From F1 world titles – and frightening pitlane fires – through to involvement in some of our most cutting-edge manufacturer programmes, our Principal Technician Pete Hennessy, has seen it all.
One of our longest serving colleagues, Pete is a Cosworth man through and through. It’s fitting that we feature him as the next in our Inspired Engineering series, taking a trip down the pitlanes of the past to see how motorsport has positively impacted our present-day operations.
How did your engineering journey and Cosworth story begin?
This is my 34th year of working at Cosworth and I’ve loved every minute of it. I was inspired into engineering from a very early age by my Dad, who got me into engines and automotive work more generally. While working as a mechanic in the early stages of my career, I was sent on a Cosworth Sierra training course, and that was it for me. Just the name ‘Cosworth’, I wanted to be part of that, and I’m proud still to be part of it to this very day.
Tell us about your early days at the company
When I first started at Cosworth in 1987, as a fully qualified mechanic, I joined as an engine tester. It was like going back into my apprenticeship. I was re-trained in the Cosworth way, and I’ve never looked back.
How have things changed since then from your perspective?
I don’t think the essence of the company has changed all that much; the goals, the standard of work and professionalism remains the same. The things that have changed? Well, we have uniforms now, and a marketing department, which we didn’t back in the day, so we can shout loudly about the work that we do.
With which projects are you most proud to have been associated over the years?
I am proud of everything we’ve done at Cosworth, but a couple of things stick out. The CA V8 Formula 1 engine – what an engine! The first to rev to 20,000rpm, and the first to complete two consecutive races with the same unit at those revs. That’s incredible. More recently, the RA, our engine for the Aston Martin Valkyrie. The fact that manufacturers like Aston Martin, among others, ask us to design and build new engines for them speaks volumes.
A large part of your role over the years was trackside support in F1. What highlights do you have from those times?
I have had a privileged career and been track support with Benetton, Sauber, Stewart, Jaguar Racing, Red Bull Racing, Williams, Lotus and Marussia. My last race was in 2013, and there are so many memories! I started in 1990 with Nelson Piquet and Alessandro Nannini, winning a World Championship in 1994 with Michael Schumacher, winning a race with Stewart GP and Johnny Herbert, being on fire at Hockenheim, the list is endless.
The picture of the pit lane fire at the German GP is etched in F1 history. How do you reflect on that incident?
I think about it sometimes. It’s one of those iconic moments in F1 history, and I have to pinch myself.
To be honest it was over in seconds. In a pit stop everyone is focused on the task in hand and not the danger. We learned a few lessons that day, amongst them a respect for our fireproof clothing and a healthy respect for fire. It could have been worse. Everyone on the left side of the car turned and escaped into the pit lane without looking. If a car had been coming in, well that wouldn’t have been good. Everyone on the right had nowhere to escape. Most of the more serious injuries were on that side, also where the fire started. Luckily, we all survived to do it again.
What other dinner table anecdotes do you have from the F1 days?
I could honestly write a book, there are so many. I remember one Silverstone weekend, coming back to the factory to collect my car. As I was leaving, a coach pulled up full of Honda F1 mechanics who had been working at Silverstone. They all got out and had their photos taken outside the factory. That tells you something about how revered Cosworth is in the racing world. That made a lasting impression on me. One other would be my lap of Paul Ricard with Michael Schumacher. In his brand-new Bugatti, the brakes failed while going flat out through one of the corners. He spun it deliberately! I had something to say about that, but I can’t repeat it here. Michael just laughed at me.
Why are motorsport and Cosworth such a natural fit?
Cosworth in motorsport is something that’s well documented. It is in our DNA. But it’s not everything, and we have done very well outside of motorsport. We have our electronics still in racing, of course, and our engines will be back one day, of that I am certain. Cosworth will always be known for top level engine manufacture. We dominated the world in IndyCar and F1 for a long time. Today, we produce engines based on all that knowledge and experience for a range of customers.
Is there a succinct way of summarising what makes Cosworth so special?
Engineering excellence, adaptability, flexibility and the desire to succeed. We have been around for over sixty years. Times can be turbulent, but we always adapt, step up and carry on. This recent situation with Coronavirus is a case in point. We have adapted to keep our team safe; we’ve reduced the numbers on-site and made sure we’ve still hit our monthly targets.
What would you suggest to people interested in pursuing an engineering career?
Get involved with a project – either electrical or mechanical. With me it was my Dad’s cars. I’d recommend studying relevant subjects, it makes the pathway more fluid.
And the future?
Whatever happens, I am sure we will still be producing some pretty special engines. The environment and industry’s impact upon it will play a big part in the future. Cosworth should still be known for being Cosworth; it’s an incredible brand. We have always excelled at innovation and I’m pretty sure we are already looking at the future, today.