Motor racing: Honeymoon over as Stewart enters delivery business

Click to follow
Just one podium finish exceeded Jackie Stewart's expectations in his debut season as a Formula One team owner. Yesterday he rolled out the new Stewart-Ford knowing that a one-off result will not be enough this time.

A surreal combo of pipes and steel band had them grinning from Dunton, Essex, to Detroit, Michigan, and as a charm offensive might well have done the trick.

Formula One launches tend to be more showtime than substance, but behind this tartan spectacular was stark business reality and no one from the engine or car-maker was ducking the issue. The Stewart-Ford organisation has it to do. No excuses.

As Jackie Stewart, the leading light and inspiration behind the team, said: "The honeymoon is over. Now it's time to wash the dishes."

The Scot and his team unveiled their new, slimline car, the SF2, at Ford's Research and Engineering Centre, an indication of Ford's intensifying commitment and demands as Stewart-Ford embark on a second season.

A remarkable second place by Rubens Barrichello in the rain of Monaco gave Stewart six points last season, a result which exceeded their expectations for the first year and vindicated the project. But the rest of the 17 grands prix produced nothing in terms of points and now the requirement is more consistent competitiveness.

That message came from Ford, who have pinned their reputation on Stewart, as the company beamed yesterday's proceedings back to headquarters in the United States, and it was reinforced by Stewart, who won the world championship three times as a driver. If he needed added incentive, it was provided by the clumsy request of the sport's governing body, the FIA, that he proved his team's financial capability of completing the coming season.

Stewart knew he would confront envy as well as the usual obstacles on the re-entry to grand prix racing, but this shabby challenge and blatant attempt to embarrass him following the withdrawal of a sponsor was a blow delivered even lower than he had anticipated.

Stewart has since confirmed new backers who will boost his budget to pounds 30m. The workforce has been increased from 113 to 136 in the last six months and will rise to 170 by the end of the year. They are due to move into a new factory in May or June.

"What happened with FIA has hardened my resolve in that we know we've got to deliver," Stewart said. "We have got to give our people stability".

"This is a serious effort, as you can see from Ford's involvement. There's total commitment all round. That increases the pressure, but it's pressure we relish.

"Everybody is assuming the second year will be easier but from my experience the second year is harder. You have none of the benefits of newness, people are no longer prepared to take excuses.

"I would expect us to run in the top 10 and we've got to get in the top six in races. With attrition, you then have the chance of maybe a podium finish, although we shouldn't expect regular podium finishes. If we can take our points tally to double figures this year we will then be considered serious players. Only in the fourth and fifth years can we hope to compete with the front runners."

Retaining Barrichello, the Brazilian who was beaten only by Michael Schumacher at Monaco, was a straightforward decision for Stewart. Giving the Dane Jan Magnussen another chance less so.

"Rubens is in the top 10 in the world and he is so good in the wet I think he must have webbed feet," Stewart said. "But Jan was two races away from not having a drive. He has improved 300 per cent. The difference is night and day."

The test for Stewart starts with the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on 8 March.

Comments