From Topp to Top

Stewart Grand Prix will be a natural extension of Paul Stewart Racing, a team not unaccustomed to success

From small beginnings in a workshop close to Egham, back in 1988, Paul Stewart Racing has always had the lustre of a team that was going places. From that cramped environment, a cosy home for a solitary Formula Ford 2000 car run by Roy Topp, but a tight squeeze when a brace of Formula Three cars joined the squad, PSR has mushroomed.

Thanks to the suspension of its Formula 3000 operation, PSR's current premises in Milton Keynes have the capacity to contain the new Grand Prix team, but only in the short term. A brand new factory is destined to appear in 1998.

The F1 aspirations of the Stewart family team have never been a secret. When Paul decided to retire from driving at the end of the 1993 season, his third in Formula 3000, he explained that his decision would allow him to concentrate on developing the business with a view to reaching Formula One before the end of the millennium, a goal that will be achieved with a couple of years to spare. "It was something that was always potentially on the cards," explains Paul.

"I started racing very late. If you take a step back and look at it objectively, I was 21/22 going in.

"Whatever I've done in my life I've always wanted to strive for the best. If you don't get there you've got to re-evaluate your position. So I've always recognised that the possibility of me going in to Grand Prix racing as a driver, and becoming world champion, was going to be a lot tougher than for a Herbert, Hakkinen or Schumacher, someone who had been in karting.

"Once I started racing it was a possibility, but something I didn't actually think would happen: it's one of those things you wish for, but think, 'God, it is going to take a hell of a lot to make that happen'. When the Staircase of Talent was in place it became potentially a natural progression. We took a look at several different avenues, and the recession played a part in that. We have learned to adapt to the difficult economic conditions to give more value for money than racing teams in our position previously had to do."

Backers of PSR's racing nursery have certainly been made to feel welcome in the past. Many teams happily use plastic cutlery and disposable plates; PSR insists on cut glass and china. It's all part of the team patron's insistence on attention to detail.

The 'Staircase of Talent' concept revolves around PSR's hitherto simultaneous commitment to three formulae: Formula Vauxhall, F3 and F3000. In the first two of these, PSR has gained an enviable reputation for success, winning the FV title in 1993/94/95 (with Dario Franchitti, Owen McAuley and Jonny Kane) and the F3 title in 1992/93/94 (with Gil de Ferran, Kelvin Burt and the record-breaking Ian Magnussen). In F3000, its successes were restricted to three wins for de Ferran, who was a serious title contender in '94.

Ironically, perhaps, the Staircase's most prolific graduate to date has been David Coulthard, who never actually won any titles for PSR, though he came within a whisker of the 1991 British F3 crown.

The system will continue alongside the Grand Prix programme, albeit in slimline form. "We're going to continue running Formula Vauxhall and Formula Three," says Paul. "We've now won 88 races. My wish would be to win 100 in total. Beyond that, we will probably only continue with the Formula Three team. We may eventually do F3000 again but initially we have to concentrate on F1. It would be nice to keep the F3 team because it's a good way to keep in touch with up and coming drivers.

"The best way to understand who's good and who's not is to be racing with them, or against them.

"When you develop the soul, if you like, of a company, you've got to nurture that We've developed a Stewart culture and we've got to preserve that." SA