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Pacific closing down...

WITHIN hours Pacific Grand Prix is expected to announce that it will not be competing in the 1996 Formula 1 World Championship.

The team - which as Pacific Racing enjoyed enormous success in the junior formulae with drivers such as Bertrand Gachot, JJ Lehto, Eddie Irvine, Christian Fittipaldi and David Coulthard - has never had enough sponsorship to do the job properly in F1 and has become trapped in a downward spiral where a lack of results means it is impossible to find money to improve. The team has decided to give up before it runs up vast debts.

Pacific Grand Prix was established in September 1992 by Keith Wiggins, managing-director of Pacific Racing, which had won the F3000 title in 1991 with Christian Fittipaldi. He announced Pacific's intention to enter F1 in 1993 but no deal could be put together in time, so Pacific stayed in F3000, running David Coulthard and Michael Bartels. In October that year, however, Wiggins announced that he was definitely entering F1 in 1994 with a Reynard-designed PR01 chassis and Ilmor V10 engines, prepared by Heini Mader. The car ran for the first time at the end of February but was not competitive. The team, however, planned to announce a sponsorship deal with Death cigarettes at San Marino in May. This deal was called off after Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna were killed at Imola. Instead, the management of Death cigarettes found an alternative deal for the team with Ursus Vodka. In July, the team abandoned development of the PR01 with the intention of concentrating on the design of the PR02 for 1995. Money remained short and Wiggins eventually released some of his shareholding to driver Bertrand Gachot and Japanese businessman Ko Gotoh. The design of the PR02 was compromised by a lack of finance and was not much more competitive than its predecessor. The partners were unable to find sponsorship and had to resort to hiring pay-drivers Gianni Lavaggi and Jean-Denis Deletraz. With no money for 1996, no competitive engine deal and the new 107% qualifying rule there seems to be little point in continuing.

Pacific Racing - a separate company - is expected to continue in another formula. Wiggins has had discussions about running in Indycar racing, the British Touring Car Championship and GT racing. He is expected to rebuild the operation and then take a look at returning to F1 in the longer term when the financial situation in F1 is less severe.

Gachot is expected to turn his attention to Indycar racing.

The withdrawal of Pacific - while not surprising - is further evidence that even the best teams at other levels of the sport cannot break into F1, which is designed for those who are already involved. The F1 team bosses, naturally, are not worried about this, pointing out with a certain amount of smugness that F1 is a world where only the best can survive.

This is not strictly true. Several of the current F1 teams survive only because they have the backing and infrastructure which enables them to react when they build bad cars. This ability to survive the bad times means that they can generally benefit from the prize and travel funds which reward good performance.

The investment and time needed to build up such infrastructure is enormous without the backing of major companies. Only two new teams have survived in the last 10 years: Sauber and Jordan. The Swiss enjoyed enormous backing from Mercedes-Benz, which enabled them to build a state-of-the art F1 factory, while Jordan was fortunate that a brilliant chassis from Gary Anderson enabled the team to find Sasol money for its second season. The team is still very small in comparison to the opposition and needs to invest heavily to ensure its survival in case it produces a really bad car.

All the other existing teams date back to the early 1980s, before the arrival of the major manufacturers in F1. They were able to take advantage of the money which poured into F1 during the turbo era, and the economic boom in the mid-1980s.

Pacific will be the 17th team to shut down since the worldwide recession began in 1989, following in the footsteps of Andrea Moda Formula, AGS, Brabham, Coloni, EuroBrun, Fondmetal, Larrousse, Life Racing Engines, Lotus, March, Modena Team, Onyx, Rial, Scuderia Italia, Simtek and Zakspeed. And several of these teams went through various incarnations before closing down, notably Fondmetal (Osella), March (Leyton House) and Onyx (Monteverdi).

In addition, a sizable number of F1 projects have had to be abandoned before they ever got off the ground: notably Bravo, Reynard, Lola, Ikuzawa, First Racing, Dhainault, Konrad and Trebron.

F1's closed shop is such that even successful F3000 teams such as DAMS and Paul Stewart racing balk at trying to break into Grand Prix racing.

The major lesson which teams with F1 ambitions need to learn is that the most effective way of breaking into F1 is to buy an existing team. This is how Ron Dennis's Project 4 (McLaren), the Benetton Family (Toleman) and TWR (Ligier) have managed to establish themselves in Grand Prix racing.

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