Race fans in America hope Gene Haas’s Formula 1 team will prove a worthy competitor, but many people forget that another Haas F1 team operated for two seasons almost 30 years ago. This was Carl Haas’s Beatrice F1 team that featured cars designed by Neil Oatley, Ross Brawn and Adrian Newey, a new generation Ford/Cosworth turbo engine and former world champion Alan Jones and two-time Can-Am champ Patrick Tambay. The team raced in 1985 and ’86.
The key element in the creation and destruction of the team was Beatrice, a giant holding company that had acquired a wide range of businesses from food suppliers to rental car agencies. Carl Haas and Beatrice’s boss Jim Dutt reached an agreement for Beatrice to sponsor not only Newman/Haas Racing’s Indycar team but also an F1 team. It was a five-year contract for around $80 million per year, an unprecedented deal for Haas or American motor racing at the time.
Haas hired ex-McLaren men Teddy Mayer and Tyler Alexander to run the team and with Beatrice’s full support he established Team Haas USA to administrate the F1 team. Haas also created a company called FORCE (Formula One Race Car Engineering), based in Colnbrook near London’s Heathrow Airport, to build and race the cars. FORCE was run by Mayer, Alexander and Phil Kerr with Haas as chairman of the board.
The design staff for the Haas F1 car was led by Neil Oatley, who had come from Williams, and included John Baldwin from March and a young fellow named Ross Brawn who would go on to become one of F1’s most successful chief engineers with Benetton and then Ferrari before winning the 2009 title in his debut as a team owner. “We had some great people,” Haas says. “No question about it. In fact, we had a lot of good people.”
Haas’s F1 car was built by FORCE to the design team’s specifications and called a Lola THL1. Meanwhile, Jim Dutt was friendly with the top people at Ford and he convinced Ford to bankroll a new turbocharged V6 F1 engine to be designed and built by Cosworth and raced exclusively by Haas’s new team.
However, it took a year before the new engine was ready to race and for the 1985 season Haas turned to independent engine builder Brian Hart who had vast experience with F2 cars and engines. Hart produced a screaming little turbocharged four-cylinder based on a stretched F2 unit, but it was no match for the Renault and Ferrari V6 turbos of the time.
The new team ran only four races in 1985 with a single car for Alan Jones, who had won the Can-Am championship for Haas in 1978 and the world championship with Frank Williams’ team in 1980. Jones had retired after the 1981 season but was lured back by Haas. When he arrived in Europe however, Jones was disappointed to discover the stopgap Hart engine was not only underpowered but unreliable, too. He failed to finish all three races he started in 1985.
“I wasn’t impressed with the engines at all,” Jones declares. “We started with an interim Hart engine which I used to call a hand grenade because it was never a matter of, ‘Will it blow up?’ It was, ‘When will it blow?’ It was basically a two-litre F2 engine that had been stretched out to do an F1 job and it was just too highly strung.”
A second Beatrice F1 car was run in 1986 for Patrick Tambay, Can-Am champion with Haas’s team in 1977 and ‘80. Tambay had driven for Theodore and Ligier in F1 in 1981, then Ferrari in 1982 and ‘83 and Renault in 1984 and ‘85. Tambay believes the Beatrice team had all the elements to succeed.
“I think it was an excellent chassis,” Tambay says. “We had the Hart engine to start with, which was a little bit underpowered compared to the experienced F1 turbocharged opposition. Then we had the Ford engine that was making its maiden arrival in F1. We had a three-year program with Beatrice and it would have taken all that to make sure the operation was right.
“As we know from experience, it takes a lot longer than that to create a Formula 1 team that is up to speed. With a brand new turbocharged engine and new technology it was a very steep learning curve to achieve, but the operation was outstanding.
“Everything was in place. We had the facilities and expertise with Teddy Mayer and all the guys he had around him. Carl, Teddy Mayer and Tyler Alexander put together a great lineup. We had Neil Oatley, Ross Brawn and Adrian Newey among the engineers. My God! It was dream team.”
Jones didn’t share Tambay’s optimism. “There was always the promise of that wonderful new Ford engine that was coming,” Jones remarks. “It was a beautifully-built little engine, like a piece of clockwork. But it was just gutless. It didn’t do the job.”
Tyler Alexander believes the required effort never went into the Ford turbo primarily because Cosworth founder Keith Duckworth had long been a vocal opponent of turbocharging and had no enthusiasm for the project.
“The engine came very late, much later than it should have been and was promised,” Alexander says. “There were some things going on at Cosworth that in my view weren’t particularly kosher. There was a feeling at the time that Duckworth hated turbo engines. He made it pretty public and I think because of that he wasn’t pushing it.
“Cosworth designed and put this engine together, but I think if Duckworth was really behind it he would have got it done. The Ford thing was disappointing and the people were disappointing.”
The team’s best race was the Austrian GP at the Ӧsterreichring in August where Jones and Tambay finished fourth and fifth, two laps behind winner Alain Prost’s McLaren-TAG. Jones also earned points at the Italian GP where he finished sixth, two laps behind winner Nelson Piquet’s Williams-Honda.
Haas planned to escalate his F1 team to a new level in 1987. He hired a talented young engineer named Adrian Newey to design a new car. Newey started work designing a new Beatrice F1 car for ’87 but everything changed when Beatrice was taken over by Kohlberg-Kravis-Roberts in one of the first leveraged buyouts. At the same time Ford decided it wanted to pull out of Haas’s team and move to the new Benetton operation. Suddenly, the Beatrice-Ford marriage came to an end.
Design work on Newey’s new car was seriously underway when the team learned it no longer existed. “The car was starting to advance through its design stages and the crew had left for the season’s last race,” Newey recalls. “It was announced on the Sunday of that race weekend that the plug was being pulled. Ford decided they wanted to go with Benetton rather than stay with Carl and the Beatrice sponsorship was disappearing. So it all fell apart.”
A sad postscript to the Beatrice episode came many years later. Following the trauma of the Beatrice takeover Jim Dutt struggled with increasingly failing health and ultimately committed suicide.
Meanwhile the unhappy situation resulted in a very profitable flipside for Haas because he was able to work out handsome settlements with both Beatrice and Ford. The settlements helped pay for a brand new 32,000 square foot building Haas purchased in an industrial park in Lincolnshire, Illinois, barely 15 minutes west of his home in Highland Park and just 20 minutes north of Chicago’s O’Hare Airport.
For the next 20 years Newman/Haas Racing operated out of Lincolnshire, concentrating on Haas’s first love, Indycar racing. The team went on to win 107 CART or Champ Car races and eight championships before Paul Newman’s death in 2008 and Haas’s recent ill health resulted in the team’s demise three years ago.