Motor racing: Stewart hopeful of a better showing

JACKIE STEWART met the challenge of the age, intensified by the birth of the brash, upbeat British American Racing team, with a proclamation of renewed optimism yesterday. The Stewart Ford team unveiled the car that carries their hopes into a third Formula One World Championship season where the snipers lay in wait. Last year they under-achieved.

They know they must do better - and they maintain they will. Johnny Herbert has joined Rubens Barrichello, giving them the most experienced driver pairing in Grand Prix racing. An improved car, with a lighter, more powerful engine, completes what they believe will be a competitive package. Equally important in Stewart's view has been internal reorganisation and restructuring. His son, Paul, becomes deputy chairman and a new managing director is on his way. The new technical director of Gary Anderson, formerly of Jordan.

"The result of all this is that we are genuinely ready to go," Stewart said. "Last year we arrived at Melbourne with everybody tired because of all the last minute work we had to do. I promised them then that would never happen again.

"We did criticism and it hurt, but I always knew what to expect. We didn't enjoy the growing pains but we have learnt from it and have come into this season stronger and better. I have never been involved with a team, even as a driver, better prepared for a new season than we are now."

BAR's arrival, however, provides additional competition, and Stewart will be anxious not to be upstaged by the newcomers. And yet he insists his team are not perturbed. "It doesn't mean more pressure for us but for BAR," he said. "They are the ones who have talked about a debut win. Scots are a wee bit more canny and try to play down their chances, so that when we do deliver we are more pleased with ourselves.

"We've given ourselves a five-year target for success. But with luck we could win a grand prix in 1999. We are ambitious. I have always been. I've no idea how many second places I had as a driver but I know I had 27 wins."

Stewart has intriguing observations on BAR's attempts to run cars in different liveries. The new team took their case to arbitration yesterday and could have a decision next week. "We came into Formula One on the understanding that the liveries had to be consistent," Stewart said. "There could be tremendous ramifications here. Can you imagine a Ferrari that is not in red? Kellogg's could have two cars, one advertising Rice Krispies, the other All Bran, and we know which one would be the faster."

Herbert, embarking on his 11th season in Formula One, knows his career is at a critical point. He said: "I know I have a big season ahead of me. This move has come at the right time. I have to show what I can do. But I believe we can be challenging."

Ford took the opportunity also to announce their World Rally Championship car, the Focus, would be sponsored by Martini, a company long associated with rallying and racing.

Ford's new signing, Colin McRae, heads for Monte Carlo next week and the start of the championship, saying: "The car has tremendous possibilities but realistically we're looking for improvements and good results later in the season."

The shop window of the show even gave Silverstone the chance to announce a new insurance scheme which should enable them to pour another pounds 1 million into the sport.

Williams, due to unveil their car later this month in Barcelona, introduced Alessandro Zanardi to a British audience and his obvious enthusiasm should prove a fillip for the deposed champions.

Zanardi, twice champion of the Champ Car series, returns to Formula One insisting he has nothing to prove. "It's difficult to draw a line between expectations and dreams," he said. "If I win my first race, the dream transforms into expectation. If I win one race, I will want to win 17."

Of his new partner, Ralf Schumacher, the Italian said: "You can read in his eyes he has got a great desire to prove how good he is. For an old man like me, it is interesting to have a reference point like that."