Northamptonshire: Builder of the best racing engines in the world

July 8, 2009

Although recent regulations have reduced the competitive advantage provided by the engine, a high performing engine with a low centre of gravity and outstanding reliability is what every F1 team needs. A few issues are being kicked around regarding engines at present and both of them relate to two companies both located in Northamptonshire – Cosworth Racing in Northampton and Mercedes Benz High Performance Engines at Brixworth.

The Cosworth DFV fitted to a Lotus 49

The Cosworth DFV fitted to a Lotus 49

Cosworth Engineering were founded by two Lotus employees Mike Costin and Keith Duckworth (Cos-worth) and having built up a strong reputation as engine tuners their big break came in 1967, when the Ford Motor Company provided £100,000 for the development of two racing engines a four cylinder FVA and a V8 known as the DFV. The DFV was a revolution in F1 for three reasons, first it was a light and highly competitive engine, second it formed the rear structure of the car and therefore reduced weight significantly and thirdly it was available to anyone who could afford the £7500 price tag in 1968. While highly successful in F1 from 1968 through to the early 1980s Cosworth’s corporate history was rather more chequered. In 1980 they were acquired by United Engineering Industries (UEI) Group who then sold them to Vickers plc in 1990. Vickers a defence based conglomerate sold Cosworth to VW along with Rolls-Royce in 1998, Cosworth became part of the Audi group and the racing operation was then sold to Ford in 1999 who in turn divested themselves of Cosworth in 2004 to the owners of the US Champ Car series Gerard Forsythe and Kevin Karlkhoven.

Mercedes Benz F1 engine, at Ilmor Engineering in 2002

Mercedes Benz F1 engine, at Ilmor Engineering in 2002

MBHPE were formerly Ilmor Engineering Ltd a company established by two former Cosworth employees Mario Illien and Paul Morgan (Il-mor) in 1983 to build engines specifically for the Indy car series. The company was established with support from Roger Penske and went on to build engines that were branded first as Chevrolet and then Mercedes Benz with the first Formula 1 engine being developed in 1990. Tragically Morgan was killed in an airplane accident in 2001 and Mercedes Benz increased its stake to take over the company and rename it. However, Mario Illien retained the Ilmor Engineering name and continues to work on special projects related to motorsport.

Speculation around the 2010 season is impacting on both of these firms. The Telegraph has reported some of the unsuccessful bidders for places in F1 complaining that they were told they had to agree to use Cosworth engines for three years as part of their bid. This makes total sense, if the FIA wanted to make F1 more independent of the car manufacturers, should they decide to withdraw, then they had to have an independent engine supplier as currently all the engines are provided by the car manufacturers BMW, Mercedes, Renault, Toyota and Ferrari. Whether the FOTA/FIA agreement makes it more difficult for Cosworth is probably being worked through at the moment, but it is clear that Cosworth is central to the FIA’s strategy for the future of F1.

Out on the racetrack it seems that the Brixworth built Mercedes is the engine of choice amongst the front runners. Championship leaders Brawn only have a contract to use Mercedes engines for 2009, but are sending out strong signals that they would like this arrangement to continue, and certainly the current performance of the Brawn is in marked contrast to that of the McLaren. The other front-runners, Red Bull Racing are also rumoured to be looking to move from Renault to Mercedes engines for 2010.

This is all good news for a county which has a historical reputation for making shoes, it is a little known fact outside F1 that it also produces the best racing engines in the world.

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2 Responses to “Northamptonshire: Builder of the best racing engines in the world”

  1. Vince Buttle Says:

    Mark,

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article and if you don’t mind have a couple of extra peices of information which hopefully will be of some interest:

    In between UEI and Vickers; Cosworth was owned by Carlton Communications who then sold the company to Vickers. This strange ownership took place because UEI being an acquisitive engineering company had bought a communications/broadcasting company which Carlton wanted so bought UEI as a group which included Cosworth.

    I think the advantage to the DFV forming part of the car was probably to increase stiffness as well as weight reduction?

    Finally as a piece of information which most people don’t pick up on; MBHPE spells it’s name as Mercedes-Benz HighPerformanceEngines. This comes from an unusual practice within Daimler (previously DaimlerChrysler) of spelling its company names as one word.

    I hope you don’t mind my feeback.

    Kind regards

    VB


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