You may remember it as Beatrice, but it was really called Team Haas… Or was it FORCE… or maybe Lola? Adam Cooper looks back at the 1980s biggest F1 flop
Want to start up a Formula 1 team? Tough job, eh? Well, let’s make it a little easier. Imagine you have a five year contract with a multi-million dollar sponsor, and a works engine deal. Stick a former World Champion driver in the cockpit, employ management with years of winning experience, and hire some of the best young design and engineering talent in the business. What more could you ask for?
This world-beating ‘dream team’ perfectly describes the Beatrice/Haas outfit which, amid unprecedented hype, swept into the F1 arena towards the end of 1985. Little more than a year later the whole thing came crashing to a halt.
Some of the parties moved on to success elsewhere, among them three top men from the design department. Between them Ross Brawn, Neil Oatley and Adrian Newey, have overseen every World Championship-winning F1 car of the past decade.
Rarely have such resources been so spectacularly squandered. Rarely too has a team had such an identity crisis; most people remember it as Beatrice, the name of the sponsor, but the official entry was under Team Haas (USA), the company behind it was known as FORCE (Formula One Race Car Engineering), and the cars were called Lolas when they had virtually nothing to do with the Huntingdon car constructor.
Alan Jones, the aforementioned driver, sums it up: “The only way I could describe it was that somebody said they had the best ingredients to make the best cake in the world. But several chefs buggered it up.”
The man behind the team was larger-than-life, cigar chomping Carl Haas. Although best known now for the Indycar team he co-owns with Paul Newman, Haas’s roots were in Can-Am and US F5000 road racing. He’d always kept in touch with F1, and nurtured ambitions to one day have a crack himself.
The US Lola importer’s chance arrived when he came across the sort of race fan every team owner dreams about; one who also has access to a massive promotional budget. James Dutt was the president of Beatrice, a giant, faceless corporation with a wide and varied range of subsidiaries. Like everyone else, Jones initially had no idea of the company’s pedigree:
“I admit that when I was first asked to drive for them, I thought ‘Who in the hell is Beatrice?’ I thought it was a bird or something. They said no, it’s the eighth largest company in America. You might know them as Avis, Samsonite, and off they went naming all these companies…”
Already involved with Haas and Mario Andretti in Indycars, Dutt saw F1 as the perfect vehicle to rectify his company’s international anonymity. He agreed a remarkable five year deal with Haas, who had the enviable task of setting up a team from scratch without worrying too much about what it cost.
His first step was to find someone to take care of the day-to-day running of the European operation. He chose fellow Americans and ex-McLaren bosses Teddy Mayer and Tyler Alexander; they’d been with McLaren from its birth in 1966, but left not long after Ron Dennis took over at the end of 1980. They subsequently set up an Indycar team under Mayer’s name, and that provided some of the roots for the new F1 effort. They found a new factory in Colnbrook, near Heathrow, and chose Oatley and Brawn, two Patrick Head proteges at Williams, to head the design staff.
For reasons which weren’t clear even to his colleagues, Haas called his cars Lolas, and Eric Broadley was duly named as a technical consultant.
“Carl wanted to use the Lola name,” says Alexander. “He’d been in business with Eric for a long time. Why were they called Lolas? No one ever understood any of that. It should never have happened. I really think if it had survived another year we would have sat down and sorted it out.”
The critical decision was on engine supply, and Haas admits that he explored various options.
“Actually we were really interested in the TAG/Porsche engine,” recalls Carl, “which of course McLaren had. It looked like they were interested for a while, but in the final analysis they didn’t release them. We had a meeting with Renault, but at that time they had a couple of teams. But the Ford thing looked very promising.”
So it did. Unblown engines had finally been written out of the regulations, and after burying his head in the sand for years, Cosworth’s Keith Duckworth had finally accepted reality and started work on a turbo. Ford wanted to be back in F1, and for Haas a works engine deal was perfect The potential of a link between the Detroit giant and an American-managed and sponsored team seemed obvious. After all, Avis bought rather a lot of Fords around the world…
The final piece in the puzzle was the driver. Alan Jones had retired from F1 at the end of 1981, and tried a brief comeback with Arrows in ’83. He knew Haas from Can-Am, and after a couple of quiet years a lucrative F1 offer was too tempting to resist.
“I decided well, bugger it, I’ll give it a go. On paper it looked like being a good proposition.”
The project gathered steam during 1985, and with the Ford unit not expected until the start of 1986, Brian Hart’s four-cylinder was the stopgap. The Lola THL1 was ready in August, and the red and blue machine caused quite a stir at its high profile launch, prior to an end-of-season race debut.
The team appeared for the first time at Monza; practice was a tale of mechanical mayhem. Lacking track time, the 1980 World Champion qualified 25th, one place from the back and some nine seconds off pole. In the race debris caused early overheating and a pitstop to clear the rads, before distributor failure claimed him. Brands Hatch, Kyalami and Adelaide were similarly underwhelming, although Jones overtook a few cars when the thing held together.
Still, at least he had the Ford to look forward to. Or did he? The Haas team fulfilled its part of the deal and had a test hack built and ready to run by November, but progress on the V6 was slow. As the winter dragged by, the team waited in vain for the engine.
“We put a lot of effort into getting that ‘muletta’ ready,” says Brawn, “and it just sat around and was never used. That all takes time off your major project; thousands of man-hours went into that thing, and it wasn’t needed.”
An exasperated Alexander tried to hurry Cosworth along, and the relationship between the team and engine supplier was soon on the slide. Eventually it was realised that the V6 would be so late that Jones and new team-mate Patrick Tambay would have to start 1986 with the Hart, so the old THL1s were hurriedly readied for Brazil.
At Imola Jones finally got his hands on the new Ford-powered THL2. But from the brief test outings, captured for posterity in a BBC2 documentary, the team knew that all was not well.
‘The second car was actually a good car,” say Brawn. “It was very tidy and it worked well. But there was no power from the engine. There was an opinion that 750bhp was enough, and it wasn’t. Basically Cosworth wasn’t in touch with what was happening with the fuel. They were also having engines detonating because they were running the wrong fuel.”
During 1986 F1 reached its peak in all-out power terms, and 12-1400bhp was quoted for a BMW in qualifying trim. According to Brawn, 750bhp was a generous output for the Ford. Jones was not impressed.
“It was a magnificently engineered little motor, but totally gutless. To this day I’m bemused that I had two bakelite knobs either side of the steering wheel to adjust the twin turbo boost. Which meant that you had to go down the straight adjusting the left boost and then you had to wait for another lap to go down the straight to adjust the right boost. Things like overtaking boost, which were then considered to be fairly basic essentials for GP racing, we didn’t have.”
Alan admits that as the season dragged on, he lost interest. “By that stage I was pretty pissed off with the whole thing and to be honest wasn’t giving as good as I could. I thought I was being let down in other areas. It’s a team effort, and if you’re not getting the support or the equipment, why should you give 100% yourself?”
Brawn, who had worked with Jones at Williams, has his own views:
“Alan had a fantastic relationship with Frank and Patrick (Head), and I think he hankered after the old days. He never really hit it off with Teddy and Tyler. I think Alan, Patrick and Frank was a magic group, and Alan wasn’t the sort of guy to function well outside of that sort of relationship.”
Apart from Monaco, where Tambay’s spectacular roll at Mirabeau made the TV news all over the world, Beatrice seemed to get little value for its massive investment. But race results meant nothing when, early in the season, Beatrice was the victim of a takeover. Dutt was ousted, and his personal motorsport crusade was of no interest to the new regime, with or without a five year contract.
“There was a palace coup,” says Jones, “and the people that ousted him automatically pooh-poohed whatever he’d put into motion.”
Haas faced both the imminent demise of his sponsorship package, and a continuing deterioration in the team’s relationship with Ford and especially Cosworth. As early as July there were rumours that Brabham owner Bernie Ecclestone would take over the team, ostensibly to get his hands on the engine deal. Instead, Ford split with Haas and signed with Benetton for 1987. No sponsor, no engine… the dream team was falling apart.
Mayer and Alexander were keen to keep going, and had a deal with Barclay cigarettes and Thierry Boutsen in the offing, but Haas was the man who counted. Despite the five year contract being settled with a big payoff from Beatrice, Carl shut up shop to concentrate on his Indy efforts. His team had scored six points in the first full year, five of them when Jones and Tambay finished fourth and fifth in Austria — two laps behind the winner.
“I probably would have continued if we’d had a good engine,” says Haas, “but it would have been too difficult. It’s one of my biggest regrets that I had to walk away from it, but that’s the way it goes. I don’t regret having done it. I regret that I didn’t see it through to a conclusion, or a little better conclusion. You never know in hindsight… under the circumstances, it was the right thing to do.”
During the season Adrian Newey had joined as Patrick Tambay’s engineer, and thus a remarkable braintrust had to be dismantled.
“It would have been an incredibly strong group,” says Brawn. “It’s just that circumstances pulled the plug on it. I think Carl had just lost a little bit of the flavour for it. He was very generous with the redundancy payments and so on, but I don’t think he had the confidence to keep it going without some decent sponsorship.”
Brawn went to Arrows, and thence TWR and Benetton (where he linked up again with Ford with great success), before joining Ferrari. Oatley headed to McLaren, and soon became chief designer. Newey stayed with Haas in Indycars, before returning to F1 with Leyton House, and later Williams. This month he joins McLaren. Ironically Mayer teamed up with Roger Penske, Carl’s longtime US rival. Alexander, who eventually went back to McLaren, still places most of the blame on the engines.
“The thing that annoys me is that we had quite a lot of good people there. We actually did some good things and made quite a lot of progress in a very short period of time.”
After weeks of speculation, Bernie Ecclestone eventually did acquire what was left of the team, which he now recalls consisted mostly of ‘aggravation’. He still owns several of the cars. Jones says he had talks with a couple of other teams, but ’86 would prove to be his F1 swansong. Interestingly, Jones rates Carl Haas as highly as Frank Williams, and prefers to blame others for any management defects.
‘One of the problems was that Carl didn’t spend as much time on the F1 team as I would have liked. It was just a bit of a farce really. I was promised all sorts of things that didn’t eventuate. Ford said that you’re going to see American muscle at its best. Well Christ, I’d hate to see it at its worst…’
How close did the team come to getting it right? ‘They didn’t even nearly get it right. They spilt the whole ingredients before they even got to the oven…’