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.