Classified spotlight: Simtek S951



Having won the German Formula 3 title in 1993 and impressed the Formula 1 paddock with his testing performances in the Footwork, Jos Verstappen was signed as Benetton’s test driver for the ’94 season. Verstappen was to partner regular drivers Michael Schumacher and JJ Lehto in the Rory Byrne-designed B194. However, a pre-season crash for Lehto, leaving the Finn with a broken vertebrae, thrust Jos into a race seat alongside the champion in waiting.

The Dutchman was unconvincing at the season opening Brazilian Grand Prix, qualifying ninth, seven grid slots and almost two seconds adrift of Schumacher. Things improved little on Sunday afternoon as Jos collided with Eddie Irvine’s Jordan-Hart and retired from the race on lap 34.

Verstappen went on to compete in 10 races for Benetton in ’94 with varied success. His season’s highlights came at the Hungarian and Belgian Grands Prix where he scored consecutive podium finishes. Yesterday (March 15), a second Verstappen made his Grand Prix debut. Although Max cannot hope to match his father’s year one podium tally (the ‘94 Benetton was a much more competitive car than this year’s Toro Rosso), his performance in Melbourne indicates the hype surrounding him is justified.

The 17-year-old had only 18 months single-seater experience prior to this season but looked certain to bag some points at Albert Park before his Renault power-plant decided to take an early shower. Helmut Marko is already making comparisons with Senna and Max’s Australian performance won’t do anything to dampen that sentiment.

Jumping back to the ‘90s, Jos was loaned to Simtek for the ’95 season, a company founded in ’89 by Nick Wirth and Max Mosely. Prior to Simtek, Wirth had been working at March – a team partly owned by Mosely – as an aerodynamicist under Adrian Newey. When March was rebranded Leyton House in ’89, Mosely and Wirth pulled out, joined forces and founded Simulation Technology – Simtek.

In its early years (’89-93), Simtek worked with the FIA, Ligier, Group C and Indycar teams. The Banbury-based business even designed, in secret, an F1 challenger for BMW in 1990. BMW decided against a team of its own and the plans lay dormant until purchased by Andrea Moda for the ’92 season. The team suffered a terrible campaign by anyone’s standards, failing to qualify on all but one occasion – the Monaco Grand Prix.

Frustrated by the misuse of his design in ’92 and another misadventure in ’93, Wirth grasped the nettle and entered his own team, Simtek Grand Prix, for the following season. The team achieved two top 10 finishes in ’94 but ended the season last but one in the Constructors’ Championship. The arrival of ’95 brought with it an entirely new design – the S951. The car was heralded as a giant leap forwards for Simtek and chassis S951/001 is now on offer from Legends Automotive.

Verstappen at Monaco, 1995

In Verstappen’s hands the car showed flashes of pace although reliability and financial difficulties limited Simtek’s achievements. After negotiations failed with potential backers after the Monaco Grand Prix, Simtek went into voluntary liquidation and the research division was declared bankrupt. Forty-three jobs were lost and the team’s assets were auctioned.

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Somewhere along the way chassis 001, Jos’s car for the truncated ’95 season, was sold. It was subsequently acquired by its current owner in December ’06 and underwent an extensive overhaul. At present, the mighty Ford-Cosworth 3-litre V8 nestled behind the carbon monocoque has only run for 200 miles. In its day, the engine produced in the region of 580bhp which, for a car that weighs little over 500kg, seems adequate indeed.

The sale also comes with a comprehensive spares package should you find yourself feeling over-exuberant on your next track day. S951/001 may not have the strongest race history but the allure of owning a pukka Formula 1 car must be very hard to resist. With Verstappen Jr poised to set F1 alight in the coming years, now seems like a very good time to invest in some family history.

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