Fascinating F1 Fact:65

Some things are just not meant to happen. Fate, or whatever, seems to be against them. Bad things just happen…

Back in 1989 Max Mosley was looking to invest in a high technology racing company. His former March Engineering partner Robin Herd recommended a young engineer called Nick Wirth, who had been in the same class as Robin’s son Mark, studying mechanical engineering at University College, London. Mosley met Wirth and decided to fund a company called Simtek Research Ltd. Simtek (which stood for Simulation Technology) built its own windtunnel in Banbury and Mosley’s connections brought in business from the FIA, the French government and Ligier (for which Simtek built a wind tunnel in Magny-Cours). There was also the hush-hush BMW F1 project, which began in 1990, with the aim of entering a BMW factory team in 1991.

Back in June 1986, BMW had announced its intention to withdraw from F1 as an engine supplier at the end of that season. The Munich company explained that its F1 success was at the mercy of the teams it partnered with, and that this meant there was too much beyond its control – which was not good for the BMW image. The idea of staying in F1 and fielding a full works team was discussed – with Adrian Newey being mentioned as a possible designer – but the BMW board had concluded this was too expensive an option. By the middle of 1988 BMW Motorsport head Wolfgang Peter Flohr had departed and his job was given to Karl-Heinz Kalbfell, a racer at heart. He wanted BMW back in F1 and so a plan was developed to present the company with an F1 chassis that it could call its own, at minimal cost. The BMW board, however, did not like this idea either – and so the programme was cancelled and the car was left unbuilt. Mosley and Wirth had an F1 chassis design – and nothing to do with it. Max was busy getting involved in FIA politics at the time and in order to avoid any clashes of interest he then sold his shares in Simtek to Wirth.

As all this was happening the hopeless Coloni F1 team was dying quietly at the back of the F1 grid. Enzo Coloni decided it was time to get out of the sport and sold the team’s assets to a shoe manufacturer called Andrea Sassetti. He announced that the team would be transformed into Andrea Moda Formula. There was no time to build a new car and so the team planned to start the 1992 season with the old Coloni cars before introducing a new design – the Simtek – as quickly as possible. It soon became clear that Sassetti was running a chaotic operation. The team was excluded from the first race in South Africa because the entry fees had not been paid. The crew then spent the entire Mexican GP weekend building up the Simtek cars in their garage, but neither ran. The original plan was to have drivers Alex Caffi and Enrico Bertaggia, but in Brazil AMF had Roberto Moreno and Perry McCarthy. The team had not done the paperwork to get the latter a Superlicence, so despite finishing the cars before pre-qualifying began, it could only run Moreno. He did not pre-qualify. In Spain McCarthy completed 10 yards outside the pitlane in pre-qualifying and Moreno did just a couple of laps. It was a joke. The only time when AMF looked to have some potential was in Monaco where, against the odds, Moreno not only qualified but completed 11 laps before stopped by an engine problem. In Canada the team had no engines because it had not paid Judd, so it had to borrow one from Brabham. Moreno did four laps before the car broke down. The team missed the French GP, being the only F1 operation to gets its truck stuck in a lorry driver blockade. And so it went on… until Spa where Sassetti was arrested in the paddock by Belgian police. The team was turned away by the FIA at the Italian GP for bringing the sport into disrepute.

There was then a plan to provide another new team with a revised version of the design. Escuderia Bravo F1 Espana was being put together by former Formula 3000 team boss Jean-Francois Mosnier, with Spanish money. The budget was tiny but the prototype S931 was built by November 1992 – but then failed its crash test. Soon afterwards Mosnier died of cancer and the plans fell apart.

Frustrated by the failures, Wirth decided early in 1993 that he would start his own team and founded Simtek Grand Prix in August that year. The team was launched three months later and in December the Simtek-Ford S941 ran for the first time. The team hired drivers David Brabham and Roland Ratzenberger and in Brazil in 1994 Brabham qualified one of the Ford-engined cars and finished 12th. Both qualified for the Pacific GP in Aida and Ratzenberger finished 11th. But then came Imola, where Ratzenberger died in a high-speed accident on the Saturday. The team never truly recovered and closed down in June 1995 with $9 million in debts. The sorry tale was over.

27 thoughts on “Fascinating F1 Fact:65

  1. As a teenager at the time, I remember thinking the car looked very cool with its MTV livery. They also showed some flashes of promise in 1995 with Jos Verstappen at the wheel before their sad demise.

  2. Another ‘what might have been’
    Also surely another ‘it’s not who you are but who you know’

    I remember the stories about Escuderia Bravo and Mosnier. That team would have had potential. If I recall right, Jordi Gene and Enrico Bertaggia would have been the drivers.

  3. Great tale. F1 is littered with if’s, but’s & Maybe’s……….. What if BMW had’ve entered the Simtek design or the Reynard project saw the light of day or Honda’s early 90’s solo project – I guess there are many more near misses that we don’t know about.

    Keep up the great work Joe, you make the off season bearable!!!!!!

    1. If I’m remembering rightly the first Reynard project did see the light of day – sort of – with the following year’s Benetton and Ligier both bearing a close resemblance to the Reynard wind tunnel models…

      1. Benetton bought out the factory and infrastructure Reynard had set up (because Enstone was somewhat more sophisticated than the generic Whitney industrial estate unit they were in). And got Byrne and Symonds back.

        Pacific Racing got a package of aero data, Jordan got the Yamaha engines, neither got much benefit from them. I thought Ligier only got the chassis as an ex-Benetton hand-down some time later, but I might be wrong.

  4. I’ve known Nick and Mark for years but never knew they were college classmates. Nor did I know the full background to the SimTek F1 entry.

    It’s going to be a shame when the 2017 cars start running and these history lessons end. Thanks very much for them in the meantime, Joe.

  5. After Simtek, Wirth did well in US prototype racing (was it Accura?), but didn´t deliver on very public promises made (contrary to prevailing conventional wisdom) for CFD at Virgin Racing.

    It seems that opportunity, connections and budget were there for Nick Wirth from early in his career, he has a reputation for being talented, so is this a case of pure misfortune or is that only part of the picture?

      1. > He achieved some level of success at Benetton

        Unless you mean that ironically (in the same sense in which a 4-0 defeat is still ‘a result’), I’m surprised to hear you say that.

  6. A sorry tale of woe, that goes further when you consider those owed the $9million that did not get paid and no doubt that had a knock on effect on many other lives.

  7. I take it the debts from the race team didn’t take down the whole Simtek operation ? Can you shed any light on what happened between 95 and 2000? Do you know how much of the Simtek team from 95 was there at the start of the Branson/Manor campaign

  8. Unfortunately, their truck was not the only one stuck in the French lorry drivers strike! I was driving the Yamaha engine truck, with all of Jordan’s motors, telemetry, the whole shebang! I tried to escape, only to have tyres shoved under the wagon, and told that if I tried to move again, they would set it on fire!
    I was also parked up next to the BP fuel truck, which would have been seen all over France if they had carried out their threat to burn the thing!
    I got parked up on the Tuesday, and the truck wasn’t released until a week later, when I got another driver to take it up to the British GP.
    It was very intimidating, and I threatened to punch Eddie Jordan when I got down to the paddock without the truck at Magny Cours. he seemed to think it was a huge joke….he wasn’t in the middle of it all!

    1. I remember getting there driving right across France using back roads. Never had a problem. I’m sure AMF was the only team not to get through

      1. Wanna see the pictures Joe?? I can absolutely guarantee that my truck didn’t get there my friend! I had been in for a service in Belgium, as it was a Japanese Hino on Belgian plates. I crossed over into France past tractor roadblocks, got between Paris and Magny Cours and was stopped on the main road. It was a big blockage with a load of trucks with guys running out of money and food, I was lucky, I had plenty of dough, so I checked into a hotel 2 miles up the road.
        Maybe I will write the story of the whole event. Give Herbie a call, he was my gaffer!

  9. I loved that car, with its MTV logo and those dark colours and clean design…I even had a pencil case featuring this car on it, a gift from a Japanese friend of mine.

    BTW Joe, have you heard of a fela named Thomas Gronvold? He was a spectator at Imola 94 and released his footage from that weekend on Youtube….23 years later!

      1. From the s/f stand, it gives a very good view of the tyre from the first start crash flying over the fence and going into the grandstand.

        1. That footage is all very eerie. Surreal. The cars seem like untamed growling beasts!
          On the rare occasions I look at racing from early ’94 and before that I initially get a huge buzz followed by almost despair.
          Late 80’s and early 90’s F1 and F3000 were the ‘fever’ days for me. Whilst I’ve always bern passionate about the sport, my keeness for F1 was diluted forever after Imola ’94.

  10. Wasn’t it also Nick Wirth who designed a car for the Virgin team that didn’t have a big enough fuel tank to cover the race distance?

    1. I thought about that a couple of days ago coincidentally. I think it was designed with the assumption that they could use a high density fuel, which wasn’t homologated in the end. Assume nothing. May be apocryphal.

      I remember Nick Wirth being one of the few to take the time to reply to my keen (but naive) requests for work experience when I was a student.

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