Formula One: Jaguar takes over from Stewart for 2000
14 September 1999Andrew Frankl Euro B.C.
The year's worst kept secret became official this morning (Tuesday, September 14) on the Press Day of the Frankfurt Auto Show in Germany. Earlier this year Ford Motor Company-Jaguar's owners- paid in the region of 75 million dollars for Jackie Stewart's Formula One team. At that time it looked as though the reason was simply to shake up the team, to improve the hitherto modest results. Well, that was certainly part of the reason but the grand plan was something far more exciting. Boss man Jacques Nasser had a dream.
He wanted to take on his rivals from the marketplace and beat them on the track. Mercedes have been cashing in on their success, BMW are about to enter the fray with Williams , Ferrari are synonymous with Grand Prix racing so Jacques thought it was time to take them on. Head on.
Trust me, even in a huge corporation such as Ford if the big boss really wants something it will happen.
"Look at all those Ferrari flags" he said to a colleague of mine at the German Grand Prix, "the whole grand stand is like a red forest. I wish it could be green."
Well, it might take a while but he might just have his wish. Jaguar have been hugely successful at the legendary 24 hour Le Mans race and over the years there were scenes where the grand stands were green with lots and lots of Jaguar flags flying.
He is also very lucky by the way that no other team races in green at present. Lucky because TV coverage is everything and right now the blue Benettons and the slightly darker blue Prosts are pretty difficult to distinguish from each other and sponsors who pay millions of dollars for their products to be seen do not like that one little bit!
So lucky Jacques will have the distinctive and distinguished British Racing Green all to himself on the grid. In this decision he also had a very powerful ally in the shape of new boy Wolfgang Reitzle. WR is a recent refugee from BMW where he desperately wanted the top job but got the boot instead during an exceptionally fraught board meeting some months ago.
He is a brilliant engineer and Nasser grabbed him just as soon as he heard the news. WR is in a very powerful position, from his posh London offices in London's Mayfair he is in charge of Lincoln-Mercury, Volvo, Aston Martin and Jaguar as well. Nothing but nothing would give him more satisfaction than to stuff his old company both in the showrooms and on the race track. No wonder he was delighted with the idea of a Jaguar Grand Prix team.
The company paid an awful lot of money to Eddie Irvine-currently joint leader of the Championship with Mika Hakkinen-to become undisputed No 1 whilst current Stewart team member Johnny Herbert will stay on as No 2 although I cannot help feeling that his appointment is likely to be temporary. He is quite the nicest, most likeable man in Formula One but much to his- and everybody else's regret-not the fastest. Consequently don't be too surprised to see some young hot-shot take his place half-way through the season.
Their chances? Well, the pay-off in terms of media coverage has already started with every TV station, newspaper and specialist publication carrying pictures of this very exciting event and as far as current sponsors-HSBC are concerned- Christmas came a little early this year!
As far as the race track is concerned, well, that is a different matter. In spite of ridiculous mistakes (Austria, Spa, Monza) by their drivers on a good day McLaren are still the team to beat when it comes to sheer speed.
Whether Michael Schumacher will be the same after his Silverstone accident remains to be seen, should new team-mate Barrichello prove to be quicker there will be problems from Day One, especially as the Brazilian sees himself not so much as No 2 but as 1/B!
Irvine has three Grand Prix victories under his belt whilst Herbert has two so they are both over that awful hurdle of the first, elusive victory. The Stewart is already one of the fastest cars on the track and with a little bit of fine tuning and engine reliability Jaguar could be a championship contender on Day One.
That day, in March 2000 is not that far away but Nasser s real dream is to win at the first Grand Prix to be held at Indy in September 2000. With a fine driver in Irvine and billions of dollars in the bank his chances must be at least 50-50.
In any case good luck Eddie and Johnny, good luck Jaguar and may the best team win