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Jaguar Sees Light At End Of F1 Tunnel

by Larry Roberts

June 4, 2001

After a grand beginning that would have done justice to the public relations ballyhoo that precedes the opening of a star-studded but mediocre Hollywood movie, it looks like the Jaguar Formula One team may finally be getting with the program.

On May 27, lead team driver Eddie Irvine achieved a best-ever third place in the world-famous Grand Prix of Monaco behind the Ferraris of Michael Schumacher and Ruben Barrichello. Most observers attribute the improved performance of the Jaguars to an updated aerodynamics "package" that has just recently been installed on the team cars. A new undertray and wind defuser are claimed to be the primary factors.

"I have never seen an increase in downforce like this in my time in F1," said Irvine. "We think the gain is worth about half a second (per lap. Ed.) which is a figure you wouldn't even gain between one season and the next.

But Irvine and the rest of the crew aren't overly optimistic this time. "Monaco is a strange circuit and you can be quick here but nowhere else." he added.

The race at Monaco is, indeed, "strange," running through the streets of the principality, past the palace and around tight 40 MPH switchbacks finally running through a long sweeping tunnel and along a raised highway that borders the harbor. This is probably the most "strange" part of the course in that cars that go off the circuit here can and have gone straight into the water.

And for the first time, team members have laid some of the blame for some of its problems at the door of the venerable Jackie Stewart. The 70-year old former Formula One champion started the shoe-string team some years ago as Team Stewart and was finally bought out by Jaguar via its ownership by the Ford megalith.

"The problem is that we've still got hangovers from the Stewart days," says Irvine, "and the decisions that were made then are still playing havoc today."

But the fact is that the team has gone through a great number of corporate executives and "creative" public relations minions who "sold" the glamour of the team before the cars and drivers were able to deliver on the track.

This was painfully driven home in 2000 when the company endeavored to capitalize on the Jaguar participation in the U.S. Grand Prix at the revised, clockwise road circuit at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year. The Jaguar eighth-place finish did little to promote sales of Jaguar passenger cars in this country.

But Jaguar Racing boss, American Bobby Rahal is more pragmatic about the situation. "Now we've got to use this and work hard to increase the (world championship. Ed.) points for the rest of the season," he said.

Hopefully, he'll employ more experienced technical staff members to replace the current crop of drum beaters.