Cosworth & Ford
Image via Lotus
The legendary Ford Cosworth DFV (Double Four Valve) V8 engine is, by a mile, the most successful F1 racing engine of all time.
Cosworth was founded in 1958 by Mike Costin and Keith Duckworth to build racing engines. They started by making versions of the Ford Kent engine for use in Formula Junior but the DFV story began when new 3-litre regulations were written for F1 beginning in 1966.
Lotus boss Colin Chapman persuaded Ford’s Walter Hayes to bankroll Cosworth’s V8 development programme to the tune of £100,000 and the engine made a winning debut at the ’67 Dutch GP at Zandvoort in Jim Clark’s hands. It changed the face of F1 and, said Ken Tyrrell, was the reason the sport developed in the way that it did.
Ken wasn’t involved in F1 in ’67 but was weighing it up and became an instant DFV fan when he was flown out to that Dutch race. “It was clear that the DFV was the only engine in the race,” Tyrrell said. “Everything else was old-fashioned rubbish. You had to have one.”
Chapman fought tooth and nail to retain Cosworth’s exclusive use for Lotus but that, of course, made no commercial sense to Cosworth, or Ford, and it was a battle Chapman lost. The engine was made available to anyone who happened to drive to Cosworth’s Northampton base with a cheque for £7500 in his pocket.
“You could come away with an engine that would win you the next Grand Prix in the right hands, which was fantastic,” said Tyrrell.
The engine was introduced too late in 1967 to stop Denny Hulme winning the championship with his Brabham-Repco but from 1968 to 1982 inclusive, the DFV would be responsible for 12 of the next 15 world champions! From Clark’s Zandvoort win until 1983, when Michele Alboreto’s Tyrrell scored the DFV’s last success in Detroit, the engine won 155 grands prix.
The championship success story over those 15 years reads like a roll call of the great and the good of the sport. Graham Hill (’68), Jackie Stewart (’69) Jochen Rindt, posthumously (’70), Stewart (’71), Emerson Fittipaldi (’72), Stewart (’73), Fittipaldi (’74), James Hunt (’76), Mario Andretti (’78), Alan Jones (’80), Nelson Piquet (’81), Keke Rosberg (’82).
Fascinating BBC footage of a DFV assembly below
As for the constructors, in order, they were: Lotus, Matra, Lotus, Tyrrell, Lotus, Tyrrell, McLaren, McLaren, Lotus, Williams, Brabham, Williams. The only engine to spoil the party and avert a clean sweep of the entire 15 years was Ferrari’ flat-12 that took Niki Lauda to world titles in 1975-7 and Jody Scheckter to the crown in 1979.
Many times the doom mongers forecast the end of the road for the DFV. For some, it was as early as 1970 when Jacky Ickx’s Ferrari proved quicker than Rindt’s Lotus at certain venues. Lauda’s success in the mid seventies, which would have been a hat-trick but for his fiery shunt at Nurburgring in ’76, again had so-called experts stating that a 12-cylinder was de rigueur.
They might have been right had it not been for Lotus pioneering the use of ground effect. To maximise impressive downforce generated by venturi tunnels in each sidepod, you needed a narrow engine and suddenly the 90-degree Ford Cosworth V8 was a much better bet than the wider flat-12 Ferrari.
Scheckter’s ’79 triumph for Ferrari was, as much as anything, the result of a strong start, a strange best four from each half of the season championship scoring system that year and the late introduction of the superb Williams FW07, which exploited the ground effects phenomenon even better than Chapman’s Lotuses.
Renault, meanwhile, had arrived in F1 in 1977 with a turbocharged 1.5-litre V6, the equivalency formula back then. Duckworth was scathing about turbos, not considering them ‘proper’ engines but the writing was on the wall and in 1983, the year Alboreto scored that last DFV win, Nelson Piquet won the first turbocharged world title with a Brabham-BMW, pipping Alain Prost’s Renault at
the very last race.
When Cosworth started his company, he said: “We thought it must be possible to make an interesting living messing about with racing cars and engines…” With Ford’s support, he certainly wasn’t wrong!
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