Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler: BlackJack’sBriefs
As with my series on drivers, I started with the Wiki ‘List of Formula One Constructors’ and quickly reduced 136 to 43 eligible constructors by removing the Champions, and those hopefuls who failed to last beyond two or three seasons, and also those who only competed before 1958. [See Part-20 – Intro for details.]
“Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
Born in Scotland in1956 Craig Pollock was a teacher in a Swiss ‘finishing’ school where Jacques Villeneuve (born in Canada, raised in Monaco) was sent, at the age of 11, after the death of his father, Gilles, in 1982.
After following separate paths they met again, in Japan, where Pollock agreed to become the young driver’s manager. With the CART (IndyCar) Championship under his belt in his second year in the series the partnership moved to F1 in 1996, and Villeneuve won that Championship in his second year, as well.
With this sort of success Pollock convinced British American Tobacco (in 1998) to purchase (for £30,000,000) the fading Tyrrell team, whereupon Pollock became an instant ‘character’, making numerous claims about, not only their future, but also their immediate success.
Nevertheless BAR’s first season was a disaster. Still officially known as Tyrrell, with chassis built by Reynard, and Supertec (Renault) engines, Villeneuve’s car was liveried in the red & white colours of Lucky Strike and teammate (newcomer) Ricardo Zonta’s car had the blue & yellow of the 555 brand. The FIA objected, and Pollock did a premature impersonation of Mr Horner by not only appealing the FIA’s decision, at the International Chamber of Commerce, but also filing a complaint with the European Commision… and got nowhere.
Pollock was summoned to the World Motor Sport Council to explain himself and only avoided disciplinary action by backing off, and accepting to have the cars painted the same… with Luckies on one side of the car, and 555 on the other. Pollock asserted he was unaware of his lawyers claim to the EC, and that the opinions expressed therein did not reflect his own.
It is doubtful if anything else Pollock said during his brief sojourn in F1 was granted much credibility.
Despite Pollock asserting BAR would win a race in it’s maiden season they actually didn’t score a single point. Villeneuve started the year with eleven straight retirements, his best result being an eventual 8th at Monza. Zonta did slightly better but an injury forced him to sit out for three races, when Mika Salo scored a 7th and an 8th, beforeskipping off to Ferrari to replace the also injured Schumacher. BAR were the only team to fail to score this season, finishing 11th, and bottom, in the
To be fair, and we like to be fair, Villeneuve qualified 6th in Spain, and ran 3rd for much of the race. He also qualified 5th at Imola, and 8th at Monaco, Monza and Nurburgring, It just wasn’t what Craig had stupidly promised, despite having apparently over-spent their (already massive) budget by mid-season, by enough to fund Minardi for several years.
It is perhaps ironic that Minardi ‘chose’ 1999 to end a 62-race, 4-year, point-less drought and take 6th place at the Nurburgring for 10th place in the Championship. Not only did this push BAR to the bottom step but, by holding off Eddie Irvine by just 1.5secs., Marc Gené might have caused Irvine to lose the Championship to Hakkinen. Irvine won the following race, in front of the returning Schumacher, and in the final race, won by Mika, Irvine was 3rd, behind Schumacher, unable to better Mika’s points tally. However… if Eddie had managed to pass Gené, and Schumacher had allowed Eddie to take 2nd in the last race, he would have taken the Championship from Mika by one point.
As Irvine failed to make it onto my list of drivers who didn’t win a championship 1999 was probably his only real chance of glory.
As for Minardi, it would be another three years before Webber’s 5th in Australia but 38pts, in twenty-one years, was a sorry record for a team that was much admired, in the other pits, and with the fans…
After the shenanigans of the previous year’s livery BAR adopted a more traditional style for 2000. They also adopted the slogan: ‘A tradition of excellence’, causing ripples of mirth along the pit-lane – after their single year of ignominy they had neither tradition nor excellence. Nevertheless, though it couldn’t have been worse, the team did improve, equalling Benetton with twenty points, and finishing 5th in the Championship. The cars (and Zonta) were just a tad too slow, and a little too unreliable.
Pollock had negotiated a supply of engines from Honda, who had just given up a tentative look at returning to F1, and the 002 car was again penned by Adrian Reynard, although there was apparently some tension between him and Pollock, while Pollock announced to the media that they were now to start with a clean slate. Considering, results-wise, the slate was already pristine, this appeared to be more Pollock ‘bs’…
BAR said farewell to Zonta, who later appeared twice for Jordan, to replace the sacked Frentzen, before being replaced himself by Jean Alesi, and then disappearing. Olivier Panis left his testing position at McLaren to take his place and, much later Zonta found a ‘testing’ role at Toyota for 2004-05. During the year Ferrari romped away from the others so dominantly that the others must have wondered what they needed to do, other than take up greyhound racing (or horse trotting, in the States). Even so McLaren and Williams were also way ahead of the rest of the field, where languished Sauber, Jordan and BAR with only a third of the points, put together, than Ferrari had on their own.
Villeneuve might have been surprised to get his car on to the podium in Spain, and Germany (which would be his last appearance up there), but must have been less pleased to be out-qualified by Panis 6:11.
Then came a bomb-shell that few were expecting – on the eve of the 004 launch, under pressure from BAT, Pollock resigned and was replaced by David Richards, a wheeler/dealer, with fingers in many pies, whose Prodrive company received a 5-year contract to run BAR. BAT had previously dealt with Richards when he steered the Suburu rally team to a triple World Championship, in 1995-97. Prodrive had also won the BTCC, with BMW and Ford, and have since won at Le Mans, with Ferrari and Aston Martin.
In 1997, when the bully-boy, Briatore, was fired from Benetton, Richards had replaced him for one year, but failed to negotiate longer terms so, when Pollock left BAR, there was a tailer-made slot for Richards.
To digress for a moment, 1995 was the last year a private, independent team entered F1 – the Italian Forti team – with backing from Brazillian millionaire, Abilio dos Santos Diniz, to provide a drive for his son Pedro. Despite a three-year contract Pedro moved his funds to Ligier for 1996 and, after half a dozen races, Forti was baled out by a dubious Irish/Italian entity called Shannon Racing who, after just two events in F3000, agreed to buy 51% of Forti. After four races in F1 Forti claimed a lack of payment and collapsed. It went to court but there was nothing left to be won. By the end of the year Shannon’s other teams (in lower formulae) all ceased to exist.
Guido Forti had been successful and respected in the lower formulae, and died in January, 2013.
And what has this to do with BAR…? Well, very little, although you’re wise to ask… Diniz left his mentor in the lurch, having been lured to Ligier who, one year later, was also in financial trouble. While Diniz & Co baled out again, in favour of Arrows, Ligier (what was left of it… and now owned by Briatore… Will no one rid me of this pestilent person…!) was bought by Alain Prost… who ran the team for five years becoming steadily more desperate until, at the end of 2001, Prost slipped away somewhat in disgrace to lick his wounds. During the winter Prost told several lies in order to acquire finance for 2002 with the possible intention (allegedly) of using such money to pay his debts from 2001.
The Prost team was the last F1 team to withdraw from F1 rather than sold on. In fact there was an attempt to buy the assets, which pretty much amounted to just the FIA Entry Permit… but the FIA proclaimed the ‘permit’ had been ‘awarded’ and therefore could not be bought or sold
Meanwhile, back in 2002
BAT and Prodrive agreed that 2002 would be an interim year. A large number of the workforce was dismissed along with key personel. Ferrari swamped the entire field, Williams and McLaren tried to keep up, Renault didn’t seem to try, and Sauber, Jordan, Jaguar and BAR brought up the rear, ahead of Minardi, Toyota and Arrows. Panis had frequently out-qualified his ex-Champion teammate, and even beaten him several times in the races, but it wasn’t enough to satisfy the bosses and Jenson Button was brought in for 2003, as Panis moved to Toyota.
Also for 2003 BAR negotiated exclusive rights for Honda’s engine, thus depriving Jordan, who had beaten BAR in 2001-02 (albeit by only two points each time), of the powerful motor. It is also possible Honda had their sights set on another prize altogether.
It seems clear that Richards and Villeneuve were not soul-mates and, when negotiations came to a head, Villeneuve left the team after the American GP, allowing Honda to bring in Takuma Sato at Suzuka. BAR finished the year in 5th place, but was still only (just) the best of the rest.
Having allowed themselves two interim years it was now time for BAR to step up to the plate, and perform… and they did. Button scored the team’s, and his own, first pole position, at Imola, as well as regularly qualifying in the top half dozen, with Sato close behind, and even, several times, getting ahead of Button. Indeed, at the Nurburgring, Sato came close to easing Schumacher out of pole… He also eased himself onto the podium in America, while Button stood on either the second or third step ten times, to take 3rd in the Championship, while BAR managed to finish 2nd, although far behind Ferrari.
During the year there was the famous off-track scrap with Williams, who claimed they had a contract with Button for 2005. The Contract Recognition Board disagreed, but Button did sign with Williams for 2006. Also there were increasing restrictions for advertising tobacco products in F1 and, by the end of the season, BAT had sold 45% of the team to Honda… which is perhaps why they had jettisoned Jordan. They also jettisoned Dave Richards, but retained Nick Fry… who had been MD of Prodrive, and later MD of BAR. The Prodrive contract was also terminated. It seemed that Honda meant business.
But, whatever Honda was doing, BAR rather blew it… The 007 was slow out of the box in the first race, both cars retired in the second and third races, were disqualified from the fourth, and excluded from the fifth and sixth as punishment – an ignominious start. BAR returned to the fray for the European GP, but both cars were poorly placed in the race. Then Button declared war by placing himself on Pole, in Canada, before both cars again retired. The cars were not raced at Indianapolis (along with the other Michelin-shod cars), and half the year was over already.
In the second half BAR got it together and Button had a string of decent results (with two podiums), though Sato seemed unable to finish higher than 8th, giving the team 6th in the Championship.
BAR had apparently intended to fight their disqualification in the civil courts (shades of Pollock/Horner again) but, when they realised Max Mosley wanted them excluded for the entire year, there was some judicious back-peddling.
At the end of the year Sato was released, and replaced by Barrichello, and Honda declared their hand by buying the remaining 55% of the team. They also bought out Button’s contract from Williams for, allegedly, US$30m. – is this a record…? It was certainly a ‘nice little earner’ for Sir Frank. BAT continued as sponsor for one more year, before the cars had a fit, and became all ‘earthy’.
In 1998 21 of the 22 drivers remained true to their teams throughout the season – only Jan Magnussen fell out with Sir Jockie and was replaced at Stewart, mid-season, by Jos Verstappen – but 1999, BAR’s first season, started a trend for multiple car/driver changes along the pit-lane. Six drivers switched teams, three made their F1 debuts, five left the series, two returned, and two drivers substituted for sick drivers.
In 2000 fifteen drivers either came or went, or swapped places but by 2001 the off-season (and later in-season) game of musical-chairs almost became an art form of it’s own…
It took until 2008 before things calmed down – only eight drivers moved before the season started and the year heralded the first season ever that all teams finished the year with the same drivers with which they had started.