score any really strong results has prompted Ford executives to take a short-cut to the top and do a deal with Benetton for the 2000 season.

The move makes perfect sense as Benetton and Ford were partners between 1987 and 1994 and many of those involved in that era are still working at Benetton and at Ford (and its subsidiary Cosworth). Benetton will once again have a factory engine deal after years sharing a Renault deal - nowadays as a paying customer.

The only problem for Ford is that it has an agreement to supply engines to Stewart and the new deal with Benetton will mean that for the 2000 season there is a possibility of an uncomfortable twin-supply of factory engines to Benetton and Stewart.

A similar situation occurred in 1993 when Ford had fallen out with Benetton's management. It supplied McLaren with identical engines as a means of forcing the issue. The move proved to be a success in two ways as it spurred Benetton to become a much more competitive operation in 1994, winning Ford a Constructors' title AND forced the team to find a new deal with Renault in 1995.

Ford had hoped that the deal struck with Jackie Stewart at the end of 1995 would return the engine manufacturer to the limelight in F1. It was a naive belief as F1 is now hyper-competitive and it takes years for a new team to get on terms with the established frontrunners. Three years into the Stewart-Ford relationship the top brass in Detroit has decided to adopt a new policy and has agreed a new long-term deal with Benetton.

This creates an image problem for Ford as it does not wish to be seen to be dropping Jackie Stewart, who has been one of the company's international ambassadors for many years, but nor does the company want to continue as an also ran in F1 racing.

The best way for Ford to sort out the problem is to offer Jackie a deal he CAN refuse so that he will look elsewhere for an engine deal in 2000. Stewart will probably prefer to remain with Ford for the duration of the contract, even if the engines are not supplied on an exclusive basis. This will help the team to continue to develop in a stable way and will not create a bad impression.

It is unlikely that Stewart will make a fuss if Ford forces him to give up exclusivity as the only possible outcome of a legal fight would be claims - which are difficult to deny - that Stewart has not performed as Ford had hoped.

While the Stewart team must take some of the blame for the failure to perform, the top management at Ford who made the decision to enter F1 with Stewart is also guilty of trying to achieve the impossible and going against all logic by starting out with a new team.

Learning from previous mistakes is, however, a powerful incentive to do well in the future and the experience may result in Ford becoming a powerful force in the future, while at the same time using F1 as it originally intended: to promote Ford products and to motivate and train young engineers.