Motor racing: Buy-out signals end of partnership

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The Independent Online
SURPRISE has greeted the imminent split between Ford and engine supplier Cosworth, as a relationship that dates back 35 years is about to be severed by VW's acquisition of the engineering company. If Darby and Joan had separated it could scarcely have raised more eyebrows. Though there have been rumours for many months now of a parting between the two partners, when the news broke yesterday that VW had beaten BMW in the fight to buy Rolls-Royce, it was the talk of the paddock. VW's lucrative offer to acquire Cosworth as well is believed to have been influential in swaying shareholders in Vickers, the parent company of Rolls and Cosworth, to accept the VW bid.

When Ford took the ambitious decision to enter F1 back in 1967, it allocated Cosworth founders Keith Duckworth and Mike Costin a budget of pounds 100,000 to design and develop a three-litre V8 engine. The Ford Cosworth DFV set new standards and won on its debut in Jim Clark's Lotus 49, at the 1967 Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort. Overnight Ford's image was revolutionised.

Over the ensuing years the DFV became a legend, winning another 154 victories to establish itself as the most successful Grand Prix racing engine in history. Subsequent Ford-financed Cosworth F1 engines have not lived up to the DFV's legacy, but the Ford Zetec R V8 powered Michael Schumacher to his first World Championship in 1994.

The development comes at a time when there is concern over engine supply in F1. Only recently, powerbroker Bernie Ecclestone tried very hard to persuade Mercedes-Benz, whose engines power the dominant McLarens, to supply a second team. Despite his blandishments, Mercedes refused. However, Ecclestone's purchase of a shareholding in Mecachrome, the company currently supplying Renault-based V10 engines to Williams and Benetton, has ensured that they will supply a third team in 1999. Honda, past winners of the World Championship with both Williams and McLaren, are due to return, perhaps by 1999. And BMW is due to race with Williams from 2000. Toyota and Nissan have also expressed interest in competing in F1. Ecclestone will welcome VW's acquisition of Cosworth, since this may help to fast- track the ambitious German marque into an arena in which it has long had an interest; back in 1992 VW offshoot Audi examined closely the feasibility of commissioning an F1 engine from Cosworth.

VW's acquisition of Cosworth's road and racing activities leaves Ford - and Jackie Stewart's team - with the problem of continuing their F1 programme as seamlessly as possible. Ford own the intellectual property rights to the Zetec R V10 engine which powers the Stewarts, and some suggest they believed they had a deal with Vickers to buy Cosworth. Now they must establish a facility to design, build and develop new engines.

"In the coming months we will be deciding what is the best course of action for us," a Ford spokesman in Canada said. Insiders are already hinting that the break could be just the impetus that Ford needs to convince itself to invest sufficient levels of funding and commitment to match Mercedes-Benz's massive support for F1. Ford continued: "Since Ford's Advanced Vehicle technology team and Special vehicle Operations were already providing substantial scientific, technical and engineering services to Cosworth racing, we also have the option of bringing that activity in- house."

However, there are suggestions that Ford may yet buy Cosworth from VW.

canadian grand prix

Circuit length: 4.421km

(2.747 miles)

Distance: 69 laps

(305.049km (189.553 miles)

1997 details

1 M Schumacher (Ferrari)

2 J Alesi (Benetton)

3 G Fisichella (Jordan)

Pole position: Schumacher 1min 18.095sec

Fastest lap: D Couthard (McLaren) 1min 19.635sec, lap 37 (ave speed 199.856kph, 124.185mph)