Thursday, 25 August 2011

Protecting trade secrets - to the maximum

An interesting piece from the FT about Cosworth, the racing engine manufacturers (inter alia). Once upon a time they supplied engines to most of the teams taking part in the World Championship, and indeed so long as you had a Cosworth DFV engine, a Hewland gearbox and some fabrication skills you could build yourself a Formula 1 car - as Peter Connew did. How scathing we who learned about motor racing by reading Denis Jenkinson's reports in Motor Sport used to be about "Cosworth kit-cars". But Cosworth are still going, albeit not under the same ownership, while the other Formula One engine manufacturers from back in the DFV days have all gone, except for the perennial Ferrari.

Followers of Formula 1 motor racing are familiar with the teams' efforts to keep their technical secrets to themselves. They try to get a peek at each others' machines on the grid, and if a stricken car has to be lifted by crane to be recovered, there's a rush to see the underside. As for the engines, the FT story tells us that Cosworth don't sell their products, only hire them out, and they are fitted and maintained not by the constructors' mechanics but by the engine maker's. A far cry from the old days, when the team probably had about half-a-dozen people at a race.

The engines are sent back to the Cosworth factory for servicing and repair (which was also the case 40 years ago), and when they are finished with secrecy is preserved by casting all 4,000 individual parts (maybe more parts than in a cooking road car, although I remember that Rolls-Royce used to assemble their products, back in the Crewe days when I had friends there, visited the factory, and even counted them among my clients, from 20,000 individual bits and pieces) into a furnace. The ultimate in recycling, perhaps.

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