Features - News Feature

DECEMBER 2, 1996

Inside Stewart Grand Prix


On December 10 in London - just 11 months after announcing that they would be setting up a Formula 1 team - Jackie and Paul Stewart unveiled the prototype Stewart-Ford SF1 with which Stewart Grand Prix will contest the 1997 FIA Formula 1 World Championship, with drivers Rubens Barrichello and Jan Magnussen.

On December 10 in London - just 11 months after announcing that they would be setting up a Formula 1 team - Jackie and Paul Stewart unveiled the prototype Stewart-Ford SF1 with which Stewart Grand Prix will contest the 1997 FIA Formula 1 World Championship, with drivers Rubens Barrichello and Jan Magnussen.

At the announcement of the team in Detroit in January there was disbelief from many of the seasoned F1 journalists present. Some called it madness but Stewart and Ford both insisted that the partnership would not be like others in F1 in the past. This was going to be different. It would involve a lot of Ford technology not only in the engine but also in chassis development, aerodynamics, electronics and computing. The dominant pressure would be time - and so it was.

"There were times when we would panic and think there was no way we were going to do it," said a tired team member at the launch in London, "but then we would realise that maybe we could still do it and we would start again."

Clearly it was an enormous strain for all concerned but it was particularly hard for Paul Stewart, who was running the day-to-day business at the factory while his glamorous father Jackie was jetting around the world trying to convince kings and presidents to part with cash. At the launch Paul thanked Jackie for the tremendous opportunity he had given to him. Poor Paul became very emotional. He was barely able to speak, fighting back tears. This was not Hollywood. It was real. The kid was worn out after months of not enough sleep and non-stop stress - but he wanted to say thanks to his dad and it all became a bit much for the emotions.

"It is very hard to put into words just how difficult it has been," says the team's technical director Alan Jenkins. "It's been enormously difficult. F1 cars are so complicated these days; there are so many different areas and, of course, the biggest thing is that we are trying to build a company as well - and plan for the next two or three years at the same time as we were building this. One of the luxuries we have had is that we have not been racing. We have been all together for 12 or more hours a day. Teamwork is perhaps easier to build under those circumstances. When we go racing it will be a whole different thing."

When one considers that Jenkins did not start work at the team's Milton Keynes headquarters until March 1, the car seems even more miraculous because he had to build the team of engineers before he could build a car.

"We have got people from all the top teams," says Jenkins. "The first couple came from Benetton - which is the nearest top team to us geographically. We have a couple of McLaren people. Inevitably some people came with me from Arrows. It is really a mixture of people and they have integrated together pretty well - which is not always easy.

"There were a couple of people who were persuaded to stay where they were and there occasions when we could have taken a group from one particular team but we consciously decided that it was not the thing to do. We also wanted to mix people up and we didn't want to rock the boat because F1 is too small a world for that. We didn't want to upset anybody. We want to upset them by beating them - not by pinching their people!"

Once the drawing office was established - it was a truck bay in January - the engineers moved in, set up their computers and began to draw. This would be the calmest place in the factory - decorated with a soothing powder blue (deliberately) so that you feel instantly relaxed as you enter - and, although outside there was mayhem as departments were moved around and new offices built - inside progress was swift. The car was designed completely by computer. Stewart claims it is the first team ever to do this and a McLaren defector now with Stewart says that although McLaren is close to being fully-electronic there is still one old drawing board left hidden behind a screen so no-one can see it.

All the work and all the stress would have amounted to nothing but for the fact that lurking in the background were the suited managers of the Ford Motor Company. Ford had taken F1 seriously to make the Stewart car happen.

In his speech Ford's European motorsport boss Martin whitaker made a point to which one must pay attention.

"Ford means business when it sets its collective sights on a clear objective and single-mindedly pursues it," said Martin. "I will tell you now, we have a clear objective with this programme: to help Stewart Ford become FIA Formula 1 World Champions."

Ford's involvement was clearly financial, providing the team with a large pile of start-up money to get things rolling, but it was also technical. Engineers under John Valentine at the Ford Advanced Engineering Center in Dearborn, Michigan began to become involved. They have some astounding technology there - run by Ford's Cray computer, the most powerful privately-owned system in the world. In theory the computer software can use technology such as computational fluid dynamics (CFD) to slash research and development times and, therefore, costs as well.

"The CFD has given us some new directions to look into," explains Jenkins. "It allows you to look into certain areas with a broader brush and allows you to look in detail as well. Perhaps more interestingly it helped us link internal and external airflow which is quite difficult to do. It is a new technology and, inevitably we are getting involved with the very best people at Ford. At the same time they have other commitments within the company."

For the prototype Stewart had to rely on the traditional research and development techniques as well. The team's aerodynamics crew - led by ex-Williams man Egbahl Hamidy - has been using the half-scale rolling-road Swift facility at San Clemente in southern California. It was the perfect arrangement because Williams had been using the Swift tunnel and Hamidy knew it well. There was no need to allow for learning time.

"We sent four people out there" says Paul Stewart. "That is the team you need to look after the model, run the tunnel and log the data. They have done 80 days in the tunnel this year."

Using half-scale models is still relatively new in F1 - just Williams and Ferrari do it - but the Stewart engineers quickly appreciated the advantages.

"You worry about going 50% until you have done it and then you wonder what the fuss was about and ask why didn't you do it from the beginning," explains Jenkins. "It is nice. You can divide things by two..."

Using CFD and 50% models is pretty advanced and, according to Jenkins, this has been a deliberate policy.

"We haven't treated the project like we are a new team," he explains. "We haven't said: "We are a new team, we should not do that". We have gone out to build the best possible car without any compromise."

In August, as the windtunnelling and design work were within site of completion, the team took an extraordinary decision. It would build the chassis in-house rather than having an outside supplier do the work. That would ensure good quality work but it was a big step.

This seems to have been a question of circumstance. Not far from the Stewart factory in Milton Keynes was an unused factory with a large autoclave. It had been used in a variety of projects dating back to Aston Martins in the late 1980s. In October 1990 it had become Ypsilon Technology - Yamaha's F1 base in Europe. There were plans to use the autoclave to build a Yamaha road car codenamed the OX99-11. After Yamaha decided to move its engine work to John Judd in Coventry and the OX99-11 was abandoned the facility had been left in limbo.

"We took the decision to push the manufacturing side a bit more than we intended to originally," explains Jenkins. "The result was that we built our own chassis and the guys who did it were absolutely key to getting the car built in time. That took precedence over everything. We could only grow in so many directions at once."

Much of the machining work had to be out-sourced and so the team set up a big inspection department to ensure quality-control and Colin McGrory joined the team from Arrow to try to establish industrial infrastructure in the Stewart factory. The Paul Stewart Racing trophy room was torn out to make way for his office. Originally based in number 16 Tanner's Drive the team took over numbers 14 and 12 as well. Number 10 will probably be snapped up soon - there's a "To Let" sign on the front. Internal walls were torn down and machines moved.

In the course of the year the Stewart Grand Prix personnel has increased by two people a week and there were periods in the early autumn when team manager David Stubbs had no time to do anything other than interviewing applicants. The team is now up to 101 in number.

Jackie Stewart has even left his tax haven in Switzerland to be with the team on a day-to-day basis, although JYS has spent much of the year dashing around trying to find money.

The Ford connection certainly opened doors and a big sponsorship deal was signed early on with the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, at the launch there were deals with Ford's regular motorsport partner Texaco and with Ford subsidiary Hertz car rental. But there were also deals with the Malaysian government (which is backing Sauber heavily) and with Williams sponsor Sanyo. More will be announced before the start of the season. Jackie says that the team is now "fully-funded for 1997 and still has one important area on the car still to sell". The budget is believed to be around $23m.

Throughout all the negotiations Jackie's attention to detail has been evident. The wall clocks in the factory are by Rolex. The girls in reception are dressed in jackets made from a specially-commissioned "Racing Stewart" tartan and a certificate on the wall from The Scottish Tartans Society declaring that as of March 29 1996 Royal Stewart is an accredited tartan.

It is all a very long way from the day in 1988 when Paul Stewart, Andy Miller and Bruce Jenkins set up the very first Paul Stewart Racing base. The following year there were 10 team members and the team relocated to Egham in Surrey and in 1990 PSR moved to Milton Keynes employing 45 people. It ran three teams: one in F3000, one in F3 and one in Formula Vauxhall Lotus.

The two original PSR staff are still with the team: Miller (a former F1 engineer with Rothmans March in 1982 and then an F3 specialist) is now the engineering liaison between Stewart and Ford; Jenkins (an ex-McLaren mechanic) is in charge of PSR's continuing racing programmes in Formula 3 and Formula Vauxhall.

Jackie Stewart set out to create a "Staircase of Talent" for drivers, engineers and other team personnel and he is not giving up the idea. PSR will continue to run in the junior formulae. In F1 such an idea is odd because most people think that continuing to run teams in Formula 3 and Formula Vauxhall will compromise Stewart's F1 performance.

"We have excellent people who have developed with Paul Stewart Racing and we can rely on them to run those teams," says Paul Stewart. "We do not have to be there. I am very proud of the fact that we have such good people. The commercial side is the area which needs attention to support my father and me. What I don't want is for PSR to be left behind because without PSR we would never had Stewart Grand Prix. We had to prove that we could put together a winning team. Our philosophy was to win and to win in the right conditions with the right perceived reputation that we do not go about the business in a dodgy fashion. That helped us get the confidence of the Ford Motor Company."

Alan Jenkins is not so sure.

"I would say all your instincts would prefer that it wasn't there. I can see all the signs that the family wants to do it and I am sure if we think about it and settle down there are aspects which will benefit both sides eventually - particularly when we plan our new premises. It is being managed very efficiently and doesn't get in the way but I'd pinched their space for the machine shop tomorrow..."

The new Stewart factory will not be long in coming. There is a site in Milton Keynes under negotiation and the deal is said to be close. The team will then design the facility from scratch and the plan is to move in mid 1998. What will they build?

"Obviously the main priority is to house the engineering department properly," says Alan Jenkins. "Actually they are doing quite well at the moment and we have been discussing whether we make a windtunnel the priority or massive manufacturing facilities. We cannot build everything at the same time."

The Stewarts are looking at the various options - such as putting money into an existing windtunnel in England or even continuing with Swift. There are drawbacks, however, in both of these plans.

"If you are in a partnership it is very difficult because our rival top-line F1 teams have instant access to tunnels," says Paul.

These are questions to be answered in the future. Now the team is concentrating on the planned tests in January and February.

"It will be intensive testing," says Paul, "but don't forget that we are also building racing cars. We are doing what we can realistically do. We will test in Jerez, Estoril and Barcelona but we are limited as a new team in how much testing we can do. We will be phasing in the second car in January; the third shortly afterwards and a fourth car by Monaco in May. We won't have a test team to start with, that will be phased in later.

"It really is a building process which is why we have to be very careful about people's expectations."

In an effort to lower expectations Jackie said at the launch in London that he would be happy if the team scored one World Championship point in 1997. The reality is, of course, different. The Stewarts would like to score as many points as possible and perhaps finish in the top five in the Constructors Championship - as Jordan did in 1991. Ford is certainly hoping for a better performance from the V10 engine than was the case in 1996 - and drivers Magnussen and Barrichello will certainly be disappointed if they do not regularly score points.

Jackie described his driver line-up as "an ideal package" and there is no doubt that Barrichello has rediscovered his old enthusiasm after a couple of depressing seasons with Jordan. He is ready to re-establish the reputation he build in 1993. Magnussen is so keen to be successful that he has even managed to give up smoking...

The whole project seems to be coming together well.

"Nothing is ever perfect," says Paul, "but now is probably as good a time as there has ever been to come into F1. Although from a technical point of view F1 is the pinnacle of the sport, it is now controlled so that a new team does not have to design active suspension but can just build a chassis which can be similar to a Williams or a McLaren.

"There are numerous areas of technology which are also quite new - by that I mean things like CFD and electronics - and it is all happening very quickly. The other teams are only now getting used to it - so that is an advantage for us."

To see what Stewart has achieved thus far is impressive but there is a long way to go yet. We must wait for Melbourne in March to see just how good the package can be...

"As I stand before you today," Jackie said at the launch, "I have to say I am full of more nervous excitement that at any time in my life."