Stewart - McTiger
by Julie GatesArticle is written by and copyright © 1999-2001 Julie Gates and The F1 Rumors Site
During the disappointing 1998 season, the team started to undergo a huge revamp, aimed at turning around their fortunes for 1999. The Stewart management realised action needed to be taken, and fast, when the 1998 car proved slow and difficult to evolve. Team personnel was increased from 120 to 200, while Gary Anderson, the highly respected designer who spent ten years with Eddie Jordan, joined the team. Alan Jenkins stayed at home from the Luxembourg Grand Prix onwards to work on the 1999 season car. Johnny Herbert was recruited to assist with developing the car, incidentally bringing race-winning experience and a strong positive attitude to the team.
This might seem like a drastic reaction to 1998, but it stemmed the rumours of Ford joining Benetton in 1999 - demonstrating their commitment to the project, and receiving Fords in return.
After some impressive modifications, the car was tested for the very first time at a winter beset Silverstone on 23rd December, a full ten weeks ahead of the season-opener in Australia. Although the weather hindered progress, Barrichello exclaimed this was the best balanced Stewart he has driven. In every way, the SF03 is an improvement of the '98 model - comments echoed by Herbert.
Winter testing proved to be encouraging. The timesheets often listed Barrichello towards the top. From the outset their main concern was obviously reliability, but from pre-season testing it was proved Stewart Grand Prix had certainly found a lot of speed.
The team places huge faith in Rubens Barrichello, though he now has a team mate who should challenge him on race days. The admiration Jackie (quote 'he is one of the best drivers in the world today') and the team have for Rubens is clear to see. Barrichello has been with them since the beginning, scoring their first points and a podium finish at Monaco in 1997, and he has always obtained the best performance possible from the cars he has been given. The team stood by him through any rough patches and now he wants to repay their steadfastness.
After the launch of the Stewart SF3 on January 7th 1999 and claiming they could fight for victory given a bit of good luck, it was time for more testing and the first race of the season at Albert park in Melbourne.
The Australian Grand Prix was full of mixed fortunes for the team. The cars went very well in practice, and Rubens qualified fourth. Johnny's qualifying was blighted by a suspension issue, but still made the midfield. Come the race, an exhibition of simultaneous expiration saw both cars smoking on the grid before the lights went out! The race had not yet started and already Johnny Herbert was out. However, Barrichello, starting last in the pit lane and in the spare car, managed to finish in an excellent fifth position - despite receiving a ten second stop/go penalty.
One should not be disillusioned by Stewart's reliability problems. Though both cars caught fire on the grid - and Barrichello race completing car showed signs of following suit - Rubens finished in the points and produced the second fastest lap of the race. Credit is due to Ford for producing a light and compact engine with enough power to run with the likes of Mercedes and Ferrari. Rubens insists he would have been a serious challenger for victory had he not suffered such bad luck, and frankly, it's difficult to argue. It is not saying the Stewart team will come through and win both titles; that is almost unthinkable at this point. However, they have produced their best car so far. It seems to have speed to challenge the likes of Ferrari and Jordan, and even though reliability isn't quite what it should be, anything can happen.
We are faced with fifteen more races. What can we expect from Stewart? The next race is at Brazil - Barrichello's home race and his ninety-ninth Grand Prix. He will be wanting to perform at his best and Johnny Herbert will be hoping to make amends for his unfortunate weekend in Australia.
If they can fix their reliability problems, and maintain their development, then whenever McLaren falter, they could be there to challenge and pick up the pieces. And after the tremendous hard work Jackie, Paul and the entire team have put in, they deserve it too.
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.