Cosworth engine, Goodyear tyres

December 11, 2008

With apologies to Ferrari-engined cars with Bridgestone rubber, which have become the dominant winning combination in Grand Prix racing in the last decade, they have some way to go before they match the longevity, breadth, variety or scope of what is easily the winningest engine-tyre combination in Formula 1 history.  Admittedly, Goodyear’s utter dominance is in no small part helped by the ten year period between 1987 and 1997 where they were the sole tyre supplier, bar a brief and occasionally race-winning dalliance by Pirelli.  Cosworth, on the other hand, maintain their position due to the reliability, affordability and quality of their legendary DFV engine, the normally-aspirated, 3-litre V8 which won 155 Grand Prix races in almost countless hands between 1967 and 1983.

A tyre monopoly, then, is nothing new in Grand Prix racing.  Since 2007, indeed, Bridgestone has been the sole supplier to the field – as they were from 1999 until 2001, too.  However, the huge cost-cutting package which the FIA and FOTA are currently grinding out in Monte Carlo may introduce a new concept – the engine monopoly – into the sport.

Many people, including myself, are not at all keen on this idea.  Whilst its objectives of cost-cutting and maintaining F1’s competitive viability are noble – perhaps vital – I cannot help but feel there should be other ways to get similar results without compromising one of Formula 1’s founding technical principles.  Cosworth’s DFV dominance was never a monopoly.  Rivals could and did emerge to challenge, but until the Turbo era dawned, the DFV was able to see them off.  It’s ubiquity in the field, in other words, was based on excellence rather than statute.

The FIA’s new proposal, which looks set to be passed, is for a standard engine in Formula 1.  This unit, which would (naturally enough) be built by Cosworth and based on the 2.4 litre V8 unit raced by Williams in 2006, would be the standard power plant.  If other engine builders wish to compete, they must build their engine to the exact same specification and design as the Cosworth unit.  Many high-ups in Formula 1 are not particularly keen on this idea, not surprising considering that of the nine teams currently registered for next year’s World Championship, only 4 (Red Bull, Toro Rosso, Williams and Force India) are not owned or fundamentally subsidised by a major car maker.  I think the standardised engine will, in the long term, be a salvation for the sport.  However, there’s every chance that the sport will look radically different as a consequence.

My idea for a solution to this problem is this.  Every engine manufacturer designs and builds their own unit, but in such a way that they are able to, if required, supply their engine (and entire drive train package) to a certain percentage of the entire field – say 50 or 75 percent.  This should keep engine building costs down, as no team would risk exotic materials or construction knowing that they may be called upon to provide and maintain 10 or 12 identical units all season, whilst preserving the sport’s technical purity.

When I first started to seriously follow Formula 1, in 1994, the cars – including the front running teams – would often run with many off-the-peg components.  Suspension systems or gearboxes would be bought from catalogues, whilst steering wheels would be standard Momo units.  Formula 1 has marched on since then, and it is never right to force this, the pinnacle of motorsport, to take a major technical step backwards.  However, if the rules can be tweaked to make things more cost-effective without removing the innovation, then they simply must be.

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