DEC 09th 2015

Famous Five... Rebadged Powerplants

Unfamiliar logos on the camcovers of racing engines have offered familiar visual confusion in motorsport for a long time, such are the financial and political machinations – especially at the top.

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The latest round of rebranding in Formula 1 involves TAG Heuer severing its ties with long-time partner McLaren and joining forces with Red Bull, thereby putting its name to the Renault engines that will find themselves in the back of the Milton Keynes-built racers for the 10th consecutive season in 2016.

After playing a will-they-won’t-they game of musical chairs with Renault, while courting – without success – Mercedes and Ferrari for some months, Red Bull sticks with the French firm that has powered it to 50 wins, 57 pole positions, 47 fastest laps and the Drivers’/Constructors’ World Title double on four consecutive occasions from 2010 to 2013.

McLaren Goodwood 72nd Members Meeting, Goodwood Estate, Chichester, West Sussex, UK - 29.03.14

With Renault returning as a full-blown manufacturer outfit next season, having taken over the Lotus team, any problems that may have arisen from the combination of factory effort and privateer supply have been diverted with the TAG Heuer naming-rights deal.

During 2015, remember, Mercedes-powered privateers Williams, Lotus and Force India got nowhere near the factory cars, so it will interesting to see if a Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 is as good as, or better than, a Renault R-whatever.

In the meantime, we’ve thought about the other rebranding exercises that have yielded a good return in F1 and elsewhere, with a familiar ring to the one we’ve put at number one.

Eddie Cheever Arrows megatron FoS

5 Megatron/BMW

German giant BMW pulled the plug on its F1 involvement at the end of 1986, although its 1.5-litre, turbocharged motor, the M12, would stay on for 1987 – in the back of the Arrows cars after team boss Jackie Oliver persuaded primary sponsor USF&G, an American insurance giant, to badge the Beemer as a Megatron, in deference to its subsidiary company whose boss was a big F1 fan. It had been hopeless when tilted in the back of the Brabham BT55 in ’86, but excellent when installed upright in the Benetton B186 that same year. The Arrows-Megatrons ran for two seasons, with 1988 representing the British team’s best-ever year – it took fifth in the Constructors’ Championship with 23 points.

4 Ford/Cosworth DFV

One of the greatest racing engines of all time, which took 155 GP victories during its 17-year reign, was conceived by Mike Costin and Keith Duckworth. It came about after Lotus boss Colin Chapman had failed to persuade either Ford or Aston Martin to fund it, but had hit gold with the Blue Oval’s UK PR guru Walter Hayes. Chapman had an in with Hayes after they’d collaborated on the Lotus twin-cam-engined Ford Cortina racer and it was agreed that a V8 version of the four-cylinder Cosworth FVA unit would be built for F1. The double four-valve (DFV) engine made its debut in the Dutch GP at Zandvoort on June 4, 1967 and cleaned up. Graham Hill took pole, his team-mate Jim Clark winning by more than 20 seconds. However, Ford soon realised the DFV was beating poor competition, which had little PR value, so insisted the unit be made available to other teams from 1968. Cue masses of competition and credibility, in the form of numerous wins and titles, for Ford, despite it making very little financial outlay.

3 Ford/Jaguar XJR-14

To comply with the new 3.5-litre, normally-aspirated-engine regulations of the World Sportscar Championship (WSC) that came into force in 1991, Jaguar built the XJR-14 – an all-new machine for which an engine was required. Jaguar had until then been running a twin-turbo unit in its XJR-11, which was not suitable for the smaller, lighter XJR-14. As a result, Ford’s venerable HB V8 Formula 1 unit was mated to the Ross Brawn-designed endurance racer, albeit in detuned mode for reliability purposes. The car walked off with the World Sportscar title in 1991, although was replaced at Le Mans by the more durable, seven-litre V12-powered XJR-12. Badged a Jaguar, and shoehorned into a Jaguar chassis, the engine was an old Ford V8, but it had its moment of glory in the final years of the WSC.  

2 Mercedes 500I

Built to exploit a loophole in sanctioning body USAC’s regulations (for the Indianapolis 500 only) governing stockblock pushrod V8 engines, the 500I (I for Indy) was created in a tie-up between British engine builder Ilmor and legendary US race team Penske. They joined forces to create a super-engine to maximise their interpretation of the rules, but what people didn’t realise until its release was that the might of Mercedes-Benz was involved. The new engine, reputed to be putting out over 1,000bhp, i.e. 200bhp more than the standard V8, turned up at the great race in time for the 1994 event and annihilated the opposition. Based, remember, on the venerable Chevrolet V8 powerplant, the Merc 500I took pole and victory, courtesy of Al Unser Jr. The engine was defunct for the next round, since a different sanctioning body (CART) controlled all the races outside Indy. The loophole was thus closed and the Penske PC23 reverted to Ilmor-badged V8s.

1 TAG Porsche

F1 superteam McLaren wanted to get on the turbocharged bandwagon. And quickly. The forced-induction formula was taking off and McLaren, which had used Cosworth-built, Ford-badged V8s since early 1968, needed to keep up. The team commissioned Porsche to build a 1.5-litre V6 unit and got longtime sponsor TAG to badge it. The engine appeared in the back of Niki Lauda’s MP4-1 in the 1983 Dutch GP, round 12 of that year’s 15-round championship. The great Austrian champion retired with brake trouble while, ironically, his team-mate John Watson dragged the old car/engine combination to third. Both cars were fitted with the TAG engine for the Italian GP next time out and for the remaining two races. Results were not good, but attention soon turned to 1984. What a difference a few months made: Lauda and new team-mate Alain Prost won 12 of the 16 races and finished one-two in the drivers’ points table. Prost took the next two titles, before seeing out 1987 with more wins but only fourth in the championship. By then, though, the TAG-badged, Porsche-built unit was long in the tooth and McLaren had persuaded Honda to leave Williams and come on board for 1988. And we all know what happened during McLaren-Honda’s first marriage…

Lead image courtesy of Red Bull

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