Cosworth & New Teams: A disaster in the making?

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I have been thinking about the 2010 season and the new teams in particular. While I was considering the challenges they face and the numerous rumors to their still-born birth in the 2010 season, I have arrived at a discussion point…Cosworth.

Cosworth has been in the racing engine supply business for decades and the halcyon days of the DFV in the late 60’s and beyond have certainly cemented the name in gray matter the world over. The company has changed hands since those days and its current mission has it developing engines and technology for many industries.

In 2009 Cosworth was selected as the provider of a supplier engine program developed and put forth by F1 governing body, the FIA. Then President Max Mosley was very keen to suggest that the era of the manufacturer was waning as the economy would punish their lavish spending in F1 and force them to exit the sport with a whimper. It didn’t take a Delphic Oracle to predict that but give Mosley credit, he was saying this at the end of 2008.

The concept was to reduce F1 to a budget-capped series to protect the investments and reduce the likelihood of manufacture departure. To combat the inevitable departure of a few manufacturers, Mosley decided to create a platform by which new, privateer teams could enter the sport under this new budget cap program and to do that, he needed an affordable engine (lump) to provide these fledgling teams.

Cosworth bid the tender offer and won the contract. Mosley demanded that any new team entering F1 had to take the Cosworth option, as all four promptly did, and that their participation in the program would make it financially viable for Cosworth. Even legendary team Williams F1, who had their worst season in over 30 years with Cosworth in 2006, signed up for the program making it five teams participating. The golden chalice of the program was a engine supply no limited in rev’s and not subjected to the engine-freeze regulations—clearly an unfair situation from the legacy teams standpoint.

The rug was pulled out form underneath the new teams as the Formula One Teams Association promptly threatened to leave the series should Mosley’s budget-cap regulations stand for 2010. This was a game-changing event as the FIA and commercial rights holder FOM acquiesced to FOTA’s demands rendering the new teams stuck in a system with no budget cap and no way of competing against the giants of Mercedes, Ferrari and McLaren. Little has been said about this monumental moment in F1 history but I suspect it may be a very detrimental event to the Mosley Manufacturer-lite scenario in F1.

The largest media scrutiny now is the preparedness and financial viability of the new teams. Many suggest that Campos Meta and USF1 are tenuous at best as to if they will make the grid in Bahrain in March 2010. A simple question could be asked at this time: What about Cosworth? What about the new teams lump supply?

In a perfect storm, USF1 could design a fabulous car. They have brilliantly talented engineers and aero people working on the chassis. With poor shove at the rear, however, their performance and competitiveness could seriously suffer. Cosworth has a noble history but the 2010-spec engine is an evolution of the 2006 power plant that took Williams F1 to their lowest point in over 30 years of racing. Can Cosworth run with the big dogs? Can they be competitive and reliable?

In some ways you could say the new teams were hung out to dry by FOTA, FOM and the FIA. They entered F1 with a promise of a 40 million pound budget cap and face the start of a season with an ambiguous “1990’s spending level” rule that is to be self-governed. How can Cosworth save the new teams? Can they develop another DFV? The new Cosworth is subject to rev limits and the engine-freeze regulations. With little or no testing, how can they remain competitive and at the front of engine technology? The current stable of F1 lumps have all had time to evolve, gestate and improve over time. They are reliable and on par with each other. Cosworth has no such luxury.

Assuming that Cosworth is a top-shelf organization, which I believe is true, they are no strangers to engine building. It is not as if some blokes from California decide to get a pencil and paper and make an internal combustion engine. They know what they are doing. The information coming from Cosworth is positive and confident. They feel they will provide a reliable and competitive lump for 2010 and that they have access to some of the top technology in the world. I have no doubt about their feelings and resources. They maintain they could supply the entire grid with their current capacity should the need arise.

Is a third-party engine supplier a good idea? I think so. I liked the Mosley concept of providing small teams the ability to enter F1 and would even go one further with a chassis manufacturer that would be homolgated to supply small teams full chassis and electronic products as well. Similar to Mosley former March Engineering concept from year gone by. The program could still exist and especially in a weakened economy but perhaps the biggest road block to this notion is the level if interest and ability to fund the program.

This raises the question of supplier best positioned. McLaren, Ferrari, Mercedes have all the compenents, chassis and lump products. The FIA was keen to scuttle a works program to Prodrives Dave Richards who was effectively going to enter F1 with a purchased McLaren car…lump and all. At the time, the FIA didn’t like this concept but what about now? Mosley is gone and the development of his economy-weathering program of lump supply and budget caps has gone with him. The new teams face two critical anxiety points: The chassis (self-designed) and the lump (completely reliant on others). Both have to work in order to make it in F1.

With that thought in mind, can the Cosworth-supplied teams survive? Can they garner sponsors if the lump is desperately off pace? Before we try the angle that Williams F1 felt confident enough to switch to Cosworth, lets us recall they had no other choice. It was the only option not a decision at their discretion among many options. What will the FIA’s next move be to safeguard the sport with privateer participation that is on par with the remaining manufacturers? McLaren’s Martin whitmarsh suggested he could see a time, not to distant, where they and other manufacturers were going to have to step in and save the new teams.

Is this the best option? Has Mosley’s concept, while well intentioned, failed to materialize? Has it been left for dead in the trenches after FOTA effectively removed him from office and threatened FOM with in an inch of their lives? The mystique of the 2010 season is being propped up by the return of Michael Schumacher and Mercedes to the series. But little is being said of the dirty laundry that lies right before our eyes.

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