DECEMBER 18, 2003

Review of the Year: 10th - Minardi

It has been a tough year for the Minardi team but once again the underdog organization based in Faenza, Italy, survived. This is good news because Minardi maintains the important role as the place where young drivers can learn about Formula 1 before moving onward and upward into a top team. As such the team provides an important service for the sport although you would not think if you listened to some of the team bosses.

Minardi could, of course, use more resources. The team has a budget with is (considerably) less than Michael Schumacher's salary and about half the size of its nearest rival in Formula 1, but that did not stop the team getting one ninth place, a 10th and three 11ths. In terms of value for money Minardi is remarkable: others could learn a great deal from Paul Stoddart and his crew about keeping down costs without compromising performance.

The team's performance was more remarkable given that it had what can only be described as a "difficult" relationship with Bridgestone at the start of the year. The Japanese tire maker did not want to supply Minardi with tires and when Paul Stoddart forced the issue by running his cars on Avon Formula 3000 rubber last winter, the point was pushed home with some force. The Japanese did not like that very much and there were clear signs that the tires that Minardi got in the early part of the year were not up there with what Ferrari was using.

The team was badly let down at the start of the year by Gazprom, which was supposed to provide sponsorship of around $12m but failed to deliver. Then test driver Matteo Bobbi's $250,000 per race disappeared as well. The team was soon on the ropes and things were not helped by a number of attacks by McLaren boss Ron Dennis who was very vocal about his belief that Minardi did not deserve to be in Formula 1. This had a detrimental effect on Minardi as the team's sponsors were destabilized and worried by reports that Minardi was going to go out of business.

Stoddart was fit to be tied about Dennis's comments and being the subtle that he is, he let rip on several occasions with his feelings about Dennis. Things came to a head in Montreal where Paul's lone battle against the other teams bosses won him a lot of respect in the business. In the end the other teams were forced to come round to his way of thinking and even Dennis was suddenly Stodddart's new best friend. Whether you like him or not, does not matter, Stoddart is a racer, doing what many others tried to do in their early years in the sport. He has not put money away for himself. He is in the sport because he loves it and he's willing to fail but he is not giving up without a fight. There was a period when it looked as though Bernie Ecclestone was going to invest some money with the team but that deal never happened. It was hand to mouth all the way.

Stoddart has a very loyal crew behind him, led by John Walton, and the team will go through thick and thin with him. They produce solid reliable cars which lack downforce because of the limitations that they have on development and engine power because the team cannot afford to buy better engines. But in the second half of the year Minardi had only two failures in 16 starts.

Stoddart once again showed his business acumen by swooping on the Arrows equipment when it was up for auction. Minardi acquired large amounts of raw carbonfiber, specialist machines and other equipment which will help them move forward. In addition there were five of the Arrows A23 chassis. This all cost Stoddart only $700,000.

The A23s are going to become the Minardi PS04s which will be raced next year and surely they will be the cheapest F1 cars in modern history.