Features - News Feature
SEPTEMBER 1, 1991
AGS in 1991
BY JOE SAWARD
Throughout the winter of 1990-91, AGS owner Cyril de Rouvre had been negotiating with Gerard Larrousse, finding it impossible to fund the team, following the withdrawal of 1990 sponsors fashion firm Ted Lapidus.
Team manager Henri Cochin, who opposed the merger with Larrousse, was working independently to try to find money but, by the time the new season began, AGS was barely functioning.
Thanks to Yannick Dalmas's ninth place finish in the 1990 Spanish Grand Prix, the team started the year as automatic qualifiers. Yannick, however, decided to join the new Peugeot Group C team after two tough years with AGS.
Gabriele Tarquini stayed on for a third season. Initially there was talk of the team having just one car but, as the season approached both Andrea de Cesaris and F3000 driver Antonio Tamburini tested at AGS's own private circuit at Le Luc. De Cesaris's Marlboro backing would have come in handy, but the Italian opted to join Jordan and, in a last minute deal, Swedish veteran Stefan Johansson was called in as Tarquini's team mate.
The lack of finance in the winter had, however, done irreparable damage. Technical director Michel Costa and his design staff were unable to build the planned JH26 -- although a model was built and wind-tunnel tested.
Instead Tarquini and Johansson had to make do with updated versions of the 1990 JH25 model. This featured new aerodynamics and a revised suspension front and rear. With no money for a multi-cylinder engine deal, AGS was forced to continue with Cosworth DFR V8 engines, tuned by Heini Mader.
In Phoenix the cars did not look good but Tarquini qualified 22nd on the grid. He finished a gritty eighth. It would be the team's best showing of the year. Johansson failed to qualify.
It was a similar story in Brazil with Johansson once more a spectator on Sunday, while Tarquini qualified but crashed out on the first lap.
The team was on its legs, however, and after Brazil, it collapsed. De Rouvre applied to the French courts to have the team placed under financial control -- similar to receivership. Team manager Cochin, hopelessly at odds with de Rouvre, was fired.
Shortly afterwards Italians Gabriele Rafanelli and Patricio Cantu contacted de Rouvre and bought the majority shareholding of the outfit.
Cantu was the owner of the Crypton F3000 team and he brought in Crypton personnel: Johansson was replaced by Italian Fabrizio Barbazza and technical director Michel Costa was replaced by Christian Vanderpleyn.
Talented young race engineer Peter Wyss, who had held the team together in the first two races, quit to become technical director of Modena Team. This resulted in the departure from Modena Team of designer Mario Tollentino, who was snapped up by AGS.
Initially it was decided to scrap Costa's JH26 project and concentrate on developing the old JH25. The decision was then taken to build a completely new JH27 chassis. Work began in May with the car not expected to be ready until the Italian GP at Monza in September.
Thus as Tollentino worked on the JH27, Vanderpleyn pushed ahead with the JH25. It was a hopeless task. At the San Marino GP neither Tarquini nor Barbazza qualified. At Monaco Tarquini made it into the race but retired early with gearbox failure. In Montreal and Mexico neither qualified.
The AGS team was officially relaunched in the days leading up to the French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours in early July. There was a bright new colour scheme and much optimism for the future
The JH25, which appeared in a B-version at Magny-Cours, had few changes from the original, and both Tarquini and Barbazza again failed to qualify. It was a similar story at Silverstone, with the two AGSs 1.5 seconds slower than the nearest cars in qualifying.
The British GP was the team's last chance and, for the second half of the season, AGS had to pre-qualify.
Tarquini surprised everyone by pre-qualifying in Germany but he failed to make the race.
The team was less successful in Hungary where neither driver pre-qualified, and it was a similar story in Belgium with Tarquini and Barbazza each having large accidents in pre-qualifying: Tarquini walking unscathed from a massive shunt when his front suspension broke over a bump at the Blanchimont corner.
Away from the tracks the new team management pushed ahead with a long-term recovery plan, filing a seven-year economic plan with the French authorities to rebuild. The team was released from financial control.
After a tremendous amount of work by the engineers and mechanics the first JH27 chassis appeared for pre-qualifying at Monza. The work had gone on non-stop for four days and three nights to finish the car, which followed the current trends of F1 design. There was heartbreak in the pit when Tarquini failed to return from his first lap out of the pits, his engine having cut out.
Once again neither driver failed to pre-qualify.
Soon afterwards merger with Larrousse began again. In Portugal Tarquini pre-qualified successfully but failed to make the grid. A week later he had quit the team, having received an offer to drive the Fondmetal.
A fine driver with a frustrating GP career with Osella, Coloni and AGS behind him, Gabriele took the lifeline at Fondmetal with the full agreement of AGS. He had served AGS well and, with the team's future looking increasingly rocky, his release was a vote of thanks from the team. In the right car Gabriele has the raw speed to make it.
Barbazza stayed on, but in Spain, where he was joined by Tarquini's Fondmetal predecessor Olivier Grouillard, it was a familiar story. Neither driver pre-qualified.
In Spain the team made the decision not to contest the final two races in Japan and Australia and thus gave up its hopes of competing independently in 1992.
With Larrousse already having Ukyo Katayama under contract for 1992 it is unlikely that Barbazza will find a drive there in 1992. It is difficult to assess the Italian. He is clearly fast and brave but his inexperience and the uncompetitiveness of the AGS has masked his ability.