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Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Last Of The Specialists

The irony was that the new regulations were meant to protect the independent teams and by extension, the specialist engine manufacturers. Alas with Cosworth now set to depart Formula 1, all that remains are the manufacturers. Once upon a time, it was Cosworth who was perhaps the largest of the engine suppliers. Back in the 70s, they supplied powerplants to nearly every single car on the grid bar of course Ferrari and one or two odd units.

With the WSMC's decision to allow Ferrari to supply more than a couple of teams from next year (the other two being Spyker and Toro Rosso), it is now Ferrari that is the largest of the suppliers. Quite why one would choose Ferrari is beyond me since they would never allow the customers to win.

Interestingly, there is a plaque at the Cosworth factory, given by one Enzo Ferrari. The old man you see, might have been dirty but the man had some honour in him, unlike his successors today. It was a salute from Il Commendatore to the engine manufacturer who had beaten him too many times for (his) comfort. A great man recognizing greatness in Costin and Duckworth.

I suppose Cosworth's last real chance to stay was with Williams but with Grove seemingly unsatisfied with reliability they have chosen Toyota power for next year. Could Cosworth in this modern age still have a reasonable chance to produce championship winning engines? I would like to think so but then one could argue that perhaps if they really did have any chance at all, Williams might have stayed with them. Still, I think Williams were motivated by factors beyond simply competitiveness. With the Toyota brand riding on their cars, there are better chances of gaining much needed sponsors. It is no secret after all, that the split from BMW lost them more than one multinational sponsorship. Sponsors want to be associated with brand names rather than racing teams. To the causal fans, Williams was BMW. And to be associated with BMW was great exposure for other big names.

I suppose if Ford wanted to make a comeback to grand prix racing, they would be knocking on Cosworth's factory gates. But Ford is a company in financial difficulty and companies in dire straits are really run by the Chief Financial Officer, not the marketing guy or even the CEO. Formula 1 is therefore a frivolous pursuit to a company like Ford. In fact the relationship with Ford has always been one sided. Sure, Ford supplied funding and I suppose other technical facilities but the saying was that if the car won, then it was called a Ford engine. If it didn't then it was a Cosworth. Big corporations, huh?

Ideally of course the sport would have a large number of competitors powered by a mix of engine suppliers as it did when the normally aspirated formula began in 1989. Remember, Judd, Hart or even crazy loonies like Yamaha? In fact, even Ilmor could be counted as a specialist once, in the mould of Cosworth. Now of course, Ilmor's Formila 1 operations has been taken over by Mercedes in its entirety. I've always fancied Hart as a good power unit if only someone were to properly fund it. Unfortunately we don't see any other Mansour Ojjehs anywhere. Again, I think this has as much to do with commercial associations as much as technical ability.

Apparently the Koreans are looking to launch a team. Hyundai for one have been mentioned several times by as a possibility for entry using Hyundai badged Cosworth engines. Volkswagen is another name that has been mentioned before as well. But frankly these are cases of wishful thinking.

The Cosworth name still lives on in Indycars and long may it continue. But from a historical and sentimental standpoint, it is sad to see it leave Formula 1, for it has contributed much to the sport. Perhaps it is apt that its departure coincides with that of Michael Schumacher, the last person to give Cosworth a world championship. Some might try to correct me and say that it was a Benetton Ford that won the 1994 driver's title. Only in name for it really was a Cosworth. 10 drivers title, 13 constructors championships and god knows how many victories.

1 comment:

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Alberto Portacio