The 1990’s saw the final years before a near decade of manufacturer-dominated championships. Everyone knows about the main players: Williams and McLaren, Senna and Schumacher. Not quite so well-remembered are the smaller teams that came and went during those years. A few only lasted a couple of years, one only lasted a single race, but they brought new faces and extra stories to the grid. Here is a run-down of some of the short-lived teams that graced the Formula 1 grids in the ’90’s.
Life Racing Engines
Life attempted to qualify for the first 14 races of the 1990 championship and failed on every attempt. The team was set up as a method of advertising their engines to the rest of the Formula 1 paddock. The fact that, if anything, the teams were less interested in running their engine as a result should tell you all you need to know about the success of the team.
They bought the chassis which was originally intended to be run by the FIRST team in 1989 and bolted their engine into the back of it. The resulting racing car, the L190, was outdated, overweight and down on power by as much as 200HP. After twelve attempts at qualifying with their own engine, Life eventually threw in the towel and bought a Judd engine. The new engine, while an improvement on what they were running previously, didn’t make up for the deficiencies in the car, which was consistently slowest all year.
Two drivers attempted to qualify the L190: Gary Brabham (son of Sir Jack) and Bruno Giacomelli, who had spent six years out of the sport before being tempted into this ill-fated return.
Memorable moment: Brazil 1990 – The car grinds to a halt after 400 yards after the team mechanics refuse to put any oil in the engine.
Modena Team (Lamborghini)
For the 1991 season, Lamborghini morphed from an engine supplier to a fully-fledged constructor. Initially, the plan was to enter F1 in partnership with new team GLAS, but the deal never materialised when the GLAS funding never appeared. Despite this setback, Lamborghini pushed on with development of their chassis (which became the Lamborghini 291, sporting unusual triangular sidepods and a dark blue colour scheme). The team were clearly aiming to be competitive from the outset and hired Nicola Larini and Eric van de Poele to drive the car.
Despite having to suffer through pre-qualifying (as a new team, they started at the bottom of the championship pecking order), they showed a lot of early-season promise. In their first race, Larini crossed the line in seventh place, just outside the points. Two races later and van de Poele avoided the carnage at Imola to run fifth until the final few hundred metres of the race, when he was hobbled by a fuel pressure problem and was classified ninth.
Unfortunately, the first three races of the season contained the only real highlights of the Modena team. Following Imola, neither car was able to pre-qualify again. It was only due to Larini’s 7th place from the first race that they were spared having to pre-qualify in the second half of the year. Despite having both cars automatically entered in qualifying for the remainder of the year, Larini was only able to coax the Lamborghini onto the starting grid for four more races, none of which showed the promise demonstrated at the start of the season.
The team closed its doors at the end of the 1991 season with massive debts. Lamborghini reverted to being an engine supplier for the next two seasons, but disappeared from the sport in 1994 when the Larrousse team (their only customer at the time) could no longer afford to run their engines.
Memorable Moment: van de Poele almost scoring points with a fifth place in San Marino, only to retire within sight of the finish.
The team widely regarded as the worst in the history of the sport. A reputation well-earned, in fact.
The team was born from the ashes of the Coloni team, which had competed in F1 with little success since 1987. The assets of the team were bought by shoe designer Andrea Sassetti. The team were to run an updated version of Coloni’s 1990 cars for the first two races, before bringing in the Simtek-designed S921 for the remainder of the season. Things did not go to plan when the team were excluded from the first event in South Africa for not paying the new team entry fee and didn’t compete in the following race in Mexico as their cars weren’t completed on time.
The rest of the season continued in a similar vein: the team were without engines in Canada as their supplier hadn’t been paid; the team didn’t compete in France as their equipment was caught in a blockade; team owner Sassetti was arrested in the Belgian paddock for allegedly forging invoices and the team were banned from the sport soon after for bringing F1 into disrepute.
Despite having two drivers on the books, this was very much a single-driver team. Perry McCarthy was hired as second driver, but would often get in the car to find out that important work had not been done (putting oil in the engine and fixing a broken steering system, for example).
Memorable Moment: Miraculously qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix (their single race start) and the various mishaps revolving around the second car, including sending McCarthy out to qualify at Spa with broken steering!
The Simtek team was the brainchild of Nick Wirth, recently seen championing the all-CFD design philosophy at Virgin Racing. The team grew out of a consultancy business that Wirth and Max Mosely had founded five years prior.
The team arrived on the F1 scene for the 1994 season with a conservative and underpowered car for its two drivers David Brabham and Roland Ratzenberger. The team didn’t have much problem qualifying and the cars were able to finish races on a fairly regular basis with a best result of ninth place in their first season. However, 1994 was very much a baptism of fire for the new team. In the third race of the season, Roland Ratzenberger lost his life when his front wing detached and became stuck under his front wheels in qualifying. Team-mate Brabham bravely decided to race the next day to try and keep some morale within the team. For the remainder of the season, the team ran with the message “For Roland” on the airbox of the car, showing their solidarity and reasons for continuing in the sport.
Andrea Montermini was signed as the replacement for Ratzenberger, but he suffered a crash in preparation for his first race for the team and was sidelined with a broken toe and cracked heel. From round 7 to 13, Jean-Marc Gounon was the occupant of car 32 and it was he who scored the highest-placed finish for the team that year with a ninth place at his home race in France. For the remaining three rounds of the year – with money tight – Simtek ran Domenico Schiattarella and Taki Inoue in exchange for a cash injection.
The 1995 season started a lot more promisingly for the Simtek team, with a more refined car, more powerful engine and a Benetton gearbox. Jos Verstappen, Schiattarella and Hideki Noda were signed as drivers for the new campaign. Despite suffering from reliability problems, the new car showed a lot of promise. In the hands of Schiattarella, it was capable of running ahead of fellow “new teams” Pacific and Forti, while Verstappen was able to take the fight to the midfield – even mixing it with the points-scorers in the race at Buenos Aires before being taken out of the race with a gearbox failure.
Despite the upturn in form, funding was still an issue. By the sixth race – and with mounting debts – the team were forced to withdraw from the championship.
Memorable Moment: San Marino 1994 – For the tragedy of qualifying. Argentina 1995 – Verstappen running competitively in the points before a pitstop and gearbox failure.
Pacific joined the F1 grid along with Simtek at the start of the 1994 season, moving up from the Formula 3000 championship into the top flight. The original plan was to enter the previous year, but their financial situation would not allow it. The result was the team took part in the 1994 season with a year-old chassis which had not seen any development or track testing of any note.
The team only made 7 starts in their debut season and didn’t see the chequered flag at all. From round seven onwards, they didn’t qualify for a single race.
Pacific persevered into 1995 with a link-up with the collapsed Lotus team. The new car showed some improved speed and reliability and some sponsors were attracted to the team. As the season went on, money became an issue and pay-drivers were brought in to try and keep the team afloat. Andrea Montermini, the constant in Pacific’s 1995 driver lineup, scored the best result for the team of 8th place in Germany, which was equalled by Bertrand Gachot in the team’s final race in Australia.
The team withdrew from F1 at the end of the 1995 season.
Memorable Moment: Not completing a single race distance throughout their first year.
Forti arrived in F1 in 1995 in a blaze of yellow and blue (plus green wheels), using money from the Diniz family to make the jump up from Formula 3000. With junior formula experience, a seasoned campaigner in Roberto Moreno and a young, well funded go-getter in Pedro Diniz, the team entered into an extensive (for a small team) pre-season testing programme. Though the initial testing results didn’t set the world alight, it was clear that the team had the backing to make steady progress as the season wore on.
Forti’s first season was troubled, with the team becoming the target of paddock jokes, including Martin Brundle’s famous line that the reason they are called Forti is because there seem to be forty of them on the track as you lap them so often! As the season progressed, the team were able to move closer to the ultimate pace, though they finished the season without a point to their name.
Further progress was expected for 1996, but the loss of Pedro Diniz to the Ligier team took a large chunk out of the team’s budget, as all the Brazilian’s personal sponsors followed him to his new berth. His and Moreno’s places at the team were taken by the not-quite-so-well-funded Andrea Montermini and Luca Badoer. When the new car appeared, it had much more potential than the old FG01. However, as is often the case at the back of the grid, the problem was a lack of finance. With most of the sponsors jumping ship, Forti were left with very little money to develop their new machine. Enter the Shannon Group. The deal for Shannon to buy out 51% of the team and add much needed financial stability to Forti never came to fruition. There was a lengthy argument between Guido Forti and the Shannon Group over ownership, with Forti claiming he never saw any of the buyout money. A few races after the deal was struck, the team collapsed and were never seen again.
Memorable Moment: Pedro Diniz ending his 1995 Argentine Grand Prix upside-down in a gravel trap.
I have already written about Lola’s disastrous 1997 season, when they arrived at Melbourne, were woefully off the pace and then disappeared off the F1 radar. Perhaps if the were given that extra year to develop the car, they could have started their F1 journey in 1998 and had a more successful season (and not been a footnote in a failed teams blog post!).
Memorable Moment: Australia 1997 – Attempting to qualify an untested car, ending up 11.6 seconds from pole.