EARLY START PROVES THAT STEWART TEAM IS READY TO ROLL IN '99 By Dan Knutson indyf1.com Special Correspondent INDIANAPOLIS, Jan. 27, 1999 -- Team Stewart became the first to run its 1999 Formula One car when the Stewart-Ford took to the track...
EARLY START PROVES THAT STEWART TEAM IS READY TO ROLL IN '99
By Dan Knutson indyf1.com Special Correspondent
INDIANAPOLIS, Jan. 27, 1999 -- Team Stewart became the first to run its 1999 Formula One car when the Stewart-Ford took to the track Dec. 23. That was followed by the official debut of the new car at the Autosport International show Jan. 7 in Birmingham, England.
The team's motto this season is: Ready to go!
This marks the third season for the F1 team started by three-time World Champion Jackie Stewart and his son, Paul Stewart, and backed by Ford. Although it struggled in 1998, Jackie Stewart says his team is brimming with confidence for the new season.
"We've worked very hard over the last two or three years just to get the company together," Stewart said. "Last year we moved into a new factory. But I think the synergy within the company over the last couple of weeks has been fantastic. I think the arrival of the new car, as well prepared as it is, has put a generation of enthusiasm into the team which I've never seen before.
"The car's good, it looks good, the engine's very good, small, light and very powerful. Everything we see about the car we like, and the morale in the team is very high."
Brazil's Rubens Barrichello returns to the team for a third season, and he is joined by two-time Grand Prix winner Johnny Herbert of Great Britain. With a total of 226 Grand Prix starts between them, they represent the most experienced pair of teammates in the 1999 lineup.
"We've failed so far to have the reliability that we should have had in racing," Jackie Stewart said. "That's part of the growing pains that a new team has to go through, but to have two drivers who know what to do, and who aren't going to barge in where angels fear to tread, is a very important element in finishing races.
"It's absolutely important for us to finish races. No matter how good the engine is, no matter how good the chassis is, the car has got to be able to finish races. And it needs a driver that has the experience of being able to nurse a car along when he's done more than a handful of Grands Prix. I think the combination of Rubens and Johnny is going to be a very good one. Both of them are very strong drivers at a time in their career when they have to prove a point."
The team has made substantial changes over the past year. Part of the management restructuring will involve Paul Stewart moving up from managing director to deputy chairman as he's groomed to eventually succeed his father at the head of the company. The team has moved into a high-tech, 80,000 square-foot factory and now manufactures 95 percent of the car in house. By June the work force at Stewart will have grown to 250 people. "The whole structure of the team has changed dramatically," Herbert said. "The difficult season that Paul and Jackie had last year has probably made it a stronger team for this year. They learned a lot of things, and that's a very positive thing for the future. I joined Stewart at the right time because they have changed a lot of things. The vision is set very high. "There's no reason why we can't become a McLaren-beater. We have got to work very hard. It's a big challenge, but we are all up for that challenge."
Alan Jenkins, who designed the new car, left the company at the end of December. Former Jordan designer Gary Anderson is now at the helm as technical director at Stewart.
Both men are well acquainted with the Brickyard and Indy-style racing. Jenkins worked for Team Penske in the mid-1980s, and Anderson worked for Galles Racing from 1985-87.
Scotland's Jackie Stewart, of course, needs no introduction at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He nearly won the Indy 500 in 1966. Stewart led by two laps in the Bowes Seal Fast Special when his engine had an oil pump failure with less than 10 laps to go. He ended up sixth and was named Rookie of the Year.
Returning to the Speedway in 1967, Stewart was running second behind A.J. Foyt before again being sidelined by engine failure. In subsequent years Stewart worked with ABC-TV for some 15 years as a race commentator at the Indy 500.
Team Stewart's ties to the Ford Motor Company are stronger than ever now that Ford's Neil Ressler is on the board of directors at Stewart. Ford provides its research-and-design expertise not only to the engine but to the chassis.
Cosworth and Ford produced a new V10 that is approximately 50 pounds lighter than last year's engine, a huge drop. With its weight listed at 220 pounds, Ford's new V10 is one of the lightest and smallest engines in F1. The engine first ran on the dyno at 1:34 a.m. Dec. 18; it was installed in the car shortly thereafter and ran on the track for the first time on Dec. 23.
After experiencing reliability problems with the innovative carbon fiber gearbox case last year, the team has reverted to the more conventional cast magnesium gearbox case in 1999.
Stewart's team is now in the third year of its five-year plan.
"We have a long-term strategy," Jackie Stewart said. "We promised Ford that by the fifth year we would be competitive and challenging for victories." The team is ready to go in 1999. Last year, the team started the season far from that.
"When we went to Australia last year, right up to here in deep water, I had a dinner with the race mechanics on the Wednesday night (before the race), and I said to them, 'This will never happen again -- you all coming here as tired as you are,'" Stewart said.
"We are on schedule," Stewart said of the new season. "In my racing career I have never felt more comfortable at being prepared." So is victory possible this year?
"We have a lot of testing to do," Stewart said. "(Our restructuring) ... is very efficiently in place now. With all of those assets, in right circumstances, we could win a Grand Prix with a little bit of luck. We are in a better position to expect that this year than we have ever been before."