In October 2006, Cosworth's 40-year Formula 1 odyssey came to a halt at the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix and a funereal tone infused all talk surrounding the legendary company's future in F1. Yet this year, the vibrant company founded by Mike Costin and Keith Duckworth in 1958 returned to supply one-third of the grand prix grid.
“It was probably the best thing that has ever happened to us,” says Mark Gallagher, boss of the company's F1 business unit – and he's referring to the Cosworth's exit, not re-entry. Not only did the end of F1 participation encourage the company to successfully diversify (see sidebar) into projects outside of racing, but it also allowed Cosworth to return to F1 with aspirations of winning titles. Just being there, as it was during its final 12 seasons from 1995-2006, when it claimed just two, fluke, victories, is no longer enough.
“There is one reason why Cosworth is in F1, and that's to be as profitable as possible,” says Gallagher. “We want to be supplying teams that have ambitions to win the World Championship, because if the business is profitable – as it is now – it's only going to be more profitable if we are winning. Cosworth went through a difficult time prior to 2006 and became associated with teams that didn't have manufacturer deals and defaulted back to Cosworth as a safety net. We want people to want our product because it's the best available.”
Under the engine freeze introduced for 2007, there's an agreement (but not a regulation) that variation in engine performance should be no more than two percent. The Cosworth CA2010 is based on the CA2006 engine that would have been used when the engine-freeze era kicked in, so the current unit is within that two percent figure. With the final specification not locked until the start of March, there was ample opportunity preseason to update an engine for the current regulation of eight engines per driver per season, the ban on refueling and the 18,000rpm limit. Was that work a success? Well, Right now, the Mercedes-Benz powerplant is the gold standard in F1, but Williams technical director Sam Michael believes the Cosworth CA2010 stacks up reasonably well next to the Toyota engines the team ran 2007-'09.
“It's difficult to compare,” says Michael. “There are areas where the Cosworth is substantially better but there are also areas where it is not. The main variables – power curve, the midrange power, peak power, fuel consumption, mass, weight of the engine – are mostly fixed in the inherent structure of the engine. In Cosworth's case, that's all good.
“Now, it's just a matter of improving the details,” continues Michael. “One single thing doesn't make a big difference, but if you add them all up it does. Cosworth is in the middle of that process and is doing a good job.”
He won't say so, but there is little doubt that the Cosworth is stronger than the Toyota. As ex-Toyota man Jarno Trulli, now driving a Cossie-powered Lotus tellingly says, “I was a Toyota driver, so I don't want to make any comment about that.” If that engine was good enough to take pole positions and podiums, there's no reason why the Cosworth shouldn't.
With Virgin Racing, Lotus and HRT all new for 2010, and understandably welded to the back of the grid, Williams is flying the flag for Cosworth. For the same reasons, it was Williams which completed the time-consuming preseason work to validate the engine package and electronics, a pattern that has continued in-season. Speed trap figures have been competitive, if not stellar, but are an imperfect guide given the role the car – aero efficiency, exit speed from previous corner, etc. – plays in that figure. Even under the engine freeze, there's more performance to come from an engine that is already in the ballpark.
Would it win if it were in the back of a Red Bull? Impossible to say, but privately many within Cosworth believe it would. After all, judge the Mercedes engine based on Force India's results, and you wouldn't say it was the best unit out there. Fuel consumption is one area where Cosworth teams are believed to lag slightly, although that's more likely down to the fact that the likes of Ferrari (Shell) and Mercedes (Mobil) have had years of investment in boosting the efficiency of its fuel. Again, that's something Cosworth hopes to improve with time and experience.
“We accept the fact that there is work to be done,” says Gallagher. “Even homologated engines require work on mapping and calibration in order to get the best out of them. It's an ongoing process, but we have a product that's much better than anybody gives us credit for and better than the results suggest. Although there's a development freeze, we are always working on something. There's always an exhaust or aardvark [air intake] being tested or fuels and lubricants being worked on.”
To help with this process, Cosworth also has one not-so-secret weapon in its corner – Rubens Barrichello. Regarded as one of the best development drivers in the business, none other than Ross Brawn has spoken of the Brazilian's strength in understanding engine-mapping and performance, an area where he was far superior even to Michael Schumacher. By the end of the season, Barrichello will have started more than 300 grands prix and has essential comparative engine data in his head – and a willingness to push Williams and Cosworth to the limit.
“He doesn't hold back with any criticism and he provides extremely useful feedback,” says Gallagher. “That has been of use to us in optimizing the engine. He drove the Honda in 2008, the Mercedes in '09 and he briefly drove the Williams-Toyota in Qatar. When we met him in December, he was able to sit down and talk us through the differences between the engines that he had experienced over the past year. That was really interesting because we have no aspirations to match the Toyota or the Honda, because they weren't good enough. Our aspirations are to match the Mercedes! What he said about its power, driveability and characteristics was extremely helpful.
“To hear a driver describe how an engine can affect his driving style – the way he takes the car through the corner, the way he changes down the gears, the way he brakes and uses the engine – as well as how the engine alters the nuances of car handling is very useful. There's no question that Rubens stands out in terms of the caliber of the feedback that he has provided.”
Barrichello certainly pushed Cosworth into resolving a “dead zone” in the power curve at around 14,000rpm earlier in the season, and also contributed to working out the ideal gear ratios to get the best out of the powerplant and to improve its off-the-startline performance. All of this work would have been done incrementally had Cosworth remained in F1 through 2007-'09 as the engine freeze kicked in and engine life restrictions became more stringent, so it's fair to characterize this work as ongoing.
As well as being the fastest Cosworth team, Williams is central to its ambitions technically. That's why, despite other engine manufacturers – Renault, in particular – pitching to supply at least one more team on the grid, it seems that the partnership will continue after some very frank talks between the two parties earlier in the year ironed out the wrinkles in the relationship. With KERS returning to F1 next year and Williams Hybrid Power likely to offer off-the-shelf KERS units to other teams, this could also provide an ideal solution to any other Cosworth customer looking for a regenerative energy unit.
If any proof were needed that Cosworth is back in F1 for another long haul, witness its role in formulating the 2013 engine regulations. Still in progress but close to completion, the sport is due to switch to 1600cc forced induction engines with a far more powerful integral KERS system, and for that shift, Cosworth is eager to align itself with a car manufacturer. It is also continuing to evaluate other engine supply projects in motor racing, such as the next-generation IZOD IndyCar Series car, but an F1 manufacturer deal for 2013 is the priority.
“We would like to change the way that Cosworth, as an independent engine manufacturer, is seen as anti-car manufacturer,” says Gallagher. “We are not. We were with Ford for 40 years and believe that part of our task for 2013-2015 is to find a partner. If you are talking about dollar-for-dollar expenditure, we know that Cosworth can do F1 for a lot less money and more profitably. That leaves a lot of people scratching their heads. If there is a car company out there that wants to do F1, they need look no further than Cosworth.”
So Cosworth is in F1 to stay. But to prove its employees' beliefs that it can match the engines from the best car manufacturers, it needs to have its unit in the back of a top-class chassis. Now the question is whether that will come from Williams, Lotus, Virgin or HRT. Or whether one of the current championship-contending squads puts its faith in one of F1's most iconic companies.
BEYOND FORMULA 1
Cosworth's new roots
It might come as a surprise to learn that only 30 percent of Cosworth's turnover is generated by Formula 1. And even that doesn't rely solely on supplying engines, as it supplies electronics to numerous grand prix teams, including providing Ferrari with wind tunnel-monitoring equipment.
In the wider motorsport world, Cosworth products are used in NASCAR, IndyCar, the American
Le Mans Series, (European) Le Mans Series, the World Rally Championship, the World Touring Car Championship, and MotoGP. So you might think that it has plenty to keep itself occupied across its five sites in England, India and the USA. Yet, since it left F1 in 2006, Cosworth, based in Northampton, UK, has turned its hand to all sorts of sectors. Its electronics equipment is now being sold to America's Cup yacht teams as well as the British Olympic sailing team.
“Green” technology's growth prompted Cosworth to develop monitoring systems for wind turbines (ABOVE) and it's also turned its engineering skills to developing the giant gearboxes that drive them.
On top of that, there is Cosworth's burgeoning involvement in the aerospace and defense sectors.
“The story of Cosworth for the last four years has been diversification,” says the company's general manager, Mark Gallagher. “Under Tim Routsis, it stood back and looked at what Cosworth was good at doing. The answer was design, engineering, manufacturing and working to tight deadlines within budgets and with attention to detail.
“We have a very broad spread of business within motorsport and now increasingly outside of that. The future growth of Cosworth is going to come not from motorsport, but from aerospace, defense and green technologies. F1 is now a small part of our business as opposed to the core.”