NEWS FEATURE

The Fondmetal F1 team

After 11 seasons in Formula 1 with few results, the old Osella team was taken over at the end of last year by Italian industrialist Gabriele Rumi of the Fondmetal wheel manufacturing company, which had previously sponsored the team. Team founder Enzo Osella and Osella designer Antonio Tommaini both left the outfit and the race team was relocated in new workshops at Palosco near Bergamo in northern Italy. Rumi, it seemed was serious.

Conscious of the need to completely restructure the operation, he established a separate design and composite department -- Fomet 1 -- at Bicester in England, accepting that the skills available in England were considerably more advanced than in Italy.

Fomet 1 is headed by Tino Belli who, at 30, is one of F1's youngest chief engineers and comes to Grand Prix racing with experience as March Engineering's chief development engineer of the Porsche Indycar programme.

The operation is staffed by refugees from both the March and Leyton House Racing F1 teams.

The ambitious Rumi, however, was forced to accept that 1991 would have to be an interim season. Unable to find an engine deal, the team was forced to rely on Brian Hart-tuned Cosworth V8 engines and, with very little available time between the takeover of the team and the start of the 1991 season, it was also decided to modify the old Osella chassis rather than build a completely new car. Even this was delayed and the team had to start the season with an old Osella FA1Me chassis.

One positive change was the switch from Pirelli to Goodyear tyres while there was some continuity on the driver front with Olivier Grouillard staying on for a second season.

Unfortunately, the team had to pre-qualify and, up against Jordan, Lamborghini and BMS Dallara, the first half of the year was a struggle.

Initially Grouillard's car was overseen this year by Italian F3 engineer Mario Crugnola, but the relationship was short-lived and, after two failures to pre-qualify in Phoenix and Brazil, Crugnola left the team.

The first Fomet 1 chassis ran in testing at Imola and, at the same time, the technical team was strengthened considerably with the arrival of Brazilian engineer Richard Divila, who had worked with Grouillard at Ligier in 1989.

Divila set about restructuring the entire Fondmetal factory while also working from race to race to improve the Fomet 1. The Divila-Grouillard partnership clearly worked well and the team edged forwards with each race.

Finally in Mexico, Grouillard was successful in pre-qualifying. More than that, however, he went on to rock the establishment as he took an incredible 10th on the grid. A mix-up meant he had to start from the back of the grid and he retired early in the race with an oil leak. It was a missed opportunity.

At the French GP Olivier easily escaped pre-qualifying once again, but once more failed to finish, while at Silverstone he missed pre-qualifying by a fraction because the team made a mistake over tyre pressures.

The changeover of pre-qualifying teams after Silverstone offered new hope for Fondmetal with Jordan, Dallara and Modena team all moving up to be automatic qualifiers, easing the level of competition in the pre-qualifying session.

It was a big surprise, therefore, when Grouillard failed to pre-qualify at Hockenheim. In Hungary Olivier made it through pre-qualifying but failed to make the race after numerous engine troubles and a couple of collisions.

The team was now desperate for a new Fomet 1 chassis as the original was suffering delamination problems. The new car arrived at Spa, by which time Rumi and Divila had fallen out and the Brazilian left the team, his place as race engineer being taken by Holloway.

The new chassis was a big step forward and Grouillard was delighted, he qualified 23rd and ran a strong race to finish 10th, the team's first finish of the year.

It was an optimistic Fondmetal team which headed from Spa to the Monza test, but it was to be a disaster. A brake problem caused Grouillard to spin at the first chicane and the new car was launched high into the air over a kerb and crashed to earth heavily. The monocoque was destroyed.

As a result of this Grouillard was back in his old chassis at Monza and, despite a string of engine problems, qualified 26th. In the race he ran steadily to 12th position, but his engine blew just seven laps from the finish.

Portugal was a disappointment with geabox trouble meaning another non-pre-qualification and in the week that followed Rumi, unexpectedly, fired Olivier and replaced him with Italian Gabriele Tarquini. Grouillard was balmed for not producing sufficient results.

For Olivier it was small reward for two seasons of hard work with the team and he had a right to feel aggrieved at his treatment.

The Frenchman is a gritty fighter and a much-respected test driver. His performance in Mexico underlined that he has what it takes if he is given the right opportunities, but he has yet to shake off his reputation of blocking cars when being lapped.

In Barcelona Tarquini did a good job, as one would expect, qualifying 22nd and finishing 12th.

By this stage Rumi was already working hard to put together an engine deal for 1992. His intention is to expand the operation to two cars and, in the course of the year, the team gave Brazilian F3000 driver Marco Greco a brief testing run at Monza.

There is still a long way to go for the team, but it has now cast off the old Osella image and is gradually moving forwards. The Fomet 1 operation is running efficiently and with more time available is certain to produce a more competitive car for next year, Belli and his draughtsmen having the opportunity to build a completely new car, rather than having to rely on modifying old moulds, as happened this season.

The effectiveness of the Italian-based race team, however, remains in question. Divila's restructing work was not completed before he left and further attention is needed if the outfit is to become a consistent challenger.

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