Motor Racing: Simtek approach home with hope after their anguish: Formula One's newcomers have had to bear great adversity. Derick Allsop on a road to recovery which leads to Silverstone on Sunday

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The Independent Online
HOME comforts can rarely have been more appealing to a sports team, and fate might feel it owes Simtek-Ford a British Grand Prix to savour on Sunday.

Simtek, who are based at Banbury which is barely a couple of laps in road distance from Silverstone, and Pacific-Ilmor, from Thetford, Norfolk, came into Formula One this year with their eyes open and their coffers cleaned out. This is no place for fools or dreamers.

Pacific have had a harsh enough initiation, not least because of the unexpected expense incurred following changes to car regulations, but for Simtek it has been a dreadful ride. The financial strain has been exceeded only by emotional trauma.

Their driver Roland Ratzenberger died in a crash during qualifying for the San Marino Grand Prix, 10 weeks ago, the first Formula One fatality in eight years. A month later his replacement, Andrea Montermini, escaped with relatively minor injuries in an accident at Barcelona so visually terrifying that team members were again reduced to tears.

The burden of carrying Simtek through this ordeal has fallen on the considerable yet inexperienced figure of Nick Wirth, at 28 the youngest team boss in Formula One. An acclaimed aerodynamicist with Leyton House in his early twenties, he set up Simtek Research with Max Mosley, now the president of FIA, the sport's governing body, to provide a design and development service for the motorsport industry.

Mosley had to sell his holding to pursue his political course, leaving Wirth to form an alliance with Sir Jack Brabham and launch his grand prix venture. And then came Imola.

'I can't really describe how bad it's been,' Wirth said. 'I don't want to harp on but I think it's worth talking about. I'm sure there are people who can understand because of things that have happened in their lives, but it's difficult to describe what I was feeling like at Imola that Saturday afternoon.

'To stand on the pit wall and to see a friend of mine, because Roland was a friend, to see him die the way he did, with all the attempts to resuscitate him. . . it's making the hairs on the back of my neck stand up now talking about it, all these weeks after.

'I'm only 28, I haven't had much experience in life, and fortunately I haven't had people in my family or close relations die. Not that anything can prepare you for that, and it comes back in waves. You concentrate on things again and time is the great healer, but you still get these fluctuations and you think about it.

'Again, at Barcelona, there was probably half or three-quarters of an hour after Andrea had his crash that we didn't know if he'd died. Your legs go to jelly. I was standing on the pit wall and I had to sit down on the wall. You feel sick and in that three-quarters of an hour you lose two or three years off your life, there's no doubt about it. You get grey hair, which I'm getting now.

'It's not pressure, it's a feeling like nothing else. There were guys in the team crying again in Barcelona. It's the shock. You hear of people going into shock but you don't really understand it until you experience it.'

Wirth recognised that he had to contain his shock and go on. He was thankful he had about him a band of strong allies, including his No 1 driver, David Brabham, son of Sir Jack. Brabham chose to race at Imola and again in Spain, where he delivered a morale-lifting 10th place.

'You've got to prove you can do it,' Wirth said. 'I have a responsibility to the people who work for me, their families, to my sponsors, to my drivers and to myself. I know what I want to do, I know I can achieve it and I cannot let anything conquer it.

'There comes a point where you think you must stop, but there was so much enthusiasm from people who'd helped us build the team, and also our sponsors. I know certain sponsors might run a mile, but these guys said they really wanted us to continue and I thought I couldn't let them down.

'If they had said we'd got to stop, then, both emotionally and financially, we would have had to. You can't imagine the financial strain that's been on the company with these two crashed cars. Formula One cars cost about pounds 250,000 each, and for a team like us it puts us back another load.

'David's contribution has been very important. He's a remarkable person. He's had to drive in the most adverse circumstances. We talked a lot on Saturday night and Sunday morning about whether he should run at Imola, and in the end he said he would because that was what Roland would have wanted.

'He knew Roland loved this team so much he would have accepted losing his drive if he couldn't get the sponsorship money in. Roland had told me on the Friday night 'Nick, whatever you do, get another driver, get the money in, the team is the most important thing'.

'David was with us, he know what Roland was like. Through the tears we told ourselves we had to bear up. That's what pulled it all together. We wouldn't fold, we had to show we could rise above it.'

Wirth now relishes the opportunity to establish his 40-strong operation in Formula One and Silverstone may serve to fortify the team's self-belief.

He said: 'I'm not satisfied with our progress, but then we're suffering from a lack of experience and track time. We haven't got the money at the moment to test on a regular basis. It's tough and so frustrating knowing what you could do and what David could do with more running time.

'But we're really looking forward to the British Grand Prix. The factory is 20 minutes from Silverstone and I live one mile, as the crow flies, from the track. We've actually done a bit of testing there and should go well.

'As for the rest of the season, I want us to establish ourselves as top-20 qualifiers and get some regular top-10 finishes. I don't know whether a point is possible because you've got to beat a lot of good teams. I just want to keep improving and get another step forward in 1995.'

(Photograph omitted)

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