Features - News Feature
MARCH 1, 1991
Enzo Coloni's F1 adventures
BY JOE SAWARD
After the 1990 debacle with Subaru and Bertrand Gachot, Coloni regrouped over the winter. Enzo talked of running a two-car operation in 1991, but only one car appeared in Phoenix -- for British Formula 3000 Champion Pedro Chaves.
The Portuguese driver had no F1 experience, but brought vital finance from a number of Portuguese companies and an optimism born of enthusiasm.
Pedro would be disillusioned as the year progressed. To his great credit, he did not give up until the last European race in September. He showed considerable bravery in trying to deal with a difficult car. But you can only be so brave and Pedro's armoury was weak in terms of experience. He was juggling to learn about F1 technology, brakes, qualifying tyres, set-ups and the tracks -- all at the same time.
Had he had some testing between the races things might have been easier, but the team did none and there was precious little in the way of technical development in the course of the year.
The only running that Chaves did, therefore, was in the pre-qualifying sessions -- for one hour at each Grand Prix, if his car lasted that long without breaking down. Pedro guessed at his settings and, sometimes, he was right. It made no difference. His car was still not quick enough to beat the opposition in pre-qualifying.
Because of the team's total lack of success in the last three years, no engine company was interested in involving itself with Coloni and with no money to buy a more exotic power unit, Coloni to rely, once again, on Cosworth DFR V8 engines.
The lack of success also meant that it is increasingly hard for Coloni to attract the right kind of technical staff. This year's C4 chassis was not credited to any one designer, having been put together at the University of Perugia. At the races, Coloni himself acted as race engineer and, as a former driver, had strong opinions which Chaves was not always in agreement with.
The frustrating season began with a scramble to get the new car ready for the United States GP. It ran for only a handful of laps at Magione in Italy before being freighted out to Phoenix, where it was completely outpaced in pre-qualifying by the Jordan-Fords, Dallara-Judds, Lamborghinis and the Fondmetal.
The remainder of the year followed a similar pattern with Chaves never looking likely to pre-qualify.
There was a switch to Brian Hart-tuned DFRs in the mid-season and at Magny-Cours the car was closer to the pace than usual, but ti was not close enough.
With the pre-qualifying teams changing after the British Grand Prix Chaves hoped that the level of competition in pre-qualifying would be less intense in the second half of the season, giving him more chance to get through. The opposition, however, was still strong, with the two Yamaha-engined Brabhams and the better-funded Footwork team meaning that Chaves's job remained as difficult as before. Things were not be helped by the arrival of the AGS JH27 which strengthened the French team after Monza.
While the other teams improved their performances, however, Coloni remained much as it started, with no real improvements. A new front suspension was tried in Germany, with a new wing introduced for the high-speed circuits.
In addition to all the other problems encountered Chaves suffered a series of fuel pump failures.
The low point of the year was at Monza -- Coloni's home Grand Prix -- when the team could not get the car to fire up. The mechanics worked right through the pre-qualifying session to find the problem but the car never left the pits.
There was another disaster at the Portuguese GP -- Chaves's most important event of the year -- when a new DFR engine, prepared by Langford & Peck, blew up almost immediately. Once again the team did not have a spare car and Chaves had to sit in the pits.
It was the last straw for Pedro and a week later he quit the team, complaining that it was an impossible task -- and that he had not been paid. Coloni tried to get someone else to drive the car, but no driver was inclined to do so. It never left the garages in Barcelona.
In the course of the year, there were numerous rumours suggesting the team was abotu to close its doors. There were suggestions that it would merge with Carlo Patrucco's beleagured Modena team to produce a chassis for 1992. It came to nothing, but in Barcelona, Coloni revealed that he had sold the majority shareholding of his team to Italian shoe manufacturer Andrea Sassetti. The team is to be renamed Andrea Moda Formula in 1992.
To survive for 1992, however, the team had to compete in the final two races of the year. To do this Coloni instigated a scheme whereby fans paid small contributions to get together a budget to pay the travl costs to Japan and Australia.
Optimistic Japanese youngster Naoki Hattori took over the drive.
It is hard to understand the motivation that keeps Enzo Coloni in Formula 1. He has a successful Italian Formula 3 team and it would probably be better if he were to withdraw from F1 and build up a stronger organisation rather than try to keep going on a shoestring year in, year out. Whether the new owners will be able to improve the situation remains to be seen, but unless there are wholesale changes and significant investment in 1992, the team is not going anywhere.
On his 1991 performances it is very difficult to judge the potential of Chaves. The Portuguese driver is talented but we will not know how good he is until he finds his way into better machinery.