At least six times stiffer than steel, a third of aluminium’s weight and boasting five times the heat-absorption of copper, beryllium – alloyed to aluminium to improve ductility – had been used initially in brake calipers. By 1998 Mercedes was using it in pistons and cylinder liners.
Piston speeds and accelerations shot up despite shortening strokes, and designer Mario Illien was able to use a longer stroke, promoting torque without compromising peak-rev performance.
Ferrari’s successful push to have it banned from 2001 was ostensibly for safety reasons – beryllium is a Group 1 carcinogen alongside asbestos and plutonium (and alcoholic beverages) – but likely was rooted in competitive shortfall and technical envy.
Even so, engines weighing less than 90kg (dry) were by 2005 reliably producing more than 900bhp.
Using the same fundamental architecture as the Cosworth DFV – oversquare cylinder dimensions, pent-roof combustion chambers with single central spark plugs and four-valve cylinder heads with twin overhead cams per bank – as well as fundamentally the same materials, they made designer Keith Duckworth’s 168kg, 408bhp masterwork look like a boat anchor and sound like a lawnmower.
Jarno Trulli’s Toyota erupts in the pits at the Circuit de Catalunya during the 2005 Spanish Grand Prix © Getty Images
A V10 – odd-cylindered blocks combining for an even-numbered whole – is unbalanced by an end-to-end rocking couple.
Despite opting for the even firing intervals of banks set at 72º and sharing common crankpins, Honda’s 1989 first-generation attempt achieved 680bhp at 13,000rpm without air-valves, using a counter-rotating balance shaft to reduce vibration. But it was a heavy solution.
Ferrari’s V12 was lighter, while others preferred to live with (or work around) any roughness. Renault’s V10 remained a 67º unit until the end of 1996.
“It had a very high frequency that vibrated your back in a strange way, which made you cough until you got used to it,” says Damon Hill.
The 1996 World Champion had competitive experience of four makes of F1 V10: Judd, with Brabham during its dog days; its Yamaha cousin, with which he came within half a lap of winning the 1997 Hungarian GP in his Arrows; and, with Jordan at Spa the following year, he took the second of Mugen Honda’s eventual four wins.
He is best remembered, of course, for 21 victories in Williams-Renaults from 1993-’96.
“There are V10s and then there are V10s,” he continues. “Renault was fantastic at coming up with small increments the whole time: another 50rpm, another 10-15 horsepower.
“But it’s all very well having a lot of horsepower; what you need when you come on the power, usually at the low end of the rev range, is to be able to pick up the throttle and balance the car.”