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Lost engines of the 1990s Part 2: Yamaha

Today there are just four engine suppliers in F1. Wind back 25 years, and it was a very different story

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What happens when a manufacturer uses F1 to showcase its engineering prowess, push its technical boundaries, and offer its engines to teams for free? 

Yamaha engines often failed during races during the Japanese manufacturer’s stint in F1 (Image Credit: Grand Prix Rejects)

As with our first entry Peugeot, Yamaha is another example of a manufacturer that left F1 with very little in the ways of reward. Operating in F1 between 1989 and 1997, the Japanese manufacturer threw investment and resources galore at its F1 project. Sadly its efforts saw it leave F1, like, Peugeot, with no wins and a worse record than the disastrous Peugeot project.

Yamaha and Peugeot also suffered the same problem of unreliability. The engines were prone to failures, though not as spectacular as Peugeot. The Japanese manufacturer also suffered from being down on horsepower compared to some of its rivals, never on the same pace as Honda, Renault, Ferrari or Mercedes.

Once the decision was taken for Yamaha to join the F1 grid in 1989, it needed to hit the ground running. To do this would have to join a team that would have a strong chance of pre-qualifying, which was a necessity in the 1980s as over thirty cars rocked up to a weekend. Instead, Yamaha opted for the unsuccessful Zakspeed team.  While the pressure of needing to perform with a top team like Peugeot had with McLaren was not an issue, but not being able to qualify for races would be (and was) a very real possibility.

Zakspeed: 1989
The Zakspeed Yamaha 891 during the 1989 season (Image Credit: UnracedF1 Twitter)

The Zakspeed outfit was a struggling minnow outfit that has been trying to reach the back of the grid since its first year in 1985. By 1989 it had only been classified in the World Championship once, having failed to pre-qualify for most of its tenure. This was in 1987 when Martin Brundle miraculously scored two points at the San Marino Grand Prix.

Partnering with Zakspeed proved to be a disaster for Yamaha. The 891 was while slim and sleek in design, was hopelessly slow.  Combined with the underpowered Yamaha OX88 3.5 L V8, the partnership was doomed to failure. Driver Bernd Schneider only qualified twice all season, retiring both times. The team’s other driver, Aguri Suzuki, never qualified.

The season was such a disaster that Zakspeed withdrew from the sport after the final race. This left Yamaha with no team to supply in 1990. Instead, the manufacturer opted to completely reorganise its F1 operation for another attempt in 1991. When it did re-enter, Yamaha chose an established constructor, with the risk of not pre-qualifying removed.

Brabham: 1991, Jordan: 1992
Martin Brundle in the Brabham Yamaha BT60Y at the 1991 Monaco Grand Prix (Image Credit: F1 in the 1990s Twitter)

For 1991, Yamaha partnered with the now struggling Brabham outfit. This season was a big improvement compared to 1989, the new OX99 V12 powering the team to P9 in the Constructor’s Championship, with 3 points scored. Despite the step forward, the Yamaha engine was still not powerful, nor reliable.

The British driver lineup of Mark Blundell and Martin Brundle used BT60Y chassis to get Yamaha’s first points. Blundell got Yamaha off the mark in Belgium with P6, Brundle following up with P5 in Japan.

The Jordan 192 is on display at Yamaha’s museum (Image Credit: Yamaha Motor Company)

Unfortunately, Brabham hit real financial problems at the end of the season, and Yamaha was forced again to switch teams. This proved to be the right decision when the legendary Brabham outfit went into administration midway through 1992.

Eddie Jordan’s fledgling impressive team took Yamaha engines for the 1992 season. This season proved to be a real challenge, with the team only scoring 1 point all year. To make matters worse this did not come until the final race of the year in Adelaide, Australia.  Like the previous year, another V12 engine was used, which continued to suffer from poor reliability.

Yamaha began to understand that a V10 was perhaps needed, and opted to switch to a V10 for 1993. Eddie Jordan needed improved performance from his supplier as he watched his team slide into mediocrity. He connected Yamaha with Judd, and a deal was done to develop a previously designed but not built V10 engine. The engine was dubbed a Judd V10 in drag.

The point however was not enough for Eddie Jordan, who decided to change engine supplier again.  Signing with Hart, left Yamaha searching for another team, the third in three seasons.

Tyrrell: 1993-1996
Mika Salo in the 1996 Tyrrell 024 (Image Credit: Motorsport Magazine)

Ken Tyrrell signed with Yamaha for the 1993 season. This began a period of stability for the Japanese manufacturer, as they established a long-term relationship with a team for the first time.

The new  OX10A engine continued to prove troublesome for both Tyrell and Yamaha, as no points were scored in its first season. Reliability continued to be the main factor for improvement in 1993, with six double retirements, including the first four consecutive races.

1994 saw a huge improvement for Yamaha. Whilst the Tyrell 022 chassis was not the fastest car on the grid, Martin Brundle and Mark Blundell managed to score 13 points. This included a landmark first podium for the Japanese manufacturer. Mark Blundell scored a solid P3 in Barcelona after the McLaren Peugeot of Mika Hakkinen retired with engine failure. A strong season saw Tyrell finish P7 in the Constructors Championship, Yamaha’s highest placed finish yet.

Ukyo Katayama in the 1994 Tyrrell Yamaha 022 (Image Credit: F1 in the 1990s Twitter)

1995 saw an unfortunate resumption of normal service for Yamaha, with an underpowered and unreliable V10 slumping Tyrell to P9 in the Constructors Championship.  The season saw three double retirements in 16 races and only one race in which both cars finished. The end of the season saw an upturn in performance. All 5 points scored in 1995 came in the second half of the season. This included two consecutive points finishes in the final two grand Prix. Rookie Mika Salo was the sole scorer for Tyrell that year. Yamaha that year debuted a new lighter V10 engine, the lightest on the grid. It proved to be both unreliable and slow.

1996 was the final year of the Tyrell and Yamaha partnership. The season was a disappointment. Tyrell finished a distant P8 in the Constructors Championship on 5 points, identical to the previous year. Tyrell at this point was beginning its final death plunge before being bought out by British American Racing (BAR) in 1997. The team would race on in 1998, before being rebranded in 1999. 1996 saw both Mika Salo and Ukyo Katayama continue at the team.

Once again Salo scored all points, this time in the opening six races, including two consecutive points, and finishes in the opening two Grand Prix. This would prove once again to be a false dawn. With poor results including a double disqualification at the European Grand Prix, and with Tyrrell’s decline, the partnership ended at the end of the season.

Arrows: 1997
Damon Hill in the 1997 Arrows Yamaha A18 (Image Credit: Conceptcarz.com)

1997 accurately summarised Yamaha’s time in F1, that of missed opportunity and reliability issues. Tom Walkinshaw had bought the struggling Footwork team, rebranding it TWR Arrows for 1997. Walkinshaw then did a deal to bring the Yamaha works engine deal to his fledgling outfit. After Williams announced World Champion elect Damon Hill was to be dropped at the end of the 1996 season, Hill was left scrambling for a drive. He shocked the F1 paddock by signing for TWR Arrows, joining Pedro Diniz.

In an omen for what was to come in the season, Hill qualified last at the 1997 season opener, only making it onto the grid by 0.200s. On the formation lap, his Yamaha engine expired. The early races of the season saw further disappointment, Hill retiring from four of the first six races, including his formation lap failure. It would not be until Silverstone that Hill wrestled the new, underpowered OX11A 3.0 L V10 to P6 at Silverstone.

Two races later at Hungary, Hill and Arrows Yamaha nearly performed one of the greatest upsets in F1 history. Hill qualified an unbelievable P3 at the Hungaroring, before taking the lead into turn one. Instead of holding up the field, Hill pulled away from second-placed Michael Schumacher, leading convincingly. This was a far cry from qualifying last at the season opener, then having his engine fail on the formation lap. However, F1 can be cruel. With just two laps left, and with Hill enjoying a twenty-second lead over the Williams of Jacques Villeneuve, his left hydraulic pump failed. Villeneuve caught the Arrows on the final lap, taking the win. Hill would finish second. Yamaha was not to blame, but the disappointment was palpable.

The rest of the season saw more disappointment, Pedro Diniz scoring the only other two points for Arrows that season at the Luxembourg Grand Prix. Both cars would retire in the season finale.

Walkinshaw opted to build his own engine for 1998, after buying into Hart.  Yamaha was dropped, and the Japanese manufacturer pulled out of F1 at the end of the season.

A poor record

Yamaha left F1 with a total of 113 race starts, 22 points, and no wins. Compared to Peugeot, this was a total disaster. The engines were regularly underpowered, as well as unreliable. In an article from Grandprix.com in 1996, sources said that as many as 50 engines blew up during that season alone.

The Japanese manufacturer moved teams through most of its tenure, lacking stability. Yamaha engines were free to the teams they signed with, which made it an attractive proposition. Unlike Peugeot, Yamaha knew they needed to innovate, but never got on top of their reliability issues. The 1995 OX10C 3.0 V10 was a testament to this. A new lightweight design failed to address the failures the engine would experience. It is also rumoured that Yamaha had experimental technology in the engines, but never mastered it. To do this day,  we do not know.

Yamaha saw their time in F1 as a “showcase”, a bit like Mercedes treats F1 today. Yamaha’s F1 business manager from the 1996 season  Yoshiaki Takeda said the failures were part of the engine’s development:

“Yamaha has a different intention to other manufacturers in F1. “F1 is the company’s showcase. Yamaha Automotive has important client deals with Toyota, Ford of America and Ford Europe to build production engines. F1 is the best value for money in R&D terms. We are facing the technical challenge, and we believe that we can make the next step. Sometimes the company has to shut its eyes and ears to the negative publicity. All I can tell you is that in three years time we will show you things when they are fed into the production engines.”

As Yamaha withdrew a year later, this approach was clearly abandoned. There is no argument that Yamaha tried in its seven seasons in F1, but it left the sport with a very poor record, and many, many blown engines.

Feature Image Credit: UnracedF1

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