Stewart - The Team
by Julie GatesArticle is written by and copyright © 1999-2001 Julie Gates and The F1 Rumors Site
Even though Stewart did not unveil their first car until 10th December 1996, the origin of Stewart Grand Prix dates back to 11th June 1995. That day, returning from the Canadian Grand Prix, Ford bosses asked Jackie if he would consider going back to Formula One... as a Team President. Why did they ask Jackie? The fact he had a thirty three year partnership with Ford, lending his expertise to aspects from the cockpit to the drawing board, may have something to do with it! Few could be a better spokesman and ambassador than this highly intelligent business man, who spent the majority of his nine years in Formula One racing with Ford engines. Who would have been better to approach?
Both Paul and Jackie Stewart were interested in moving to Formula One. After successes in the lower Formulae (Formula Vauxhall, Formula Three and Formula 3000) with Paul Stewart Racing, all they needed was the support of a major motoring company and a lot of hard work.
Over the months after the approach, further talks with Ford were held and on December 6th 1995 it was decided to form Stewart Grand Prix and contest the 1997 season.
Work began immediately: expanding the Milton Keynes factory, hunting for sponsors, hiring personnel and designing the new car. In July, a fifty percent scale model of the new car was tested at the Swift wind tunnel in California.
One of the team's philosophies would be accepting no tobacco sponsorship. Jackie did not want the team appearing to encourage smoking, and made a stand on his principles. He wants his team to lead the way into the Millennium for Formula One by demonstrating financial backing from cigarette companies like Marlboro or Winfield isn't necessary.
Jackie and Paul's hard work paid off. Ford agreed an exclusive five year works engine deal, with a healthy $20m in financial assistance. A deal with the international bank, HSBC Holdings, was signed in September 1996 to the tune of £25m over five years. Other sponsors included Fly Malaysia and Sanyo - not to mention Texaco Havoline supplying fuel, and Bridgestone the tyres. Even before the car was launched, the Stewart teams reputation among F1 insiders was building rapidly.
Early talks with Damon Hill yielded little fruit, but contracts were signed with Rubens Barrichello and Jan Magnussen, both drivers with good experience at top level. Alan Jenkins was signed as Technical Director technical - a man renowned for creating a neat, driveable chassis on a tight budget. Combined with good support from Ford and HSBC, expectations for team were high.
And so, the team had an emotional car launch in London on 10th December 1996.
At first, 1997 looked like it could be a dream debut season for Stewart... then it turned into something of a disappointment - at least from the perspective of the general public. The Ford engine was relatively slow and unreliable, resulting in ten retirements. The cars crossed the finish line eight times from a possible thirty four. Adding to their woes, the team was required to provide the FIA with evidence they had sufficient funds to complete the season as a result of speculation they were going to fold.
The highlight of the season was a rain-soaked Monaco. Here Barrichello finished a brilliant second, behind Michael Schumacher, scoring the team's first points of the season. After all of their hard work and determination, the emotion shown, particularly by Jackie Stewart, was to be expected. At long last they had some points in the bag, and justified their entry to the top echelon of motorsport.
That was the only event of 1997 with so much cause for celebration. Barrichello finished in the points once more that season, a fifth place at Austria whilst Jan Magnussen failed to score a single point and performed were well behind Rubens. On occasions the cars ran strongly, only to be retired, whilst the races where reliability was not such an issue saw poor performances.
With six points and ninth in the championship, it could have been so much worse, but the overall performance was far from perfect, though it was a creditable performance for their first season in Formula One. Shortly after the 1997 season closed, MCI announced their partnership with Stewart Grand Prix - which should only have helped their 1998…
Well, bluntly, the second year was worse than their debut. It is what Jackie expected, however, "1998 will be, in many ways, more difficult than our first year." Top marks for that foresight.
Stewart only managed to secure five points in 1998, partly due to their over-conservative approach to the season. They wanted to consolidate their debut season, and improve reliability to ensure the cars cross the finish line. Even though the cars did finish on more occasions - passing the line twelve from thirty two times - they finished eighth in the championship. Although a higher position than their debut, this wasn't due to the car being any better: all the smaller teams scored badly in 1998 as McLaren and Ferrari dominated the top points positions, leaving the rest to fight over the lesser point.
Car reliability was not the only problem in the Stewart camp. Their second driver, Jan Magnussen, failed to deliver again in 1998, and was replaced by the highly-rated Jos Verstappen after the Canadian Grand prix. Ironically, it was at this race he has scored his only point for Stewart, but unfortunately, it was too little, too late. The story of 1998 really, for Stewart Grand Prix.
Julie Gates is happiest watching F1 and writing. Also interested in singing, cars, cinema, reading and going to concerts, she has little spare time to relax, but this is the way she likes it - rather being busy than idle as she can't stand still for five minutes! Totally committed to her career as a Formula One journalist, she is determined to succeed.