ATLAS F1   Volume 7, Issue 9

  Minardi's Victory

  by William Doolittle, U.S.A.

After a winter break that saw Minardi nearly close down, the 'other' Italian team have made it to the starting line of the 2001 season. William Doolittle explains why this in itself makes them winners

The first Grand Prix of the third millennium is almost upon us, and not a moment too soon.

The off-season was not without some apprehension, and high among the list of concerns was whether or not Minardi would make the starting grid. For all too long, it looked as though there would be only ten teams and twenty cars at Melbourne. It also looked as though Minardi might well disappear permanently under the weight of no financial support. But, fortunately, someone with deep pockets stepped in at the proverbial 11th hour and saved the day, or rather - the team.

There are probably some asking, "Why should anyone care about a team that makes it possible for every other team to never be last?" Well, Minardi-lovers, and others fond of supporting underdogs, can probably think of scores of reasons, but there is something very important for the rest of us to also consider: Minardi sits exactly where every one of us wishes he or she was sitting - on the starting grid of a Formula One Grand Prix.

Outwardly, most F1 fans ignore Minardi. To be sure, 95% of our attention is on Ferrari and McLaren. With 5% of our attention on Williams, Jordan, etc., there is 0% left for Minardi. Many fans give the team only passing attention - Minardi is treated much like the flour used to make a cake; everyone oohs and aahs at the icing, but no one thinks of the flour, an essential ingredient. Other fans laugh at the team. These folks, however, are generally newcomers to the sport, or simply ignorant dolts. Because regardless of how lowly we might publicly think of Minardi, deep in our hearts we admire the team. If we don't, we should.

There are two views from the last row of the starting grid. One view is of the backs of the nineteenth and twentieth cars. This surely must be a disheartening view. However, there is another view that Minardi drivers enjoy. They can look around at the thousands of people who aren't on the grid. This holds true for the team members in the pits as well. The Minardi team might have the last choice of garages, but a garage they do have.

From the back of the grid, or the end of the pit row, there is only one way to go, and that is up. Getting to the top is not easy. But getting up to the bottom is no small feat either. If it were easy to start an F1 team, we'd all be starting our own. What stops us? Obviously, it is the lack of multiple millions of dollars. But let's ponder money a moment.

Most of us tend to think of the $300 million that the top two teams are rumored to spend each year. These teams, of course, are paying exorbitant amounts in order to stay competitive, and remain at the top. How many millions does Minardi spend? A mere fraction of what Ferrari shells out. And, what do they get for their dollar? A great deal, in fact.

When one looks at bang for the buck, to use military parlance, Minardi is much more cost-effective than we might think. Look at the speeds and lap times. We tend to do so, only in relative terms on paper. In this context, Minardi looks dreadfully slow. They are always 4 to 5 seconds slower per lap than the top teams. However, when we look at speeds in real life and in absolute terms, differences are minimal. Recall standing by trackside and watching a Ferrari fly by, followed seconds later by a Minardi. Both cars appear to be going at very nearly identical speeds, and very fast indeed. The Ferrari of course is in front. And, what a price they pay for that position!

Ferrari spends almost 10 times as much as Minardi, and they get only 3% more speed (My math may be a percent or two off, but you get the picture). Minardi gets 97% of the speed of Ferrari for about 10% of the cost. They should be applauded for such performance and efficiency, rather than looked upon with ridicule. I've never heard Luca di Montezemolo speak ill of Minardi. I bet he admires the efficiency of the team's accomplishments.

The question now is: Can Minardi get the additional 3% speed it needs to win without the infusion of several, several million dollars more? Probably not anytime soon. However, Minardi has performed very well in the past, and they can do so again.

No one thinks of a Minardi starting a race from the front row, much less finishing at the top of the podium. But, I remember the first race of the 1990 season, the United States Grand Prix, where Pierluigi Martini started his Minardi from the outside of the front row. It was no fluke either. On March 10th 1990, in Phoenix, Minardi simply had the second fastest car on the track (Martini also set the second fastest lap that day), after only five seasons in Formula One. Ayrton Senna in a McLaren went on to win the race after starting fifth, but Minardi did start on the front row. They did it once. They can do it again. And, they can win.

In one sense, Minardi has already won; the team has survived. Let's hope the best for Minardi, and relish in their presence as the new season and the new millennium get underway.

William Doolittle© 2007
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