NEWS FEATURE

Olivier Grouillard wows the F1 world in Mexico

Olivier Grouillard had an extraordinary weekend in Mexico City. He qualified 10th on the grid. It was the first time this year that the 32-year-old Toulousain has escaped from pre-qualifying.

The Fondmetal team rose out of the ashes of the ashes of the Osella team after a gradual takeover of the team dating back to 1989 when Gabriele Rumi, the owner of the Italian wheel-making company Fondmetal agreed to sponsor Enzo Osella's effort. In 1990 Rumi bought a shareholding in the team and at the end of last year he bought out Osella totally. His plan was to build a new - and successful - team. Rumi financed a new factory and a research and development centre in England. He recruited a completely new technical staff.

The problem was that with no results Fondmetal was stuck in pre-qualifying. To compound the problem, the takeover took place too late to built a completely new car.

Rumi hired Tino Belli and Tim Holloway to head his English research centre - named Fomet 1 - and produced an updated car. Shortly before the San Marino GP, he called in Richard Divila to organise the team's Italian factory and help with the engineering of Grouillard's car. Grouillard and Divila had enjoyed a good working relationship at Ligier and their work gradually saw the Fomet 1 move towards competitiveness in the rough-and-tumble world of pre-qualifying, where the two Dallaras and the two Jordans have ruled the roost this year.

'In the last five months we have done a lot of work,' explains Grouillard.

'Now we are getting the results of that work. When you work all the time you get results. It is not only the development of the car, it is the whole team. The organisation of the team, the relationships between the people and my performance is a result of this new system.'

Grouillard's success was an indication that perhaps the rules governing pre-qualifying should be looked at more closely.

'The car is very good,' he explains The team is very good. It is the regulations which are bad.

'This is not the same team as 12 months ago. It is completely different, a totally new team. We now have 16 people working in the team. Last year we had only four with Osella! That maybe explains why it is a new team.'

Grouillard arrived at Osella at the start of 1990 and has suffered much frustration since then. Mexico was the Toulouse driver's first race since Australia last year.

Now 32, Olivier finished runner-up to Roberto Moreno in the 1988 Formula 3000 series and earned a F1 chance with Ligier for 1989. He quickly showed up Rene Arnoux in the early races, scoring his first World Championship point with sixth place at the French GP. At the end of the year he was fired by Ligier and, with no other drive available, joined Osella.

'I remember when I was with Ligier I had good results for the first six races,' he says philosophically. 'After that the situation was bad. I don't know why...'

With that he laughs, as if to say that he knows very well what happened but does not wish to divulge the details.

'Even now I do not know what happened at Ligier. I don't know why I was fired. I still ask myself what the reality was. I think that a driver, if he is fast, must have people around him who have confidence in him. There must be a mutual respect between all the people who work in a team. That is what I did not have at Ligier.

'The last 18 months have been very difficult for me, but if you look at the other drivers during their careers, you see that they often have two or three difficult years and then,' and he lapses into French, '[sl10]apres la pluie, toujours le soleil[sl0] (After the rain, the sun is still there).

'I have had [sl10]beaucoup de pluie! Maintenant c'est le soleil [sl0].'

Although is English is improving, Olivier is still not comfortable in the language and talking to him is conducted in a curious mixture of the two languages. This difficulty in communicating with the majority of the paddock, has left Olivier with a reputation of being an aggressive - sometimes stubborn - driver. This came in part from complaints by Nigel Mansell in Australia last season.

'It is not a problem for me,' he says in French. 'It doesn't bother for me. I think it is wrong for someone to have a reputation based on one incident with one person. That's why I don't talk about it.'

You could tell, though, that Olivier felt his performance in qualifying in Mexico was an answer to his often vociferous critics.

'This performance is a pleasure for me,' he said on Saturday evening, pondering his 10th position on the grid. 'It is funny. I find it amusing. When I ran my first set of qualifiers on Friday, I did a 1m18.6. I had the best time of the session for almost 15 minutes. That was an amusing thing to do. It was funny, particularly when the two Benettons went out and could not beat me. It was a purely personal pleasure.

'When I went out for the second set of qualifiers, in my head I knew I was going to go even quicker.'

He did and the result was that he was eighth overnight. On Saturday he slipped back to 10th.

What did he hope for from race day?

'We do not have fixed objectives,' he smiled. 'Because often you are disappointed if you have objectives. We must take one step at a time and after each step you need to think about it. I want to get out of pre-qualifying. Our objective is to finish the race. To discover the reliability of our car. Now we do not know what we can do.'

As things turned out poor Olivier could not do much. After one aborted start, Olivier was lining up for the second getaway when he saw a yellow flag being waved to abort once again. He switched his engine off and raised his hand, leisurely, to indicate that the start was being aborted.

The officials decided that Grouillard had stalled his car, causing the start to be aborted. Certainly the pitlane flagmen were jumpy and several obersvers reportd that the yellow flags were waving before Olivier put his hand up.

The current rules, however, dictate that anyone who stalls and causes a delayed start must start from the back of the grid and so all Grouillard's efforts in qualifying came to nothing. He started from the back, charged briefly up through the backmarkers but retired with an oil leak after just 13 laps.

'It's not fair,' he said - in French.

He had a point...

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