There’s been plenty of speculation this week about Aston Martin joining Formula 1 as an engine supplier in the near future; indeed the luxury British brand recently attended a top-level meeting to discuss the direction in which the sport’s engine regulations will take.
JUL 06th 2017
Famous Five... Unusual F1 powerplants
You might be thinking that Aston and F1 are unlikely bedfellows, but a tie-up wouldn’t be the first time that Aston had built and run a Grand Prix engine.
Back in 1959, it crafted the full package – a chassis and motor – to take on the established marques in F1. The DBR4, powered by Aston’s 2.5-litre in-line six-cylinder unit, appeared in 1959, tackling four races that year – in Holland, Britain, Portugal and Italy – and one, at Silverstone, in 1960 before the team was disbanded. Two sixth places for Roy Salvadori at Silverstone (after starting on the front row) and Monsanto in year one showed promise but it wasn’t enough to persuade David Brown to continue.
And that got us thinking: what about some of the other unlikely names that have put their name to an F1 engine, some successfully, some much less so?
Here, then, are five that spring to mind – from another luxury British car builder, a brace of exotic Italian marques, and two Japanese firms, one associated with rallying and another with, er, motorcycles.
The British sportscar icon competed in Formula 1 from 2000 to 2004 after taking over Jackie Stewart’s eponymous team. But its cars were powered by Ford engines during that five-year, politically-charged and largely unsuccessful campaign.
You’ll have to go back all the way to 1950 to find a real Jaguar engine. In that year’s Italian Grand Prix at Monza, sportscar ace Clemente Biondetti ran a Ferrari-bodied clone (some reckon it was a Maserati chassis) with a 3.4-litre Jaguar lump from an XK120 in the front. He qualified 25th of the 27 starters but the engine broke after 17 laps. Few would believe you if you told them a Ferrari-Jaguar ran in the inaugural World Championship Italian GP, but it did (see car #22 in the pic)!
Exotic supercar manufacturer Lamborghini, which started out building tractors, remember, first appeared in F1 with the Larrousse Calmels team and its pair of Lola chassis in 1989. The 3.5-litre V12 engine, codenamed 3512, was neither particularly fast nor reliable. Lotus joined Larrousse by running the Italian screamer for 1990, with results marginally better. Aguri Suzuki finished third in his home GP at Suzuka at the end of 1990 and that would prove to be the engine’s best finish.
French squad Ligier committed to Lamborghini for 1991, alongside a new, tiny outfit that had built a chassis, dubbed the Lambo 291, to run the Raging Bull’s powerplant. Several other teams, including Minardi (1992), joined forces with Lamborghini, without success, and it was original partner Gérard Larrousse who flew its final flag in 1993. And, apart from a brief flirtation with McLaren and Ayrton Senna in a test at the end of the year, that was that for Lamborghini in F1.
Lancia’s beautiful D50, with its distinctive saddle bag fuel tanks appeared, belatedly, for the 1954 Spanish GP, the final race of the year. And double World Champion Alberto Ascari, who’d left Ferrari for its Italian rival at the end of ’53, took pole in the 2.5-litre V8. Clutch failure while he was leading on lap 10 put paid to a maiden win.
Lancia returned in 1955, tackling the Argentinian, Monaco and Belgian races, but Vincenzo Lancia was so distraught after Ascari’s death in a sportscar test at Monza between the Monaco and Belgian GPs that he packed it in after the race at Spa, despite Eugenio Castellotti taking pole in the sole D50. After the team, including the cars, was sold to Enzo Ferrari, the D50s became Ferrari-powered and went on to take the 1956 title with Juan Manuel Fangio.
Purveyors of trusty farmers’ pick-ups in the 1980s, Subaru was about to hit the big time in the World Rally Championship with its growly boxer unit in the Legacy model prepared, with full Japanese co-operation, by British firm Prodrive in the early 1990s. It would go on, of course, to world domination in the WRC – and cult-brand status – with the replacement Impreza and superstar drivers Colin McRae, Carlos Sainz, Richard Burns and Petter Solberg.
Back in 1990, though, a 3.5-litre flat-12 Subaru engine was hastily thrown together and bolted to the back of Belgian racer Bertrand Gachot’s Coloni – a car run by Italian Enzo Coloni’s tiny team. And it was, frankly, rubbish. The Coloni-Subaru appeared eight times in the first half of 1990, with Gachot’s weekends ending on the Friday morning when he failed each time to get through breakfast-time pre-qualifying – the session to weed out the very slowest cars ahead of the main qualifying session. From the British GP onwards the Coloni was fitted with a Cosworth engine and Gachot started to move forwards. Thank heavens Subaru decided to chase its rallying dreams.
The legendary Japanese bike manufacturer branched out into F1 engines with a 3.5-litre V8, codenamed OX882, ready for 1989’s return to large-capacity, non-turbo engine regulations. And it persuaded Erich Zakowski’s family-run Zakspeed team to run it for his fifth season in racing’s top flight, having got nowhere with his own 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo. German Bernd Schneider managed to qualify one of the cars on the back row for the Zakspeed-Yamaha’s debut in Brazil, but he and team-mate Aguri Suzuki failed to pre-qualify thereafter – until Schneider got into the race in Japan at the end of the year.
Yamaha’s fortunes looked up in 1991 when it joined forces with Brabham and a returning Martin Brundle. A few strong finishes peppered the unreliability, the Brit taking a best finish of fifth in Japan. For 1992, Yamaha entered into an exclusive supply delay with Jordan, but the partnership was not successful. Continuity came with Tyrrell, which ran 3.5- and 3.0-litre V10s between 1993 and 1996. There were flashes of form, but just one podium finish – for Briton Mark Blundell in Spain in 1994.
Yamaha’s swansong in F1 came in 1997 in high-profile tie-up with Arrows and reigning World Champion Damon Hill, who’d been ousted from Williams. On its day of days, in Hungary, the combination came agonisingly close to winning, instead dropping to second after slowing on the penultimate lap.
Photography courtesy of LAT Images
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