DECEMBER 16, 1996

Stewart unveils the SF1

THE new Stewart Grand Prix became the first F1 team to launch its 1997 car at a presentation in London last week.

THE new Stewart Grand Prix became the first F1 team to launch its 1997 car at a presentation in London last week. AlanÊJenkins's Stewart-Ford SF1 appears to be a very conventional-looking car. The car will be raced on Bridgestone tires by Rubens Barrichello and Danish hotshoe Jan Magnussen.

In addition to the sponsorship already announced from the Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corporation ($8m a year for five years) and the Malaysian government's "Visit Malaysia" campaign ($8.2m a year for two years), Jackie Stewart has found backing from Sanyo, Texaco and Hertz.

The biggest surprise is Sanyo - the Japanese consumer electronics company which has been backing Williams for the last two seasons. Prior to that it was involved with Benetton from 1988-94.

Texaco - through its Havoline brand - is returning to F1 for the first time since 1978, although the White Plains, NewÊYork-based company enjoyed great success in the mid-1970s with Lotus and McLaren, winning World Championships with Emerson Fittipaldi (1972 & 1974) and James Hunt (1976). In recent years Texaco has concentrated on American racing while at home the company has undergone major problems - notably a $10bn damages lawsuit from Pennzoil after the disputed purchase of Getty Oil in 1983. The company sought bankruptcy protection in 1987 and then had to fight against corporate raider Carl Icahn. Since then the company has stabilized and is now expanding internationally again. The Texaco deal is not a big surprise as the company is traditionally involved with Ford racing programs.

The Hertz deal is no surprise as it is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Ford Motor Company and takes half a million new cars from Ford every year.

There are likely to be more sponsorship announcements made before the start of the F1 season, timed to coincide with the start of a new fiscal year.

Ford's involvement in the project is evident and Jackie Stewart is understood to have benefited from considerable "start-up" finance from Ford Motor, and a great deal of technical assistance from engineers and computers at the Ford Advanced Engineering Center in Dearborn, Michigan. This has given the team unrivaled access to computational fluid dynamics (CFD) programs which has meant that some of the team's windtunnel research has been done by Ford's Cray computers rather than in the Swift windtunnel in San Clemente in southern California. The result is, however, what appears to be a very conventional car although Stewart Technical Director Alan Jenkins says it will have some interesting aerodynamic tweaks by the time the season begins.

Building the car has been an impressive achievement given that it is only nine months since the first design work began and while that work has been going on, the Stewart organization has set up 11 new departments and hired nearly 100 staff. Recent recruits include marketing man Ian Cunningham from Williams and Frenchman Jean-Francois Sinteff, a former Larrousse F1 engineer who has been working for the JAS Alfa Romeo touring car team in recent seasons. Sinteff will engineer Barrichello, while Benetton's Malcolm Tierney will look after Magnussen. The pair will be supported by chief race engineer AndyÊLeÊFleming.

The team is expected to test for the first time at the end of this week at Ford's Boreham facility - as soon as the gearbox installation is completed - but testing is going to be restricted to one set of Bridgestone tires until the end of the year as TomÊWalkinshaw currently has an exclusive deal with the Japanese tiremaker.

With all the publicity surrounding the new team the general impression is that the team will be quite competitive. At the launch, however, Jackie Stewart was busy trying to lower expectations saying that he is hoping to get at least one championship point in 1997.

"If we got more than that I would be thrilled," he said. "Top-10 finishes and top-10 qualifying in our first year would be pretty impressive. Not many teams have ever done that. We are financially sound, fully equipped and ready to go."