Jaguar might have concentrated on sports and saloon car racing in the past but now it want just one thing: to reach the very top of Motor Racing. Mark Hughes meets those who took Jaguar to goly in the past and assesses its chanced in the harsh world of Formula One
On this, the eve of Jaguar’s Third Coming, there might seem to be little of much relevance in its sports car programmes of the 1950s and ’80s that could be applied to an F1 campaign in the new millennium. But that’s a rather shortsighted view of things. Technically it would be true. Spiritually it most certainly would not, and Jaguar has always combined those two qualities so finely you can’t see where one ends and the other begins. What we are in the early throes of witnessing is the re-awakening of a giant, the uncorking of an enormity of goodwill and an intense passion for the marque. Whether F1 yet realises it or not, it is to be joined by a brand whose following for the first time in championship history could rival that of Ferrari.
Tony Rolt, who co-drove Jaguar to victory at Le Mans in 1953, remembers the tiny scale of the original team above all else. For all its achievements, the Jaguar competition department then numbered no more than a dozen people: “Even compared to the other teams of the time it was very small,” he recalls. It made the lifeforce of the operation easy to discern.
“Sir William Lyons was very much the man behind it all, even though he was in the background at the actual races where Lofty England ran the thing.”
“Above all, Sir William was an entrepreneur,” says the Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust’s Howard Davies, “who wanted to tell the world about what his cars could achieve. He so named the XK120 because it would do 120mph. He took his cars racing to prove they could beat the world.” When Johnny Herbert and Eddie Irvine take the grid in Melbourne for the first Grand Prix of 2000-bringing Jaguar’s name back to front-line international competition for the first time in nine years they will be supported by a team of around 300. And that’s just those in the direct employ of the former Stewart Grand Prix team; it takes no account of the personnel from Jaguar and parent company Ford who will be occupied in maximising the company’s involvement. Furthermore, you can take your pick from Jackie Stewart, Jac Nasser, Neil Ressler or Wolfgang Reitzle as the man behind the project.
Meanwhile, the Jaguar F-Type has caused a sensation at the Detroit Motor Show. And it is called F-Type to tell the world it’s the spiritual successor to the legendary E-Type, the car which arose directly from the ’50s Le Mans programme and upon which much of Jaguar’s mystique still rests.
Norman Dewis, former Jaguar test and race driver, remembers the intimacy of the ’50s programme. “Everything was done on site, from engines to suspensions to bodywork; we all banded together very closely. All in the same factory where they were making the road cam. We would drive the cars to the races in 19521 drove a C-Type to the Millie Miglia, raced there and drove back.”
Back to the very bosom of the British car industry in Coventry. The Jaguar R1 Fl car is built in a state-of-the-art dedicated factory in Milton Keynes by a team originally founded by Jackie Stewart and independent of, but supported by, Ford. It is powered by an engine from Cosworth in Northamptonshire, a once independent company now owned, like the team itself, by Ford. The American-based global giant bought these operations, just as it bought Jaguar in 1990. The final touch was to give the paternal blue oval insignia a quiet, dignified exit from Fl and transfer the leaping cat badge to the already established operation.
Don’t think of it as a cynical way of bringing about Jaguar’s return to the sport Realise, instead, it’s the only way it could possibly happen in today’s globalised marketplace and in a sport that is so technically specialised.
Think of Ford as the force that has allowed Jaguar to become a living legend once again.
“I think it’s great news they are back,” says Rolt, with not a trace of discomfort over the use of the word ‘they’ to describe a collection of specialists with no direct link to the Jaguar factory in Coventry. “Even though it’s a new effort and the Jaguar name has not been in Fl before, I think people will still associate it with the old racing Jaguars.”
Davies is equally enthusiastic: “It’s all part of the good news generally about Jaguar. We are back. Jaguar is a successful company once again. We’re out of the melee. That’s the message the entry to F1 is telling the world, in just the same way that Sir William used racing to send out a message to the world.
“It’s been taken over by a multi-national company, but unlike what some big companies have done to other British marques, Ford has given Jaguar the muscle it needs to compete today but at the same time allowed its spirit to remain intact, and it is very British spirit. You can still feel that when you walk into the place. It’s a very infectious company.”
“Well I’m still infected,” pipes up Dewis. “I still travel all over the world today talking about Jaguar.” It’s a passion that we last saw unleashed during Tom Wallcinshaw’s Group C Le Mans campaigns with the Silk Cut Jags in the 1980s and early ’90s. The size and intensity of the flag-brandishing crowds there put paid once and for all to the notion that the British are an undemonstrative lot. “It’s something we saw building up before the Le Mans programme,” says Wallcinshaw, “when we were racing the XJS in Touring Cars. Then it just went up and up and up. But even though we’d seen it building, we were still a bit taken aback by the scale that it all eventually reached at Le Mans. It’s a great marque to go racing with, so recognisable and emotive.” But from which well has all this emotion been tapped? Ferrari touches a nerve in us that makes our spirits soar, regardless of the possibilities. With Jaguar it is
perhaps more complex. Dewis thinks he knows where our love affair with the name originated: “It was the timing of our success — in the early post-war years.
Obviously, as a nation we’d done great things during the war and this was seen as a similar thing, a small nucleus of people working together as a team, out numbered by foreign competition, but taking on the world and coming out on top. It felt like that on the inside too. I’d was in the RAF during the war and the feeling inside the competition department of Jaguar was very similar to that of a flying crew in a squadron — all working together with one aim.”
Davies takes up the theme when he says, “People here wanted to hear about good things. They had suffered black-outs, bombings, rationing. It wasn’t like after the first war which had happened somewhere else. This had happened here. Not only was that the background to people’s imagination being captured, but it meant that there was the opportunity because of all the engineering expertise that was still around but no longer needed for wartime. It wasn’t just a Jaguar thing, it was a much bigger, British thing and Jaguar latched onto it”
The appeal of the name today extends beyond merely being British, however. Jaguar’s marketing director Phil Cazaly says: “It’s not just the Brits. The Germans love Jaguars too and the Americans and Australians. I was at one of our showrooms in Italy and I watched as someone actually stroked one of the cars.
“No-one strokes a Mercedes. Partly it’s in the styling —Jaguars have always been very curvaceous and sensual cars — but also the animal itself works well for us, suggesting a certain wildness. “But the perception of Jaguar in terms of technology fell behind BMW and Mercedes.’ Anyone who has sat in an S-Type will know it’s bristling with technology but there is always something of a lag effect in perceptions. Formula One is so high-tech that it will help us enormously in getting that message across.”
As the manufacturer which was responsible for introducing monocoque construction to race car design in the 1950s, not to mention disc brakes and an aircraft-based understanding of aerodynamics, there is a certain sense of rightness that a racing programme should help restore technological excellence to the core values of the brand.
The beauty of having the Ford machine behind the Jaguar name is that such technology is the easy part of the equation. The difficult part is the indefinable, instrinsic quality that Jaguar s marketplace rivals have never come close to matching — the very reason that people don’t stroke Mercs.
No-one appreciates this better than Wolfgang Reitzle, the former BMW chief now in charge of all Ford’s specialist marques. For years he marvelled from afar at how the Coventry cars aroused feelings that the cool, efficient German machines never could. “He’s on fire at the moment,” confirms an insider. “He talks a lot about emotional engineering and I think that’s a pretty accurate reflection of what Jaguar is about The F1 programme will reflect that and we have the product coming which will allow us to take advantage.”
Some might question whether F1 is just too far divorced from the hardware of the 7.4 mad cars for the programme to have the same significance as the previous ones. But history doesn’t really bear such a concern out.
The TWR Group C Jaguars of the ’80s bore far less resemblance to any of the company’s mad car products than had the C and D Types of the ’50s — that was just a function of how racing and road car development had generically grown apart. Traditionalists could, for a time, point to the V12s in the back of the early GpC cars. Walltinshaw’s racers rightly claim that they were based on those found in the XJ12 and XJS models. Even then, however, the motors owed at least as much to Cosworth as Jaguar and eventually they were supplanted — initially by a V6 turbo from the Group B Metro and later by Cosworth’s own HB V8 F1 motor. But there was no noticeable downturn in the frenzied support for the Big Cats as a result.
Jaguar’s final season of the World Sports Car Championship was 1991, with the Ross Brawn-designed, Fl-powered, XJR14. Ford had just taken the company over, but the budget Walkinshaw worked with was based on Jaguar as an entirely independent entity. His team worked real miracles in securing the tide against the factory might of both Peugeot and Mercedes.
“We probably couldn’t have continued to be so successful against that level of competition with what was available,” says Walkinshaw. “But at the end of the day we had enough to achieve the objectives Jaguar set us. It was done on a smaller budget than the full factory teams enjoyed but evidently it was enough.” As the championship and Group C itself petered out, and with Ford committed to its own marketing objectives in F1, the Jaguar name disappeared altogether from major international competition.
“All that was nine years ago,” points out Caz.aly. ‘There’s a whole generation of people now who really don’t know about Jaguar ever being involved in the sport. These are the people who think of Jaguar as an older person’s car, particularly those too young at the moment to be in the market but whom we have to attract as we grow. This is another area where Fl is going to be fantastically powerful for us.”
In that final season of sports car racing, the F1-based XJR14 was not deemed a suitable endurance car and for Le Mans the older V12 cars were raced instead. Legislated out of contention with a stiff weight penalty, they posed no threat to the lighter rotary-engined Mazdas. One of the drivers of the winning example was Johnny Herbert, ironically now one of Jaguar’s Fl drivers. “The only tiring I saw the Jags then was in my mirrors,” he laughs. After a strong end to the ’99 season, which included giving the Stewart Grand Prix team its first victory, he is bullish about Jaguar’s 2000 prospects.
“That strong finish is our starting base for this year. The name is new to Fl but the great thing is that the team is already a winning one, with a great engine and a very well-established group of people used to working together. It means that Jaguar is really hitting the ground running. Realistically, I think we can already be considered the third team and we’ve got to be looking at closing down the gap to McLaren and Ferrari. That’s not going to just happen — there’s a lot of hard work to do — but (Technical Director) Gary Anderson is very confident about the car.
“Last year’s car was pretty good, but we had a few problems with the stability of the rear end. It was quick down the straights but the aerodynamics responsible for that were also responsible for the lack of rear downforce. In testing the new car already feels more stable and yet it’s still quick on the straights. We’ve got more power from the engine — which was already good — and a hell of a lot more driveability and better traction too. I’m sure we’re going to win races. “The atmosphere is slightly different to before, even though it’s still mainly the same people. There just seems to be a bit more excitement and anticipation.”
That’s not only within the team. There’s a whole army of fans waiting to get behind any success the Leaping Cat enjoys, a level of passionate support that even giants of the sport like McLaren and Williams or Mercedes and BMW would envy.
“It’s nice to see,” says Walkinshaw. “It’s great for everyone having a name like Jaguar competing again. If they win it’s great and if you’re beating them it’s great. They’re going to be formidable with Ford behind them, in with both feet” “I think we’ve got a real chance of getting support second only to Ferrari,” Cazaly says. “I’d like to think that one day there will be a sea of red and a sea of green at Grands Prix.”