|The Flying Kilts|
|Nick Raman, Australia|
1997 was notable for itís competitiveness and close racing, but in a lot of peoples eyes, it was a year where the "newcomers" arrived and shone. Among them were Stewart, the Scottish team led by Jackie and Paul Stewart. The father and son combination did a superb job of getting the team off the ground, hiring all of the right men and attracting a lot of very good sponsors. Ever since the beginning of 96, the Stewart family dedicated their life and time to getting the team prepared and the chassis designed which, was penned by ex-Arrows designer Alan Jenkins. The SF1 as it was known, was an "uncomplicated" design which was created fully on CAD (Computer Aided Design) and built with CAM (Computer Aided Manufacturing) which meant that drawing offices were stripped of drawing boards and replaced with computers.
Adopting an anti-tobacco sponsorship approach, the Stewart team managed to get support from the HSBC banking corporation plus the signing of an exclusive deal with the Ford motor company who would supply the team with their V10ís and technical support. With such things in place, it was clear that the Stewart team were approaching Formula One with total commitment, dedication and a will to succeed. Even though Jackie Stewart was thought in wanting to sign Damon Hill, who was free from his Williams contract, the asking salary of the World Champion was too high so Jan Magnussen and Rubens Barrichello were signed to pilot the SF1ís in 1997. Magnussen, a superb F3 driver had only experienced a test drive contract at McLaren and one race deputising for an ill Mika Hakkinen at the Pacific Grand Prix in 1995. Meanwhile, Barrichello, a Jordan Driver since 1993, had had a very up and down period with the Anglo-Irish team and needed a change of scene at only 24 years of age.
Testing began at a freezing Silverstone circuit in early January in readiness for Melbourne in March. Magnussen was assigned to initial shakedown runs and Barrichello for developmental testing. The car looked promising in itís early tests and the engine behaved itself (for the time being at least). The family was adamant that the '97 was to be a learning season and a vivid quote from Jackie was "We have to crawl before we can walk, and similarly we have to walk before we can run." It said it all; while Williams and Ferrari would fight for the championship, the Stewart team would run their own race, getting the engine reliable from Ford who were forced to do "testing in public" as boss Martin Whitaker put it. The engine went through an amazing three phases throughout the season as a struggle for reliability continued. Almost customary, halfway through a race we would see a tartan liveried Stewart with oil smoke pouring from the rear. It was desperately unfortunate for the team and they kept brave faces while the Ford team of technicians tried to find solutions. All of that was forgotten at Monaco, though, as Rubens Barrichello drove a superlative race to finish second in only the teamís fifth race in appalling rain swept conditions. The team could hardly believe it, making sure that confidence would not take over happiness, they celebrated a well earned second place in a high attrition Monaco Grand Prix.
The season went on for the team and as it continued, the learning process got even greater with more failures for Rubens Barrichello than race starts with mostly Hydraulics and engine gremlins to blame. Jan Magnussen suffered similar problems plus the fact that it was his first full season and the rigours of driving a Grand Prix car obviously took a toll on the young Dane who struggled to find the fitness needed to compete effectively.
Now that the season is over, the Stewart team will be happy with their season, realising that it was their first and the Ford engine was unreliable. It certainly had itís highs and lows but you can be confident that Jackie Stewart will now know that Magnussen has now had a full year in Formula One and Barrichello has settled in nicely to the Stewart atmosphere. Also, the technical team will have gathered a vast amount of data to work with and will use it to their advantage when designing the SF2 (which is probably 95% complete). Ford will also look at 1997 with data gathered and realise that unreliability was definitely not a strong point and will doubtless be researching and developing their phase 9 and 10 for 1998 in search for power and of course for the engines to actually last the distance.
A Bridgestone tyre contract was quickly snapped up by Stewart and it was a very worthwhile thing to do, especially in the context of their inaugural season. With the early testing by Arrows and Tom Walkinshaw, the widespread opinion was that lesser teams would be dominating rain affected sessions in 1997. In fact, it was hotly debated throughout the 97 season, that Bridgestone had the upper hand over Goodyear and many top teams had been thought to desperately want to change over. Stewart thought it good to have Bridgestone and at the Monaco Grand Prix, the Scottish team attributed their success somewhat to the Bridgestoneís excellent wet weather tyre.
So what of the '98 regulations for Stewart? It obviously wonít harm the teamís chances for success and, in fact, it could benefit the team in the performance stakes. With the advent of predicted 3-7 second slower lap times in 1998, the Stewart team could spring some welcome surprises on the grid for next season. It would be an absolute triumph for the team to even win next season, as anything is possible in an ever changing world of Formula One.