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Customer engines - Engine manufacturers partner with successful F1 teams

Published by Christine

This article was originally written for BellaOnline, but is republished here for posterity.

For the last few years, Formula 1 has been dominated by car manufacturers, and we’ve seen the decline of the independent team. In fact, Williams are the only team who exist solely to race in Formula 1. Red Bull sell energy drinks and the boss of Force India has many other business enterprises.

Nevertheless, the inclusion of manufacturer’s in Formula 1 has meant the opportunity for cars to bring on customer engines and form engine partnerships.

Continuing with the Williams example, the team use Toyota engines. This means they purchase their engines from Toyota, and get the benefit of their years of experience with road car and racing technologies. When the team were partnered with BMW, they would use the German engines instead, but since BMW took over Sauber they have been partnered with the Japanese manufacturer. It’s beneficial for Williams not to have to worry about the engine too much, and know that it’s coming from a team who are moderately successful within the sport. However, it does come with provisos. It’s no coincidence that Kazuki Nakajima is part of Toyota’s Young Driver programme, and found himself a spare seat at Williams. It’s not necessarily a bad thing that he was given a chance, as long as the deal includes some give and take.

Another important engine partnership is Red Bull and Renault. At the moment, Red Bull are falling behind their sister team Toro Rosso. It’s believed part of the reason could be because the smaller Italian team has a deal with Ferrari for customer engines, and the difference between Ferrari and Renault engines is fierce. Of course, there are many variables that go into making one team faster than the other, but the engine is a big part of it.

One of the questions raised by the engine deal is whether customers are getting the same engine as the works team. If Ferrari supply Toro Rosso with their top of the range engine, is it not slightly embarrassing that they were completely outclassed in Italy, with Vettel winning? Also, Force India run Ferrari engines, but are often two seconds off the pace of everyone else. Is this completely down to aerodynamics or does the engine play a significant role?

Unfortunately, we don’t know the answer to any of these questions, but even if customer cars are off the agenda for now, it looks as though customer engines will be around for a while longer yet.