If the Frenchman Gilles Simon is the father of Ferrari's Type 51, V10 Formula One engine, then Pino D'Agostino likes to think of himself as the engine's grandfather. An engineer with Fiat since 1979, he was himself the father of all Alfa Romeo's...
If the Frenchman Gilles Simon is the father of Ferrari's Type 51, V10 Formula One engine, then Pino D'Agostino likes to think of himself as the engine's grandfather. An engineer with Fiat since 1979, he was himself the father of all Alfa Romeo's racing engines from 1985 until 1996 before being transferred to Ferrari's racing department in 1997.
"Now I am the grandfather,"he says with a smile, his job now being to take the new born 'baby' and turn it into a winner, which the current type 51B engine being raced in Imola has done 14 times out of the 15 races it started last year after it began racing in Brazil where it won first time out. "The new car has a completely different type 52 engine with a different crank level and engine mountings, so there is no question of using the old engine in the new car," points out Pino, who has been working on the dynomometer and track development of the new engine since the end of last September, much as he did with the type 51 engine when it ran on the dyno for the first time at the end of 2002.
Responsible for the production, dyno and track testing as well as for the races themselves, D'Agostino takes no chances when it comes to his engines finishing the races. "We never go to a race without having completed one or two trouble-free race distances before racing any new development parts in an engine however small," he says. "When you run a new part it is tempting fate not to have tested it thoroughly," he adds.
Production for the type 51 engine amounts to around 70 engines for the year, around 40 for the races and another thirty to take care of the testing needs. There is a continuous development, the major specification warranting a change of number, the current engines being 51-B specification following development over the past 12 months.
Although the 51B raced this weekend will not be seen again in a race, it will still have an extended life with the old car for certain testing purposes between races while any fresh engine will probably find there way into the Sauber cars, Sauber-Petronas having a separate commercial agreement with Ferrari to use the engine. "They are all built and serviced at Ferrari, but in another building, and as a completely separate program from the Ferrari race team," explains Pino.
Any major development changes will often take a month before they are seen on the track. "Small changes we can test the week before the next race and if there are no problems they will be incorporated in the race engines, but if it is a big change, we like to have at least two full test sessions and there can be two races gone before we race them," he explains.
A new engine design will spend the first few months of its life on the test bed carrying out several simulated races around different tracks. If that goes well and the performance is as good as expected, the initial batch of around 10 engines is then increased to production numbers to start track testing. The engine will not be raced until it has completed several race distances without problems.
It's a careful and painstaking process that has seen an exceptional reliability record over recent years, despite the steadily increasing performance figures from year to year. Just over a year old, the type 51B is now ready to go into retirement after a year of exceptional service. D'Agostino does not have time to shed a tear for his last protégé, he is too busy making sure that the next grows up to have a similar pedigree when it makes its scheduled race debut in Barcelona.