Atlas F1

Stewart Racing: Powered by pride

by Toby Waller, England

It's been a difficult and demanding 12 months for the Stewart clan. But after a year surrounded by hype, rumour and gossip, the team finally - and emotionally - unveiled the car that will return the Stewart name to the Grand Prix grid.

It was typical of Jackie Stewart to be first out of the blocks unveiling his 1997 challenger: in eight years of competitive driving in Formula One, he finished first across the line no less than 27 times - a record that still stands as the fourth best of all time. In fact, the Stewart name has something of a pedigree of speed, as son Paul has built up the team that will carry the family name. With championships in Formula Vauxhall and Formula 3, as well as moderate success in Formula 3000, the team already has something of a reputation of its own to uphold on the track.

Optimism surrounded the car's launch on December 10th, because what the team have done is unprecedented in F1's recent history. Although Paul Stewart had been considering taking his F3000 team into F1 for some time, it took the trump card of Ford works engine backing to make it a truly viable option. With Ford beginning to re-evaluate their attitude to F1 after losing the Benetton contract at the end of 1994, a well timed chat with Jackie Stewart meant that the car manufacturer began to seriously consider starting their relationship with a team from scratch.

In fact, Jackie Stewart's sales pitch was so good that Ford agreed to supply Stewart with an exclusive works engine contract for five years, along with a reputed $20m of financial support. This enabled Paul Stewart and companions to get started on the car, but with the top teams all spending at least $40m a year on their campaigns, more money would still be needed to top up the coffers.

After spending probably the entire year with his ear permanently attached to the phone, Jackie Stewart can be proud of the portfolio of sponsors he has built up for the team. Sanyo, Fly Malaysia and HSBC logos intermingle with the specially commissioned 'Racing Stewart' tartan on the formidable looking machine. Power by Ford; fuel by Texaco Halvoline; tyres from Bridgestone - all companies with strong reputations in world motor sport, now looking for success in F1. But where Pacific, Simtek and Forti have fallen by the wayside, what separates Stewart's package from the rest?

The car, designed by ex-Arrows designer Alan Jenkins (a man with a reputation for creating neat workable chassis' on a limited budget), is a combination of the old and new - no prior knowledge from an existing car meant that reliability took precedence over innovation. As Ferrari found out last year: innovation invariably means unreliability.

The Ford engine received some justifiable criticism in 1996. Sometimes as much as 100bhp down on the opposition, it meant that Sauber were left struggling. But after a year of learning the properties of their V10, Ford are going into 1997 with a renewed attitude and optimism.

In a package of fairly well known factors, the Bridgestone tyres have had the biggest question mark over them. But, as Alan Jenkins observes, the tyres have transformed the handling properties of his last car - the Arrows FA17 - and look set to give Goodyear a shock wake-up call at several races next year.

But whatever the package, you still need two competent men at the wheel - Stewart have such a combination. Both have several years of experience at the top level of motor sport, but both are also still thought of as young chargers and come with the speed, commitment and stamina associated with the next generation of potential champions.

After four years of staring tantalizingly at the front of the grid from the cockpit of his Jordan, Rubens Barrichello is keen to begin a new partnership with a team which, he feels, has the grit and capability required to be the very best. Although the Brazilian is, in some ways, still suffering from the repercussions of Ayrton Senna's death at Imola in 1994, we should never forget the performance that nearly put him on the podium of a rain soaked Donnington in his freshman year.

Jan Magnussen, on the other hand, has only ever competed in one F1 race - Aida, 1995. After a stunningly dominant F3 championship in 1994, Magnussen has spent the last couple of years hopping from his McLaren test drives, along to the Mercedes ITC team and, finally, over the pond to race in a clutch of Indycar races. He's happy to be renewing his relationship with the team that provided him with that F3 championship; so happy, in fact, that he's apparently been encouraged to give up smoking and the occasional McDonalds in order to further tone that aggressive edge.

So they've got the budget, the tyres, the engines, the cars and the drivers. Will they get results? Stewart got one thing right by being first out of the box. They got another thing right at their first test. On a rain soaked track at Jerez, the team ended their first day of serious testing at the top of the time sheets. Part of that can be possibly be attributed to the tyres; part can be credited to the drivers. But you can't deny that the opposition all had their cars out on the track at the same time.

The team feel confident that the middle of the grid in qualifying, and 15 points by the end of the year is a realistic target: but in the tough world of F1, everyone secretly looks to the top step of the podium as the ultimate goal. Ask Pacific, Simtek and Forti: they'll tell you that pride comes before a fall. And from the heady heights of triple-world championship success, Jackie Stewart has the largest height to fall from.

Toby Waller
Send comments to: