BMW Has A Rep To Protect

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SILVERSTONE, Great Britain - BMW gained a powerful reputation last year. Formula One engine manufacturers never reveal horsepower figures, but the performance of the Williams-powered BMWs on the race track in 2001 proved that the BMW was one of the best, if not the best, engines in the field. And BMW is out to defend that reputation this year.

The development of this year's V10, codenamed the P82, began a year ago.

“You can say it's completely new, although it's not a very different concept,” BMW's Motorsport Director Dr. Mario Theissen said of the engine that Juan Pablo Montoya and Ralf Schumacher will use this year. “We certainly built on the experience and concept of last year's P80, which was really successful. We redesigned it, and we refined it. In the end we changed every part, so it is a new engine, but it still is a V90 (a Vee angle of 90 degrees). The early design started in March 2001 about the day we raced P80 for the first time. The design phase takes two or three months and by July or August we got the first parts.

“By September the engine ran for the first time on the dyno; in October it was in the car. We used the last test of 2001 to put the engine in the car, and in recent months we've spent days and nights on the dyno.”

Like the other engine manufacturers, BMW doesn't give out much technical information about its engine. But, as Theissen said, it does have a Vee angle of 90 degrees. The block and the cylinder heads are made of aluminum. It has four valves per cylinder and uses a pneumatic system in place of valve springs. This system is crucial for today's high-revving F-1 engines that redline around 18,000 rpm - normal valves would start to "float" at those high rpms if they used valve springs.

Although Mercedes-Benz has admitted its engine will rev to 18,500 rpm this year, Theissen was coy about the BMW's redline.

"We don't know yet," he said. "We want to see what our competitors are capable of first, and then adjust our engine. We have made a step forward. We have the same target at the others, which means cutting the weight, lower center of gravity and increasing the power. And we have the target to increase reliability."

At 18,000 rpms, the V10 engine spark plugs fire off 1,500 times in a single second. In that same second, the pistons cover a distance of 25 yards and 115 gallons of air are aspirated. And in that same second 150,000 engine and vehicle data measurements are recorded and processed. At a speed of 222 mph, the car would cover 109 yards in that second and the wheels would turn 50 times.

Williams build the seven-speed gearbox that transmits the 800-plus horsepower to the rear wheels of the Williams FW24.

"It is clearly Williams' responsibility," Theissen said of the gearbox. "We can support it because we have quite big resources in terms of people and in terms of simulation tools in our factory to develop road-car gearboxes, and we provide this support, although it is a Williams' component."

Born in Germany in 1952, Theissen joined BMW after earning a degree in mechanical engineering in 1977. Twenty years later he was assigned the task of setting up BMW's technology office in Palo Alto, Calif. These days he is BMW's motorsport director alongside former F-1 driver Gerhard Berger, who has he same job title.

This year marks BMW's third season since it returned to F-1 in 2000. BMW also participated in F-1 between 1982 and 1987, when it won nine grand prix races and the world championship with Nelson Piquet and Brabham in 1983. Last year, BMW won four times with Ralf Schumacher taking three victories and Montoya one.

And BMW is aiming for more wins in 2002 with an aggressive engine policy.

"If we were driving solely with the aim to finish and pick up points, we could largely eliminate faults by using a conservative engine," Theissen said. "But we want to be up there with the frontrunners, and so with the P82 we are pushing the envelope even further than with the P80 in 2001. That can only be done on the basis of our experience over the first two seasons, but it also requires the courage to take risks. One thing is clear, though, in 2001 we had too many technical faults, both in the engine and in the car. That is why our aim for 2002 has 'improved reliability' spelt out in bold letters."

Berger agreed.

"We changed the whole engine to go even more to the limit and at the same time improve the reliability," said the 10-time Grand Prix winner. "We had some failures last year, but most of the time it wasn't really engine failures-the problem was not in the construction of the engine it was rather an assembly problem or it was a problem with long pit stops and the engine overheating like in the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim."

Williams and BMW have an exclusive contract until the end of 2004, and Berger said he sees no reason for BMW supplying a second team. Like Theissen, Berger is reluctant to reveal BMW's powerful secrets.

"We have 1,000 horsepower and it's half the weight of last year," Berger joked. "Seriously, we are still trying to keep our engines as secret as possible. We are working very hard and trying to be creative, but we don't like to share our experience and our technology with our competitors."

As for the upcoming season, Berger admits it is not going to be easy to maintain BMW's powerful reputation.

"One thing is clear," Berger said. "Regardless of who has to be beaten, it is going to be tough. The higher you get in F-1, the more rarefied the atmosphere becomes.”

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