Driving for the hapless Andrea Moda F1 team: 'I was actually scared'


For a driver–team pairing that never made a race start, Perry McCarthy's torrid Andrea Moda tale is like no other – he remembers it 30 years on

Perry McCarthy, driver for the #35 Andrea Moda Formula Moda S921 Judd 3.5 V10 stands by his car arms folded in frustration after a mechaical failure occurred at the end of pit lane during pre qualifying for the Tio Pepe Spanish Grand Prix on 1st May 1992 on the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

McCarthy next to dud machine: perhaps the defining image of the Andrea Moda story

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Imagine being engulfed in flames the first time you sat in your team’s F1 car. Left behind at the team hotel when you’re supposed to be making your grand prix debut. Being teed up to drive dead on into the Eau Rouge barriers by your indifferent engineers who are looking the other way.

It’s the stuff of nightmares, but was exactly what met Perry McCarthy during his short tenure at the Andrea Moda Formula team in 1992, driving for a racing outfit who were – thankfully – like no other.

Looking back with a semi-wry smile now on those scarcely believable events – 30 years after his first calamitous outing in Barcelona – the ‘unluckiest driver in F1’ told Motor Sport, “I was actually scared – this was no way to go motor racing.”

“I was either going to be the oldest grand prix driver the world has ever seen, or it’s not going to happen!”

For a car and driver that never even managed to start a grand prix, it certainly was eventful.

McCarthy spent most of the ‘80s desperately trying to make his way in motor sport with a dream of one day getting into F1.

After enduring two years suspended off the side of a North Sea oil rig doing welding repairs to raise racing funds, running up £300k worth of debt and almost having his house repossessed along the way, McCarthy had ducked and dived his way up the racing ladder – but now he’d reached a career impasse. The 1992 season had started, and the Essex-native found himself on the sidelines.

“I had just come off the back of racing in the States [for the plucky privateer Spice team in IMSA] but the funding had dried up,” he says.


McCarthy moments before first time on track in the Andrea Moda – the face says it all


“Career wise, things were looking really bad – though I’d been there before, quite a few times! I was thinking ‘What the hell am I going to be doing? I’m either going to be the oldest grand prix driver the world has ever seen, or it’s not going to happen!”

Then came the golden call in March ’92, from Fred Rogers – Eddie Jordan’s solicitor. McCarthy had to check his calendar to make sure it hadn’t come on April Fool’s Day.

“I remember Fred’s distinctive voice very well. He just said, ‘Oh hi Perry, how would you like to be a grand prix driver?’

“I had to think for about half a second: ‘Count me in – yes!”

“I think he was convinced because I was looking at him like a piece of steak, I wanted the drive that badly!”

The team needing a driver was the Andrea Moda outfit – evolved from hapless Coloni team, it had already had more than a chaotic start to life in F1. Newly purchased by businessman Andrea Sassetti, a mysterious figure who owned an Italian shoe brand, the team was unconventional to say the least.

Sassetti had bought the intellectual rights to an F1 car designed by Nick Wirth of Simtek Research, its origin coming from an aborted BMW grand prix project several years previous.

However, whilst the S921 Judd might not have been completely beyond reproach, the team wasn’t exactly flush with people who knew how to run it.

The staff roster wasn’t without quality, experienced engineer Paddy Sheerdown and team manager Frederic Dhainaut on board, but other members had been brought in from Sassetti’s footwear operation, to drive trucks and fill other supporting roles. Not exactly grand prix standard.

From the archive

Once McCarthy had learned what he was walking into, you’d be forgiven for assuming he might have thought twice. Not a chance – the Brit hadn’t worked two year’s worth of 16-hour days swinging metres above the boiling North Sea just to not join the F1 circus. You can’t say he wasn’t warned though.

So poorly organised was this new outfit, they hadn’t even managed to get on track for pre-qualifying in the first two races of the season. This is where McCarthy came in.

“They had actually fired Alex Caffi and Enrico Bertaggia, because they happened to speak out against the team,” he says laughing. “So they needed two more idiots to come in.

“I was told ‘Look, this is a small team, it’s going to be against the odds, but they just basically need somebody who’s going to do whatever it takes.’ Which is why my name came up.

“I went to see Duffy. I think he was convinced because I was looking at him like a piece of steak, I wanted the drive that badly!”

“It was long, slim and black. All you had do was put brass handles on the sides and that would save time”

And so, after a decade of trying, McCarthy was in the grand prix drivers’ club. He was doing it for free and had to pay all his own expenses, but didn’t care.

After borrowing £800 to get an economy ticket to Brazil, the Essex-native began to prepare for pre-qualifying, the torturous session which decided which of the backmarkers would actually make it through to qualifying-proper and a place on the grid.

On arrival, McCarthy wasn’t exactly reassured.

“Everybody looked so tired, there weren’t many of them and the place was really untidy,” he says. “They were trying to get the cars built but seemed completely disorganised.

“I did the cockpit escape test – after looking around that car, I did realise it was going to be a lot easier to get out in the garage than when it was buried inside a wall, because even then it didn’t look great.

Andrea Moda-Judd pit before nthe 1992 Brasilian Grand Prix with team principal Andrea Sassetti (left) and Perry McCarthy. Photo: Grand Prix Photo

In the pits at the race debut that never was, in Brazil

Grand Prix Photo

“It was long, slim and black. All you had do was put brass handles on the sides and that would save time. I knew I up was against it.”

200mph caskets wasn’t all that was on McCarthy’s mind though.

Whilst AM’s other new driver Roberto Moreno failed to prequalify, managing two laps and setting a time a whopping 23sec off Nigel Mansell’s pole, McCarthy had had his Superlicence revoked for a lack of F3000 experience and didn’t even mak it into the car.

After managing to persuade all the team bosses to vote for it to be reinstated – “Flavio Briatore looked at me like a biology student who’s just dissected a frog, utter disgust” – he had it back in time for the next race in Barcelona.

However, the Andrea Moda story was only just warming up, in more ways than one.

“On the morning of Spanish GP pre-qualifying, I woke up in my room where the other mechanics were supposed to be staying, and even by the light coming through the paper-thin curtains, I could see there was no-one there,” remembers McCarthy.

“I’d overslept and they’d left without me! It was 7:30am and prequalifying was at 8am!”

“Every now and then though, I am unbelievably lucky. I went down to reception, and in walks Sassetti’s brother from a night on the tiles. There were vapour trails coming off this guy, he was still so smashed from the night before.”

Persuading the rather inebriated Sassetti sibling to chauffeur him at high-speed across city, “running red light after red light,” McCarthy was somehow struggling into his overalls in the team’s trailer at 8:05am.

“I’ve never even been out on Barcelona circuit before,” he remembers. “They threw me in the car, and the thing wouldn’t start up.

“So they sprayed loads and loads of Quick Start down the air inlet. Of course, they used way too much.

“Sparks flew up and I had jets of flames around my crash helmet! I jumped out the car and they threw a blanket over me. They put out the fire, then strapped me in again and away I went – my heart rate was well past 200bpm and I’d barely left the garage.”

And it wasn’t over. McCarthy may have been forgiven for thinking he was finally on his way, trundling down the pitlane about to make his grand prix debut. He crossed the white line onto the track and…nothing. Engine failure.

Roberto Moreno (Andrea Moda-Judd) in the 1992 Monaco Grand Prix. Photo: Grand Prix Photo

Moreno managed to get the Andrea Moda into qualifying at Monaco – McCarthy had less success

Grand Prix Photo

“I jumped out of the car, and that was it,” he says. “I was just standing there looking like Donald Duck and thinking: ‘Why did these things just keep happening? It’s got to be easier than this.’”

Not if you were driving for Andrea Moda, as the next pre-qualifying session at the San Marino GP proved.

“Again, zero testing,” recalls McCarthy. “You’ve got like half an hour to actually drive this F1 car, learn the track and try and qualify.

“They hadn’t made my seat properly for me, so I was being thrown around. You need to have confidence for a place like Imola.

“In the end I was probably lucky the differential went, and that’s how I’ve begun to look back on all this. The limited time I had in the car was actually a blessing in disguise. If I’d been in it any longer, something could have gotten very, very wrong.”

From the archive

In Monaco it was a similar same story, but only worse.

“They held me in the pits as long as possible, to keep the car and its parts as spares for Roberto,” he says. “When they finally let me out, I realised this thing isn’t going to hold together. What I was doing was stupid, to be completely honest.

“I took the tunnel flat. I’m sitting there, my head getting smashed around because there was no windshield. I’ve got double vision and I’m trying to remember if it was left or right after the tunnel at the chicane. And after all that, I was still slow.

“I realised on that lap that I was actually frightened. The steering column was shifting a bit; I was getting buffeted around; I couldn’t feel the car; I didn’t know the track. It was unbelievably dangerous.”

Moreno somehow managed to qualify for that race, but that was the highlight of the year for the beleaguered team.

It had no engines in Canada as Sassetti had defaulted on payments to supplier Judd, then missed the French GP after a lorry drivers’ strike prevented the team’s trucks from making it to the circuit.

McCarthy tried to summon an extra strength to pre-qualify at Silverstone, when the team put him out on wet tyres in dry conditions, his car taking to the grass at Copse at full speed, but to no avail.

A large part of the substandard treatment McCarthy was getting from his team stemmed from the fact that previous driver Enrico Bertaggia now wanted back in, and he had $1m in sponsorship to sweeten the deal.

Andrea Moda-Ford team principal Andrea Sassetti in the pits during practice for the 1992 Belgian Grand Prix in Spa-Francorchamps. Photo: Grand Prix Photo

Sassetti looks over McCarthy’s ill-fated S291 with driver in the background

Grand Prix Photo

Sassetti wanted to ditch McCarthy for the Italian, but FIA prevented this as the outfit had already reached its quota of four drivers per season, and so the Englishman became persona non grata within his own team.

“I went to Italy to visit the factory, and it all started coming out,” says McCarthy. “Sassetti was saying he didn’t want me, I’d cost him a million dollars. The whole trip was pointless.

“He was actually quite striking – good looking, leather jacket, wraparound sunglasses, but he was really ‘rebel without a clue.'”

Somehow, team relations did manage to deteriorate even further. When McCarthy was sent out for Hungary pre-qualifying without even having enough time to start a lap, he let rip.

“I came in and just let loose on the entire team,” he says. “I wanted to punch everybody.

“Moreno looks at me and says ‘I think you’ve just f***** yourself there mate.’ I said ‘That may well be, but I’m getting quite a bit of help here, aren’t I?”

From the archive

The Andrea Moda story hit perhaps its low point at the next round in qualifying at Spa-Francorchamps, and McCarthy said a dark cloud had fallen over himself and those who knew him by this point – his most harrowing moment was just around the corner.

“I was with the journalist Tony Dodgins, and he said to me “Perry, don’t get in the car, I’ve got a really bad feeling about this.

“I looked at him and went, ‘Me too, but I have no choice.’ The Brabham team hadn’t turned up, so there was no pre-qualifying. I had to get the car into the race, this was my best chance.

“I went as hard as I could on the first lap as I didn’t trust the car to last beyond a few laps, something might break.

“I came out of La Source and as I went to line it up for Eau Rouge, going extremely fast, and I just felt this stiffness. If it had been any other car I would have thought ‘Who cares?’ and dealt with it.

“But as I was heading straight for the barriers, the steering jammed and I hit the brakes – the best decision I’ve ever made.

“This all happened within half a second, but finally I took enough speed off the car, brushed the tyre barriers, and bounced back onto the track.

“I realised the steering rack was flexing. When I came back in and told the team, the answer was, ‘Oh we know. We tested it on Roberto’s car last week.’

“This was no longer motor racing. This was a complete realisation that they didn’t know what they’re doing.”

Perry McCarthy, Andrea Moda-Judd S921, Grand Prix of Belgium, Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, 30 August 1992. (Photo by Paul-Henri Cahier/Getty Images)

McCarthy on treacherous Spa run

Paul-Henri Cahier/Getty Images

As if the weekend hadn’t been eventful enough for the team up to this point, Sassetti was then arrested by the Belgian police on fraud charges, with Andrea Moda thrown out of the championship for bringing it into disrepute.

The squad turned up at Monza in the vain hope of competing in its home race, but was emphatically denied. The Andrea Moda farce was over.

Whilst his grand prix racing career ended in this sorry fashion, McCarthy tested for Benetton and Williams, before racing five times at Le Mans between ’96 and ’03. Two of these entries were with factory Audi squads, finally competing in the top seat which his talent merited.

For an Englishman that has to some degree made his name from this torrid F1 tenure, the infamous Andrea Moda tale is all part of the journey.

“My approach was always to take a half chance and open it up,” he says. “There were so many times when there was no testing for me, I would get seventh or something in a car which was run out of someone’s back garden – that’s a reputational win.

“I was able to make people in the paddock believe in me.”