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A Letter From Europe: Formula One Launches

5 February 1998

Andrew Frankl
European Bureau Chief

Now that the two pigs have been found and saved from becoming bacon, things are beginning to return to normal here in Britain.

On the racing front, just about all the new cars have been launched, with the exception of McLaren, who are waiting until the very last minute to make it more difficult for other teams to steal their ideas. Understandable in a way, because with Adrian Newey-formerly of Williams- on board the chances are that the new car will be sensational therefore they want to give as little time as possible to the other teams for copying the revolutionary bits.

The Jordan launch was a bit of a farce. The sponsors-Benson & Hedges were about as subtle as a Sherman tank-their logo was on board above the drivers' heads 33 times! Poor Damon Hill most definitely did not enjoy being a yellow cigarette bill-board but for 6 million dollars-and fourth child on the way I suppose he had to grin and bear it. Both he and team-mate Ralf Schumacher made mildly amusing comments about Big Brother (one Michael Schumacher), but all in all it was it was a pretty dismal affair with much too much emphasis on B&H and not enough on the car. A pity really because a day later Hill did some fast laps at Barcelona and pronounced the car very good indeed.

Benetton did a rather quick double-shuffle at the last minute,the newspapers were still saying that they would race on Goodyears on the morning of the launch. The covers came off and the tyres were- Bridgestone! Ooops.

Tyrrell did have a rather classy launch and lunch in one of London's most fashionable restaurants, the newly opened Bluebird on King's Road. They had three of their previous cars outside,including the one in which Jackie Stewart became world champion all those years ago.They also had on display the famous 6 wheeler which got banned fairly soon but was great whilst it lasted. All very nice, lots of champagne,smoked salmon, nice new car called the Tyrrell 026 but only one driver!

To satisfy the sponsors a Japanese driver. Of course.With a really simple, memorable name: Toranosuke Tagaki! Every commentator's dream. Anyway, the poor chap can't help it, it isn't his fault that we are not all fluent Japanese speakers. For the record he is 24 years old and has had some success in Japanese Formula 3000. His chances of success in 1998: NIL. Still, at least he is Formula One. As for his partner- who knows!? In all the years I have been covering Formula One this is the first time I can recall when the team's second driver was not present. The truth is that they did not have one! Or, to put it another way-they did not have one with enough money. The search was still on whilst the launch was in progress. Amazing!

Anyway,this is Tyrrell's last year. After 30 years Ken Tyrrell agreed to sell for slightly more than a fistfull of dollars to British American Tobacco. Next year the team will race under the BAR-British American Racing banner which is an excuse for selling lots of 555 cigarettes all over the world. They are very clever, that is for sure. Buying an existing team means instant priviledges such as free travel courtesy of Air Bernie and also a cut of the TV proceeds. The man at the helm is none other than Scottish born Craig Pollock who made Jacques Villeneuve into a superstar. As Managing Director of BAR he will be moving the operation from Surrey to near Oxford, motor racing's Silicone Valley. Next year's team may or may or may not include the current world champion but I am prepared to put money on the fact that Toranosuke Tagaki will not be driving for the team unless "marketing reasons" dictate it.

On the car test front I have had a chance to try something called the Ssangyong Korando. Please..apart from the fact that nobody but nobody could pronouce it I am not even sure that it was worth trying! Yes,it did have four wheels and it did go and it did stop. Which is about as much as one can say in its favour. Apparently-and you will find this hard to believe- Korando stands for KOREA CAN DO! At the time of writing ladies of all ages are handing in their wedding rings to save the nation so the word Korando seems just a bit out of place, at least for the moment. I wish them the best of luck but if and when they survive the economic chaos they will have to build better cars than the one I have been driving that's for sure.

It does have a somewhat gutless 2.3 litre petrol engine or if you want to be even slower you can have a 2.9 litre diesel. They claim a top speed of 103 miles per hour for the petrol version, I certainly would not like to be in it when it happens. Let's leave the mechanicals aside. Would you, would anyone want to drive a car the name of which they cannot even pronounce? This reminds me of the bad old Datsun days when they called their cars things like Cherry. The staggering thing is that these company spends thousands on so-called experts advising them and yet they still get it wrong time after time. Ssangyong apparently call one of their cars Musso which, if my Italian is correct is not a very nice word at all. Rolls were going to call a car Silver Mist which-I am told- is rude in German. There was a car called Cedric. I think it was either Datsun or a Toyota. Honestly..

Anyway, the good news over here is that the BMW owned Rover group's new Freelander-known for some reason in the trade as Freeloader is such as success that the company is recruiting 400 extra workers to increase production. It competes in the RV4 segment and may yet go in sale in America.

On a lighter note you should know that the English have funny way with names. If you are tall you will most likely be called shorty and the other way round. It is the same with money. Since Bernie Ecclestone gave 1 million pounds-approx 1.6 million dollars to the Labour Party one million pounds has now entered the English language as a Bernie!

As for the two pigs.. well, they are both well and in the care of a national newspaper. For the moment they are still called Butch and Sundance but the way things are going they might even end up being called Benson & Hedges...