Bonny birth of Stewart's new car

Jackie Stewart's Formula One debutants have designed and manufactured their first car in nine months. Derick Allsop reports

The tartan and a lone piper heralded a new Stewart period in Formula One, but the whiff of heather and tradition was wafted away with the unveiling of a sleek, white Ford-powered car yesterday.

Claymores and Bravehearts belong to another age, as Jackie Stewart will testify, and his first campaign as a team boss rather than a driver will be fought with the latest product of the computer era.

The Stewart-Ford SF1, on show in London's Grosvenor Square yesterday, has been just nine months in the designing and making, a technical triumph which may be a sign of achievements to come.

"The task of creating a new Formula One car from scratch in nine months is a formidable one," said the man who won the world championship three times, in 1969, 1971 and 1973. "To the best of my knowledge, this is the first Formula One car to have been designed by computer from the outset." His son, Paul, managing director of the team, was even more fulsome. "In many ways it has been nothing short of a miracle," he said.

"It has been an enormous challenge to plan the timetable, keep to the budget and assemble so much in a relatively short period of time. Only the best is good enough in Formula One and we are confident we are reaching that benchmark."

Stewart Snr warned against any great expectations for the new team. "I would like to win one championship point - if we got more than that I would be thrilled," he said. "Top-10 finishes and top-10 qualifying in our first year would be pretty impressive. Not many teams have ever done that."

The clan's dream of running a grand prix operation drew closer with every success they attained in the lower formulae in the shape of Paul Stewart Racing and became a reality with the signing of a pounds 20m, five-year works deal with the engine manufacturers Ford.

Then came the task of recruiting personnel capable of excelling at this level, luring competitive drivers and attracting the necessary sponsorship to fund a pounds 20m budget for the first season. Among the backing is a pounds 5m- a-year agreement with the HKSB financial corporation and Malaysian Government.

Alan Jenkins, the technical director, said: "We started literally with an empty room. It was important to get key staff on board and we have attracted many talented people.

"Unlike the established teams in Formula One, we did not have an existing car to provide us with a point of reference, but that can also be viewed as an advantage since you are able to start with a clear computer screen.

"It was inevitable that we could not hone the design details straight away because of unknown variables such as tyre choice and driver preferences. Nonetheless, we were able to meet our schedule."

Stewart, whose team are to use Bridgestone tyres, will shortly send his drivers, Brazil's Rubens Barrichello and the Dane, Jan Magnussen, testing in preparation for the new world championship season, which opens with the Australian Grand Prix, in Melbourne, on 9 March.

A five-year target to compete for the championship has been set, but there is another dimension to the venture. "This is more than motor racing to me," Stewart said. "It's also do with the Stewart family. When I retired from racing in 1973, what we are doing today would have been, for me, not even a glimpse of what was on the horizon.

"I have been very fortunate. Motor racing has been my life and the sport has blessed me and my family with privilege, material benefits and opportunities to fulfil so many dreams."

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