Features - Year in Review
NOVEMBER 23, 2001
As it turned out, 2001 proved to be a highly political season of unsettling times for Jaguar and its personnel. The original yardstick for the R2 had been drawn the previous summer when team chief Neil Ressler had insisted that the 2001 engine and gearbox package should be running in a test chassis by the start of December 2000.
That had the effect of influencing the new car's aerodynamic packaging quite early on in the game and Ressler's requirement that the R2 should be a good honest car capable of establishing the team's credibility after a laughable first year in green livery was certainly well-intentioned. But it left his successor Bobby Rahal saddled with an initially uncompetitive machine, a fact which in turn gave the incoming Niki Lauda a political stick with which to beat the Champcar team owner.
Attempts to recruit McLaren technical director Adrian Newey failed very publicly and the move which would have secured Rahal's permanent place in the team backfired badly. He would soon fall out with Lauda and left following the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Rahal was ousted, on the face of it, because he attempted to sell Eddie Irvine to the rival Jordan squad. Yet this was a scam: Jordan would have been delighted to take on Irvine; their title sponsors Benson & Hedges would have been delighted to have Irvine in their line-up.
Technically the biggest evolution on the Jaguar R2 came in time for the Monaco Grand Prix where Irvine stormed to a fine third. This was a terrific, timely boost for the entire Jaguar squad who had correctly expected a major improvement after an excellent test at Spain's Valencia track the previous week.
The changes included a new floor, ramp-like rear diffuser panels and - perhaps most crucially - altered rear suspension geometry which helped iron out the R2's incipient mid-corner handling instability. Team sources reckoned the changes provided around a four per cent aerodynamic increment when the most that could be expected in a season was around 10 per cent.
Yet this was set in the context of slow circuit performance and on the only other occasion when the R2 could be expected to shine on merit - at the Hungaroring - Irvine threw it into the gravel at the first corner.
There were consolation prizes, of course, in the form of fifth place for Pedro de la Rosa - who replaced Burti early in the season - at Monza and a strong fifth at Indianapolis for Irvine. Otherwise it was a depressing record.