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On this day in F1 is brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler: Bart De Pauw
– Irvine faces wrath of Rahal
– FIA opens tender process for standard ECU
2001: Newly appointed Jaguar Racing team boss Bobby Rahal lashed out at the team’s first driver Eddie Irvine for openly criticizing the new Jaguar R2 after suffering a heavy crash during the car’s first outing at a testing session in Valencia: ‘I think Eddie is trying to tweak us into getting the job done, but I believe the way to motivate is to be positive. I mentioned to Eddie that I thought he needed to contribute his commitment more positively.’ Rahal’s reproach was the onset of what would become a very blurred relationship between Irvine and the three times CART champion who in the beginning of his career was also a nameless participant to the 1978 American and Canadian Grand Prix for the Wolf F1 team.
After Jaguar’s disappointing maiden season in 2000, team owner Ford – that in June 1999 had purchased Stewart Grand Prix for renaming it to Jaguar Racing as a marketing initiative to promote its premium car company – appointed Rahal with the task of turning its F1 team into a credible force. One of the reasons for selecting Rahal was his friendship with McLaren’s technical director Adrian Newey as it was Ford’s plan to get Newey on board at Jaguar when his existing McLaren contract expired at the end of 2002. At first the plan seemed to work as immediately after the 2001 Monaco Grand Prix it was announced that Newey had signed a contract to join Jaguar Racing as from August 2002 thanks to an initiative masterminded by Rahal, but two days later Newey abruptly changed his mind and committed to staying with McLaren until 2005. Jaguar took the matter to court and Rahal was quoted saying ‘I don’t want to get into semantics but it is a legally binding agreement, very specific in detail’, but as time went by it became clear to Jaguar’s lawyers that under EU employment law a judge was unlikely to force an individual to work for them against his will, and a couple of days before the hearing a settlement was reached that saw McLaren pay an unknown amount to Jaguar and that compelled Ron Dennis and Newey to make a public apology. The Newey fiasco inevitably weakened Bobby Rahal’s position in the Jaguar team, and a couple of weeks later he was fired after reportedly attempting to sell Eddie Irvine to the Jordan team that was in need of a new first driver after Heinz-Harald Frentzen had been axed.
The man who was instrumental in the elimination of Rahal was Niki Lauda who, shortly after his dismissal from the board of directors of the airline company that once carried his name, had been engaged by Ford to give a helping hand to Rahal but who very soon had his shovel under the American that was not very familiar with F1 politics. Firstly Lauda was deliberately leaky on the details of the pending Newey engagement so that it could only abort, and as soon as he found out about the backroom talks between Rahal and Jordan about the prospect of Irvine moving he rushed into an alliance with ‘Irv the swerve’ for a public disclosure that left Ford no other option than to sack Rahal. Quite ironically, Lauda fired Irvine little more than a year after Rahal’s firing.
Video: After claiming that even a monkey could drive a modern F1 car with all the technical driver aids such as traction control and power steering, Lauda himself took the steer of the 2001 Jaguar R2 hoping to shock his drivers Irvine and de la Rosa by showing them up in a test in January 2002. ‘We’re going to need to put an even smaller steering wheel on to get it past his belly’, Irvine returned the favor. Stay tuned until the end of the video to see who of the two had the last laugh.
2006: A week after it invited several tyre makers to tender for the right to become F1’s sole supplier for three years from 2008, the FIA issued a statement to open a similar but more controversial tender process for a standard Electronic Control Unit. While the idea for a single tyre supplier was widely backed by a majority of the F1 teams because of its obvious cost saving potential, various teams didn’t feel for the introduction of an on-board uniform device to control the engine, the gearbox, the differential and the energy recovery system. ‘I think in principle most of the manufacturers would prefer freedom with the ECU as the actual cost of the ECU itself is not of an extreme magnitude’ said Toyota president John Howett, and Williams co-founder Patrick Head added that it would not feel very Formula One-ish to have all those creative engineers policed by what will probably be a fairly middle-of-the-road type piece of hardware, but ‘that’s what we’re told we’re getting and it seems it’s still Max and Bernie’s game so that’s what we’ve got to play’.
Interested companies were given until June 23rd to submit their formal bid, and on July 5th it was – together with Bridgestone’s tyre supply deal – announced that ‘Microsoft MES’ would become the official ECU supplier to all F1 teams from 2008, but it was only in December 2006 that ‘Microsoft MES’ was confirmed as a joint venture between McLaren Electronic Systems and Microsoft. A most convenient delay to disclose McLaren’s involvement as already in September 2006 the other F1 teams were informed about the ECU specifications to be taken into account for future car designs.
But as little attention the McLaren-Microsoft ECU deal attracted when it was first announced in December 2006, the bigger a polemic it became in the aftermath of ‘Spygate’ when all of sudden some of the other teams got very concerned about sending a lot of their confidential data to a McLaren-affiliated company: ‘How am I to trust a company that is at the centre of a spying scandal?’ Flavio Briatore was wondering, while Toro Rosso boss Franz Tost was very affirmative that ‘if the contract had been awarded this year, McLaren would not have secured the tender.’
Of course the FIA stood with its earlier decision and the 2008 season saw the introduction of the McLaren-Microsoft supplied standard ECU as the nerve of a Formula 1 sending 20 megabytes of raw data in real-time every lap. “More efficient management of this data could involve huge benefits, for race teams, the automotive sector, and for the aerospace, finance or pharmaceutical industries“, MES managing director Peter van Manen pontificated in 2008, but it only took until 2012 and a casual conversation between a McLaren engineer and a pediatrician for an adapted version of ‘the brain of a F1 car’ to be become a transformational breakthrough tool for the detection of developing problems in a children’s intensive care ward of a UK hospital.
Video: ECU explained