Keith Duckworth, who died on Sunday aged 72, was the outstanding racing engine designer of his generation.
Cosworth Engineering, the company he founded with his fellow engineer Mike Costin in 1958, produced a staggeringly successful series of Ford-based and Ford-sponsored engines. From 1960 to 1983 it not only won a record 155 World Championship-qualifying Grand Prix races but dominated international Formula 2, Formula 3 and Formula Junior. It won the Le Mans 24-hour sports car race, and added multiple victories in American Indianapolis-style speedway racing.
A new 3-litre Formula 1 class was planned for 1966, and Colin Chapman of Lotus asked his former employee if he felt ready to tackle a Grand Prix engine design. Chapman talked Ford into footing the bill, and their sponsorship famously became “the best £100,000 Ford ever spent”.
Duckworth produced first a Ford-based four-cylinder 1600cc Formula 2 engine, from which he developed the three-litre V8 Cosworth-Ford DFV unit. Used by Jim Clark’s new Lotus 49, it won the 1967 Dutch Grand Prix upon its debut. Looking at the new car, one rival engine designer admitted: “We knew then the game was up.” Overnight, Duckworth’s design had set entirely new standards in Formula 1 power and ingenuity.
An outspoken and direct man, when sent for training as a navigator, Duckworth made waves by contradicting his astro-navigation tutor. “I don’t compromise easily,” he later admitted. “I simply won’t accept theories that are wrong. I can spot bullshit at 100 yards, and I have to say so.”
He was an inspirational figure and a dynamic teacher. “Duckworthisms” became renowned throughout the racing and engineering worlds. These included: “It is better to be un-informed than ill-informed”; “a genius can make for a penny what a good engineer can only make for 10p”; and “very few straight answers are ever possible: the decisive man is a simple-minded man”. He based job interviews on the principle that “young fools go on to become old fools”.
Along with men such as Colin Chapman and John Cooper, Keith Duckworth and his Cosworth brand have been synonymous with performance for over 40 years – a legacy that looks set to continue.