JANUARY 8, 1996

Stewart gets Ford

AMID a flurry of kilts and bagpipes at the North American International Motor Show in Detroit, the Ford Motor Company announced that it is to terminate its relationship with the Sauber F1 team at the end of the year and begin an exclusive five-year deal with Jackie Stewart, who is to establish a new F1 team - Stewart Grand Prix. This will grow out of the existing Paul Stewart Racing operation in Milton Keynes, England. Fifty-six year old Stewart, F1 World Champion in 1969, 1971 and 1973, will be chairman and his son Paul will be managing-director.

The agreement for the new partnership was reached on December 18 after Ford had talked other F1 teams, notably Sauber and Williams. It is not surprising when one considers that Stewart has been associated with Ford for 31 years initially as a driver and since he retired as a technical consultant and test driver.

The deal is surprising in that it goes against all conventional F1 logic. Starting a new team from scratch means that Ford has virtually guaranteed that it will not win anything in F1 until the 1999 or 2000 seasons as Stewart Grand Prix has to build up a manufacturing infrastructure capable of challenging the big teams. Stewart and Ford did consider the option of buying the Arrows team but rejected the idea, their argument being that if one starts from nothing one can build a structure which takes into account the advance of technology.

Such a decision, quite clearly, does not come from Ford's regular F1 men but rather from high up in the company - where Stewart proudly says he is very well connected. Our sources say that Ford Worldwide Vice-Presidents Bob Rewey, Jack Nasser and Neil Ressler were the prime movers in the decision, with backing from the Director of Special Vehicle Operations DanÊRivard.

Whatever the case, everyone involved is very keen to stress the long-term nature of the deal and to link it to Ford Chairman Alex Trotman's vision of "Ford 2000" - the globalization of the Ford Motor Company by the end of the decade.

Ford and Stewart say that the new partnership will be unique in that it will be more integrated than any previous F1 engine deal. This will involve chassis development, aerodynamics, electronics and other technologies, and a special Ford Motorsport Technology Department is being established at Dearborn, Michigan.

Ford engineers have access to some remarkably advanced technology, notably the Lockheed windtunnel in Marietta, Georgia, which is capable of generating 200mph speeds with a vast 9000-horsepower fan. It, however, does not as yet feature rolling road technology - which is considered to be vital in F1. Ford also has highly advanced hydraulic road simulation rigs which are very valuable to F1 teams.

Where Stewart stands to gain the most, however, is in computing techniques. Ford has the most powerful privately-owned computer in the world - made by Cray. At the Ford Advanced Engineering Center in Dearborn the computer simulation laboratories are constantly developing new forms of computer aided engineering, which will be of great advantage to F1 teams as research and development can be done faster - and therefore cheaper. This is particularly useful in areas such as computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and thermal and aerodynamic systems engineering (TASE).The systems are advancing at such speed that computational wind-tunneling will soon be so sophisticated that it will probably not need to be verified in windtunnels. There are also highly advanced design systems, 3D animation and laser holography.

Ford management says that its renewed commitment to racing is being undertaken for solid business reasons: improving engineers, products and processes which will benefit the car-buyer in the long-term.

This is all very well in the long-term but the problem is finding the $45 million needed each year for a long-term program. This will be very difficult - even for a man with connections like Stewart - because success is very unlikely without the infrastructure needed to produce a front running machine. It may be possible to raise that kind of money for a first year but ensuing years without success are going to be much more difficult.

Stewart reckons he will be able to overcome this problem by "networking" his various sponsors. This is logical but it is not new and is already being employed by many F1 teams. Stewart, however, reckons F1 lacks marketing sophistication and that no-one has yet networked with major international corporations.

Stewart is currently trying to sell his F1 package and is talking to firms in the United States, Britain, the Philippines and Malaysia. Jackie, it is also interesting to note, spent the New Year with TAG boss Mansour Ojjeh, who is known to be dissatisfied with McLaren.

Having Ford behind him will certainly help Jackie as there are many companies who would be happy to sponsor a racing team in exchange for a supply deal with an industry giant such as Ford. Although primarily a motor company, Ford is also heavily involved in financial services. It also owns the Hertz hire car company, which must be considered a potential sponsor of the team.

While Stewart is a logical choice from a PR point of view - Jackie has a very high international profile - Paul Stewart Racing, the current team, has only done really well in the junior formulae, winning on a regular basis in Formula 3 and Formula Vauxhall Lotus. It has been involved in Formula 3000 since 1990 but has won just three races. In the same period DAMS has won 15 times and Forti nine.

Stewart will not be involved in F3000 in 1996, although the F3 and Formula Vauxhall Lotus teams will continue. This year will be spent securing staff and money and updating the team factory. The plan is to have a prototype Stewart-Ford car - assembled at Milton Keynes but built by various suppliers - running in November 1996. The team will move to a new purpose-built factory in 1998 and will then produce its own chassis, with a projected staff of 150. Ultimately Stewart says he wants to run teams in Formula Vauxhall Lotus, Formula 3 and Formula 2 (which will replace F3000).

The team has yet to consider drivers but logic dictates that Stewart and Ford will try to retain one of the 1996 Sauber-Ford drivers (Johnny Herbert or Heinz-Harald Frentzen) to maintain continuity of engine development and hire a youngster - probably a PSR man - for the second car.

The risks involved are enormous but Ford and Stewart are both confident that the program will be a success. That faith is apparently shared by F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone who sent a special message to the new team.

"I know that Jackie will conduct his race team in the same professional way that he had as three times World Champion," wrote Ecclestone, "and in his contacts with the numerous international companies that he is involved with on a worldwide basis".