Atlas F1

New Team For Villeneuve: Adventure Or Error?

Natasha Kholiavko, Russia

It seems an ill omen that sponsors coming from the world of finance give a display of their unreliability in regard to Formula One. In 1994, the Sauber team was given up by the financial and economic journal Broker. Last season the Shannon Finance company didn't meet their commitments which was a reason of Forti Course going bankrupt. A month ago we saw MasterCard withdrawing from partnership with the Lola team. At present, when tobacco advertising faces world-wide government restrictions, financial companies could be much more effective investing in the motor sport. Nevertheless, here is a remark in this regard: does the fault lie entirely with financial institutes, who are traditionally held in public respect, or could it be that racing teams themselves reveal irresponsibility on their way to the top league of the motor sport?

At the Brazilian Grand Prix, there were information in rumours and press that Jacques Villeneuve will be forming his own team. The current favourite for the World Champion title is supposed to drive a Reynard car powered by Chrysler. Among sponsors backing the rumored project, BAT (British American Tobacco) and Players Cigarettes (who had been supporting Villeneuve during his successful days in IndyCar) were mentioned to be involved. The name of Adrian Newey is mentioned as the chassis designer.

The fact of establishing new F1 team is not something surprising in itself nor is it a reason for exaltation. Although Jacques Villeneuve's manager Craig Pollock doesn't deny the stories about this initiative, whatever reality behind them will only (and always) be verified by time. Another matter to consider: such a project which is not alone in its nature gives an opportunity to look at the reverse of the F1 medal. Beyond exciting fights and splendid victories, beyond silver ringing of Champion cups and sparkling fountains of champagne, there is one detail which inevitably becomes a marking phenomena of modern Formula One - an expanding commercialism on all levels of the field.

To avoid possible misunderstanding, it must be said that we do not mean to belittle an effect of money involved in the sport. From its beginning, F1 attracted major sponsors who made it possible to invest in the best technology and the best people. Money traditionally circulates as the life blood of the sport: the better technology, the greater the chance of winning; the more wins, the greater the exposure for sponsors; greater exposure results in a more attractive package to market to another sponsors, and so on. The process in this situation indicates an alarming tendency towards transfiguring of Formula One from exciting sport, where the core is realization of the competitive potential, into a "dollar earner", to some deformed sort of show-business where participating and participant appear just means to the maximum profit. Success in making money becomes the actual goal rather than sporting success; financial result becomes more desirable and more interesting not only for managers and officials (which is clear and normal), but for competitors and a number of racers themselves -- which is sad. Fortunately, there are no reasons to apply this tendency to Jacques Villeneuve. But, the fact that his name is italicized in the project causes focus on what intentions could be cherished by such a sort of new-blown alliance entering F1.

Is there any earnest design to challenge the World Championship? Is there any serious purpose and conscious readiness to operate in a high pressure competitive environment? Authoritative names and respectable sponsors may illustrate the most noble aims, but let us look at the background: it indicates something else.

The Reynard name is well known in various kinds of the motor sport. If there were more luck, we would have seen this British company in Formula One in 1991. Then there was an original project of a female F1 team to be patronage by Niki Lauda. Automobiles for this project were to be created by Reynard and powered by Ilmor. Such an exotic idea was doomed to failure because of lack of money -- so it goes. However, Adrian Reynard wasn't unmanned by this misfortune and counted his efforts as a good basis for further achievements. The next chance came in 1994 when the Pacific team was going to enter F1. There was no correlative technical basement in Pacific, so it was Reynard again who had prepared a chassis design and actually produced a car for new F1 debutante. Pacific-PRO1-Ilmor of 1994 was no else but Reynard. This Reynard, the only one ever performing in F1, was born under an unlucky star as it appeared the worst machine on the grid of the year. During the season the chassis was reconstructed but to no effect -- Bertrand Gachot and Jean-Paul Belmondo continued as outsiders. There was nothing to do for the Reynard company except to wait for a luckier opportunity in Formula One. So, they continued on with a more successful business in other kinds of racing with their habitual rival: Lola.

It is not a casual occurrence bringing the Lola name to these pages. Both companies had a similar experience in the motor sport. Both showed analogue purposes and resembling results. Reynard and Lola have been competing each other in IndyCar and Formula 3000 and Reynard proved its advantages every time. On the other hand, Lola has totally eclipsed Reynard by amount of its moves in Formula One.

Nevertheless, Eric Broadley didn't seem to learn any beneficial lessons from his experience. A decision to establish Lola as a 1997 F1 collective was absolutely irresponsible -- the team wasn't nearly ready for entering. Cars looked like some touch-and-go sketches, made hurriedly to be in time for the start of the season. Straight from a presentation, two machines were launched headlong into the World Championship without any serious testing. The only label on the bodies - MasterCard - would have scarcely helped drivers to lead these hasty prepared machines through the 107% barrier in Australia. Should one wonder to see both Lolas beyond the race? Following tests in Silverstone saw Ricardo Rosset and Vincenzo Sospiri demonstrating the lowest results among 14 pilots. A new suspension was tried and nobody at the team doubted that the qualification barrier in Brazil will be passed. But there was one who did doubt - the MasterCard company. Subsequently, a financial stream from the title sponsor had dried up. Could one judge the solid firm, who cares for its funds and cannot allow the "partner" to throw good money after bad? The only thing seems clear: MasterCard's money is lost from Formula One forever.

"If you cannot see the bottom, do not cross the river."

A new team in the top league of the motor sport should heed this phrase. But Lola had been pottering about in F1 since 1962, when it started to produce automobiles for the one-day team Bowmaker. In those days John Surtees succeeded getting second places in Great Britain and Germany (which appears to be the climax of a dramatic action of the Lola brand on the F1 arena). Time was running by, but there is no Grand Prix won by Lolas designed by their owner and chief constructor Eric Broadley.

Let me be fair by saying Lola used to enjoy some popularity. As a principle, the cars were traditionally sold to other teams and gained a reputation of reliable, easy and, most important, inexpensive. In various years, they were used by teams such as Honda, Haas, Beatrice, and Larrousse. A short story of Embassy Hill, which had been tragically ended in an aircraft crash together with its famed founder Graham Hill, touched Lola as well. One of the recent causes of Mr. Broadley in F1 was creating a car for BMS Scuderia Italia in 1993. This project had fallen through. Lola revealed itself the most primitive model among all the rest. And, in spite of the cars being powered by Ferrari engine and driven by decent racers (FIA F3000 Champion Luca Badoer and experienced Michele Alboreto), they found themselves habitual residents of the back of the field. BMS failed to finish the season and sponsors withdrew while remainders of the team were taken to Minardi. Since then, Eric Broadley has been focusing his creative efforts on producing machines for other formulas such as Formula-3000, where Lola has become a monopolist, and IndyCar, where the company has been sharing influence with Reynard.

Both Eric Broadley and Adrian Reynard are not only constructors but businessmen in the first place. So, the Formula One World Championship itself has never been considered by any of men as a subject to challenge. The matter is that participating in F1 could build up the reputation to increase car production, to expand the volume of trade so as to enlarge the scope of activity in another markets. Such teams as March and Dallara, for example, used to work by a similar scheme as well, but all had left the pinnacle of motor sport. Time has changed: the triumph of high technologies requires more and more financial resources. It is impossible to develop a simple and cheap, yet competitive F1 car as it is impossible to teach an old dog new tricks. This is what we were compelled to see once again from the recent Lola performance. History indicates that a rivalry of two usually causes them to act by similar methods, and repeat and excel each other, not only in achievements, but in mistakes and errors as well. Adrian Reynard seemed taking into account an example of his more experienced colleague Lola; he had been showing a reasonable wariness with regard to the Reynard company planning a comeback into F1... unless he has been rushed into an adventure by...

Now it is a time to introduce a character who made his appearance as an instigator of the initiative which was made public as a project of new Formula One team, this so called Jacques Villeneuve's team.

One can remember the name of Julian Jacobi. The man who for years helped Ayrton Senna and Senna's family to progress in doing business. He used to work for the legendary Brazilian as a manager, and after the 1994 tragedy has been successfully dealing on with the family firm. Mr. Jacobi was so inspired by an idea of establishing a racing team that he even tried to break his contract in San Paulo, which was such a serious affair that required all of his time. There was no option in negotiating a chassis manufacture, who else except Reynard are at any time willing to touch F1? No one but Lola who were still far too busy. But, there is always an option in bringing another partners' money. To cope with such a difficult situation, there is an indisputable and traditionally well working method: the more attractive name you have to put forward, the more solid backing you may arrange. So Julian Jacobi, aspiring after a bait of the choicest quality, approaches Jacques Villeneuve's manager Craig Pollock, who in turn reveals a surprisingly touching confidence in his new partner. Inspired by alluring prospects and accompanied with the compelling force of eloquent arguments, such an idea must be encouraged by major sponsors. Whatever it was, the alliance Jacobi/Pollock is formed and the matter has been given full swing.

By the way, what about Jacques Villeneuve himself?

Ah, we have almost forgotten one more participant. Chrysler, the most likely drawing from the ancient Lamborghini F1 technology, is going to be an engine. Its prospects would be better left undescribed. To power modern Formula One with such a unit is the same as teaching iron to swim.

No matter how good the money is, it is not a recipe for success in Formula One Grand Prix motor racing. Even if there are excellent driver ability, vehicle design and engineering skills, the overriding factor is the ability of a company to combine all these elements and many more into an integrated whole. In this theme, there is a group rumoured to establish a F1 team but it would scarcely find itself united by any common idea. Each of the parties involved is chasing its own profit, each one is aspiring to embody its own petty ambition and satisfy its own mercantile interests. One doesn't need to strain their eyes to see that the only common element which might unify this "team" is its obvious desire to make a F1 project commercialized. All statements about some competitive potential are manifestly irresponsible. But, the question is: what implications does the name of Adrian Newey inject, the name of one known as a man of principle? By what means is there the name of Jacques Villeneuve, who is the only current racer sounding openly against increasing commercialism in modern Formula One as a loss of its sporting competitiveness? One may look for answers but never find them because the the names are taken to feed on them, to parasitize on them, to extract the most profit from the dead-end idea.

There isn't and never will be a Jacques Villeneuve behind his "own team".

What opinion may one form on such projects? What resonance may be caused by teams entering F1 just to be touched by The Queen of the motor racing? The only reasonable thought of such undertakings would be that it is nothing more that an adventurous action, speculating on names, history, traditions and popularity of Formula One. There is no intention to belittle a matter of establishing new teams here. A resume is: commercialism and mercantilism in F1 enliven dangerous phenomena leading not only to lower the level of excitement and competitiveness of this sport, but to generate in a core of irresponsible projects which are to sap the authority of Formula One. Projects which are efficient to provoke the public opinion and discredit, not only the pilot, but the very idea of involving sponsors in the Formula One Grand Prix World Championship.

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Astrologers believe that if any planets in the cosmos once run astray, it is an omen of success. They call them poetically, "Erratic Stars". Let us hope that erratic stars of Formula One happen to be of good omen as well.

Natasha Kholiavko
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