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Engine failures...



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Gary Brabham


Life L190




1990 United States GP


The amateur Life F1 effort is by far the worst excuse for an F1 team in the modern nineties - even edging out Andrea Moda, which was pretty much abysmal on its own terms. But no team was ever more the laughing stock of F1 than the little Italian team, officially called Life Racing Engines. Its campaign was planned around its own 'racing engine', a very, errm, interesting W12. As it turned out, the Life W12 did very little racing. In fact it didn't do any wheel-to-wheel racing at all, since veteran Bruno Giacomelli (who after two races replaced Gary Brabham, the youngest of Sir Jack's sons) invariably stumbled at the prequalifying hurdle, often doing no more than a recce lap before the W12 gave up the ghost. The tragic unit was replaced with a more reliable Judd engine but this only highlighted the chassis' shortcomings and in the (limited) running also completely destroyed young Brabham's career.

Ever since the inception of the latest normally aspirated formula back in 1989 there have been some hopefuls trying to enter the Grand Prix scene, some with great success and others with less. Of course the successful entries get all the major media coverage so I will move on and focus on the failures. Surprisingly enough there are some notable constructors among the failures - with a name like Porsche among them.

During the turbo era there had been very few small engine manufacturers. Only three designs originated from independent constructors. They were the two turbo-fours from Brian Hart and Zakspeed and the Motori Moderni V6 designed by veteran Carlo Chiti. The Osella V8 turbo was in fact a re-badged Alfa V8 and the Megatron fours were re-badged BMW units.

All other engines came from major automotive companies like Alfa Romeo, BMW, Ferrari, Ford, Honda, Renault and the Porsche-designed TAG. During the turbo era (1979-'88) the most successful engine was the Honda with 34 victories. Of the others TAG Porsche scored 25 wins, Renault 20, Ferrari 16 and BMW nine. The turbo formula had become increasingly expensive, the tiny 1.5-litre units creating power outputs exceeding 1000bhp. In 1986 up to 1200bhp was used during qualification and those engines rarely lasted more than one flying lap before they became scrapyard material.

To reduce costs and speeds an engine-boost limit was imposed, first to 4bar in 1987 and then 2.5bar in 1988 before the atmo engines took over. The normally aspirated engines had already been let back into the mixed fields of 1987 after the exclusive all-turbo year of 1986. Most of the manufacturers from the turbo era then continued into the new 3.5-litre atmospheric formula. Ferrari designed a 65-degree V12 which was in use until the narrow-angle 75-degree V12 came along in 1994. The 65-degree is still winning today in 4.0-litre form, now installed in the Ferrari 333SP sportscar. Until 1991 Honda put their effort behind a 72-degree V10 before they designed a 60-degree unit and then, in quest of even more power, a 75-degree V12 unit was built in 1992 before they withdrew to let tuning offshoot Mugen take over with the previous V10 design.

Renault built a 67-degree V10 while Ford Cosworth continued on the well-known V8 path, this time with a 75-degree vee-angle. Today, the latest evolution of the Renault engine is still in use in Supertec guise. Amazingly, even the old DFV derived 90-degree engines continued to be in use among many teams, in both DFZ and the more developed DFR shape.

Mauro Forghieri designed the 80-degree Lamborghini V12 and after Group C died Peugeot came along in 1994 with a development of their 72-degree V10. Despite big-budget and many former Renault men among their ranks they have so far failed to win any races.

So let's now focus on the smaller companies. In 1991 Mario Illien and Paul Morgan's engineering firm Ilmor came along with a 72-degree V10 which drew much admiration. This of course now has been amalgated into the dominating Mercedes V10. John Judd made a derivate of his BV F3000 and AV Indy engine, which was a conventional 90-degree V8 that was very popular among several teams. Exclusively for Leyton House Judd designed the narrower 76-degree V8 EV to gain aerodynamic packaging advantages. With the V10 proving to be the best compromise for power and size Judd followed that route in 1991, creating his GV V10. As with the Ferrari, this engine, in 4-litre form, is also seen in open-top prototypes today.

Of the former turbo players Brian Hart returned in 1993 with a 72-degree V10 after developing the DFR in the early part of the 1990s. For the 3000cc formula in 1995 he cut off two cylinders while retaining the vee-angle at 72 degrees to produce the ultra-compact 830 V8.

Those were the stars and the also-rans on the engine stage. Now let's have a look at the some of most embarrassing failures. I present them in no particular order.

Yamaha OX88 V8

Yamaha were a part of the scene for almost all the decade before they threw in the towel after the 1997 season. They started in 1989 with the 75-degree OX88 V8 which was used by Zakspeed in 1989. This unit was borrowing from technology that Yamaha had used building their 2-litre OX66 V6 for the Japanese F2 series and also the 3-litre OX77 V8 which was in effect a DFV using Yamaha's own cylinder heads pioneering 5-valve technology: three valves were used for induction and two for the exhaust. In 16 tries with the OX88 Bernd Schneider only escaped pre-qualifying once. His team-mate Aguri Suzuki never passed that hurdle. Yamaha then took a sabbatical and were back in 1991 with the OX99 70-degree V12. In 1993 Yamaha joined forces with John Judd using the GV engine block with Yamaha 5-valve heads producing the 72-degree OX10 V10. This engine passed constant evolution until the 1997 OX11C when constant frustation had taken its toll on Yamaha and they gave up. Their finest moment came in the 1997 Hungarian GP when Damon Hill nearly gave both Arrows and Yamaha a GP win when his engine in the dying moments lost power while in lead. He was able to coast to second place, giving Yamaha its best result to date.

Porsche V12

Porsche doesn't deserve to be mentioned among these failures but their 1991 V12 was really a big disappointment. The then Arrows designer Alan Jenkins most depressing moment came in late 1990 when the Porsche V12 engine was delivered to them. It was very bulky and massively overweight at 180kg. It didn't produce much power either so it failed utterly. The engine had a 80-degree vee-angle and had the power taken at centrally, similarly as used in their 917 flat-12 engines of 1970-71. Arrows did not even persevere for the whole season and the Porsche was unceremoniously dumped mid-season. The team installed Hart-tuned DFR V8 engines instead. Alboreto barely qualified four times while Johansson qualified the Porsche-powered FA12 just once. Caffi never even got the car onto the grid. After the 1991 debacle Porsche never returned to Formula 1.

Subaru/Motori Moderni 1235 flat-12

Of the former turbo runners Motori Moderni together with Subaru money entered in 1990 with the Carlo Chiti designed 1235 B12. This was a 180-degree flat 'boxer' engine layout in the Ferrari/Alfa design practice used during the 1970s. The flat-engine concept while having advantages in low center of gravity became obsolete when the ground-effect cars requiring air-flow venturies came along in the late 1970s. The wide flat-layout obstructed the airflow and such designs quickly disappeared. The 1235 was both overweight at 159kg and also down on power while being prone to blow-ups… The only user, Coloni gave up on the engine mid-season 1991 after eight DNPQs. They also went back to the proven route of DFR V8 and speed and reliability improved little. The MM/Subaru engine later saw use in offshore powerboat racing and is currently used in the Swedish Koeniggsegg supercar. Curiously, during the same period Mercedes also designed a flat 180-degree 12-cylinder engine, the M291, for use in their C291 Group C car. This engine gave Michael Schumacher and Karl Wendlinger victory at Autopolis in the Sportscar World Championship season finale. Earlier this engine was plagued by oil-scavenging problems but they were solved and the engine was ultimately reliable enough to win but still hefty at 170kg.

Moteurs Guy Negré W12

Back to Formula One: this period also saw the use of the unconventional W12 or arrow-engine design. This had three cylinder banks with 60 degrees between them. Potentially this design had the advantages of using a 12-cylinder engine while being as compact as a V8. Both the Italian firm Life and French Moteurs Guy Negré built engines by this design. The MGN W12 was bench-tested in 1988 and also tested in the back of an old AGS JH22 in 1989. This was as close as this engine ever came to Formula One. It was later briefly used in a Norma M6 sportscar.

Life F35 W12

The similar Life F35 was entered in 1990 in the back of the unraced FIRST Formula One car tested in 1989. The chassis was modified to take the Franco Rocchi designed W12 and entered as the Life L190. This was the engine failure of the decade. When the car was actually running at all its pace was 10-20secs off its closest rivals. What's more, it hardly ever ran back-to-back laps and was the laughing stock of the year with all the jokes on the engine without any Life… Gary Brabham gave up on the project after two races. How do you develop a car that never gets up to pace and hardly runs complete laps? Veteran Bruno Giacomelli took his place but after 10 GPs the Life team finally gave up on their unit and installed a Judd CV V8 for which the car originally was designed for. But the car didn't go much faster and after the Spanish GP they were never seen again.

Neotech V12

Another promising engine was designed in Austria in 1990. The Neotech V12 was however never used in any GP car. The 70 degree V12 design was drawing some interest from several GP teams but ultimately it never reached Formula One. It was tested in the back of a Brun Porsche 962 in 1990 but quickly disappeared from the scene.

Scott Russell Engines V8

Designer Al Melling tried on two occasions, first working for Scott Russell Engines and they did come up with two designs. Its first try was a conventional 90-degree V8 that was built and tested but never got into a GP car. The other design was purely on paper. It was to have been a wide 165-degree angle V12 to be built with General Motors support but GM withdrew and the project died.

MCD/Lola V10

Al Melling's other design was the Lola V10 that was ultimately intended for the Lola GP car that debuted in 1997 with Ford EC V8 engines. This project sank together with the Lola GP team in the beginning of 1997.

Isuzu V12

One notable no-show was the Japanese Isuzu V12 that Lotus tested in 1991. Little is known of this engine apart from that it was secretly tested in 1991. The only public viewing was when the engine was shown at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1991.

HKS 300E V12

Another Japanese no-show was the much smaller HKS tuning company. They designed the 300E 75-degree V12. It was seen in the back of a Lola T91/50 F3000 test-hack at Fuji in December 1992 but has not been heard of since. HKS were later seen in the British F3 Championship with a tuned Mitsubishi four.

We can also mention that Reynard used a 3500cc version of the Mugen V8 F3000 engine while gathering data and F1 experience with their test-hack during 1990. It was never intended to race.

Not surprisingly the independent engine suppliers are quickly disappearing from today's fastpaced and increasingly high-tech world of Formula One. While the basic design of the DFV lasted in various forms from 1967 to 1991 - an amazing 24 years - today's engines hardly carry over any parts from one year to the next.

Brian Hart's 830 V8 left after the 1997 season. The John Judd-developed Yamaha also left after the 1997 season. Hart joined forces with TWR Engines for the 1998 season. His new 72-degree V10 design replaced the Yamaha engine for the 1998 season and carried on for 1999 but after spending two years on the last rows of the grid Arrows has now acquired Renault-based engines from Supertec for the 2000 season.

In contrast, the most successful engines during the atmospheric era have been:

3500cc 1987-94:

  1. Renault, 38 wins
  2. Honda, 29
  3. Ford, 19
  4. Ferrari, 10

3000cc 1995-98:

  1. Renault, 37 wins
  2. Ferrari, 15
  3. Mercedes, 12
  4. Mugen-Honda, 2

The most successful engines during the previous atmo era were:

3000cc 1966-85:

  1. Ford, 155 wins
  2. Ferrari, 38
  3. Repco, 8
  4. BRM, 4
  5. Matra, 3
  6. Alfa Romeo, 2
  7. Maserati, 2
  8. Honda, 1
  9. Weslake, 1

FORIX engine statistics