MPH: The technical battles raging on behind-the-scenes in Formula 1
Amid the flurry of nine grands prix in 11 weekends, there have been a few developments in the regulations and as we catch a rare pause for breath before next…
My old friend Matt and I were returning home from White Hart Lane, where we had witnessed a rather lacklustre defeat of Portsmouth by Tottenham Hotspur, when we got to talking about the confusing and chequered history of Grand Prix teams.
As we threaded our way between the potholes, we began to consider the grid for the Australian Grand Prix. Starting with the front row, we realised that Red Bull Racing is just one of many teams that have been born out of a widespread metamorphosis that has swept the paddock in the last 30 years.
For those of you who, like us, do not have encyclopaedic memories here’s a brief synopsis of how some of our contemporary Formula 1 teams have come to be in existence. It is a remarkable tapestry of wheeling and dealing.
Red Bull Racing began life as Stewart Grand Prix when canny former World Champion Jackie and his son Paul persuaded Ford to help them take their highly successful Paul Stewart Racing team to the highest level. After three seasons the Stewarts sold their team to Ford, which rebranded it as Jaguar Racing. Then, in 2004, the team was sold on again, this time to Red Bull magnate Dietrich Mateschitz.
Staying with Red Bull, the team we know today as Toro Rosso was founded by Giancarlo Minardi. Despite various cash injections from Italian supporters like Scuderia Italia and Fondmetal, the plucky Minardi team eventually went under and was bought by Australian entrepreneur Paul Stoddart. Renamed European Minardi, it struggled on until it too was sold to Red Bull, which branded its second team as Toro Rosso.
Moving on we come to Force India, a team that began life as Jordan Grand Prix back in 1991. Eddie kept it going through thick and thin until 2005 when he sold out to a Russian consortium known, strangely, as Midland. By the time of its first race the team had become, even more strangely, MF1 Racing. It wasn’t a huge success and was then sold to Dutch car manufacturer Spyker, which simply called it Spyker F1. It too ran out of road and was bought by Indian billionaire Vijay Mallya who, quite logically, called the team Force India. At last the old Jordan outfit was back in competitive hands.
Had you remembered that the new Mercedes team began life as Tyrrell? No, I thought not. In 1997 Ken Tyrrell sold his squad to the British American Tobacco company, and by 1999 the much-loved team was racing under the bland title of BAR, or British American Racing. Despite huge resources, BAR never lived up to its promise, and in 2005 it was sold to the Honda Motor Company, which poured in yet more cash while Honda F1 continued to struggle. Next, in a unique piece of F1 history, technical director Ross Brawn bought the team for £1 in a panic sale by Honda at the end of 2008. Renamed Brawn GP, unprecedented success came its way, so much so that at the end of the year Mercedes-Benz bought the team from Brawn and brought the Silver Arrows back to the paddock.
What about Renault? The French team started life as Toleman, coming into F1 on the back of success in F2. There was huge potential here but never enough resources. In 1985 the Italian clothing company Benetton became a major sponsor, buying the team outright in ’86 and racing as Benetton Formula. Then, in 2000, it in turn sold out to Renault, which returned to F1 as a fully-fledged manufacturer team.
Finally, Arrows and Prost, the ones that did not survive. Arrows, born out of an exodus from Shadow in 1977, is one of the enigmas of racing history. In 1991 it was taken over by the Japanese company Footwork and the cars became known, horribly, as Footworks. Five years later Tom Walkinshaw took a stake, but Arrows finally folded in 2002 after 382 races without a win. Prost GP is another sad story. This was the old Ligier team, taken over by Flavio Briatore and then sold on to Prost in 1997. By 2002 it was all over, and the former World Champion walked away from F1. A consortium known as Phoenix Finance tried to resurrect the team, but the phoenix never rose from the ashes, its entry rejected by the FIA with whom Prost had always had a turbulent relationship. Now, of course, Prost is back – as an FIA steward.
Funny old game, Grand Prix racing.
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