Motor Racing: Straight ahead for Stewart

Racing's first family ignore second-year blues on return to their favourite haunt. David Tremayne reports
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THE figure is small but distinctive even in a Formula One paddock in its tartan trousers. Recognising a familiar face, it suddenly leaps, arms raised, thumbs upward. Fifth place for Rubens Barrichello in last weekend's Spanish Grand Prix meant as much for Paul Stewart as the race victory did to McLaren. Perhaps even more.

It cannot be easy, seeking high levels of success in motor sport when your role-model father has already set such high standards, and for both Paul and Jackie Stewart, the graduation to Formula One as team owners has been a stony path.

Last year their Monaco Grand Prix - where Stewart senior had so often been dominant during his heyday as a driver - ended in tears, not because Barrichello failed to finish, but because he finished behind only Michael Schumacher. After months of sustained effort, success in Prince Rainier's playground was simply too much for them. The Stewarts are an unusually close family, and father and son embraced and wept openly that wet afternoon.

More often than not since then the only time a Stewart has made the television screen was when a cloud of Texaco lubricant signalled the demise of yet another Ford engine. Yet lately there have been suggestions that the American automotive giant is beginning to wish that it had not committed to the Stewarts until 2001. Barrichello's effort in Spain last week may have done much to banish such rumours, and beating the world champion Jacques Villeneuve's Williams-Mecachrome was icing on the cake.

As managing director of Stewart Grand Prix, Paul Stewart exudes an engaging willingness to admit his shortcomings. "Everyone says the second year is the worst, and I'm beginning to understand that. I didn't understand it last year, because I was thinking, `Hey, look at the things we did to get the team up and running, racing and staying on top of our reliability problems. How can it be more difficult? The second year must be easier than this!'

"Quite frankly, all sorts of things pass under your nose when you are setting up a new organisation. It's not through lack of commitment or stupidity, but you are learning the whole world of F1. It's a bit like driving into a snowstorm; you've got a huge amount of confusing data coming at you, and you have to deal with that while still remembering the basics of driving.

"I'm not suggesting that we were ignorant of things we had to consider during year two, because we had to plan for the factory move that we have just completed. That required a significant commitment from the Board. We weren't just going to look round, and then forget about it. We were 10 years in our old 15,000 square-foot base, where we had taken units on short leases, and then suddenly we were looking at an 80,000 square- foot unit with a 16-year lease. We really had to commit financially to that."

He is quick to defend the decision to build a complicated carbon fibre gearbox, which many believe the team lacked the maturity to develop, and which proved unreliable initially this season. "It was a combination of being willing to take the risk with an unknown piece of technology, and a little bit of naivety as well. I still don't think it was the wrong thing to have done.

"Ultimately we have set ourselves a long-term plan, and that is the sort of thing that we are going to have to do as a racing team in years three, four and five. You are always hopeful, you don't go in there thinking `we are going to throw away the first four races'."

The suggestion of dissatisfaction on Ford's behalf is hurtful, but the Stewarts hide that well. "Of course there has been pressure from Ford," Paul admits, "and you can't complain about that. My father and I are racers, and we want this team to win. We're not going to get there just by being jolly about it. The Ford proposal has been our constitution. It's not so much us saying, `What do we do now?' as `What did we say we were going to do in our proposal? Right, we'd better do that!' We've stuck by that. I don't want it to sound like sales pitch, but when we did the deal with Ford, we wanted a long-term trustworthy partner for Ford Motor Company to work with. That's an important element."

The problem remains of getting the second driver, Jan Magnussen, back up to speed. The Dane has long been a Stewart protege, but some have been critical of the decision to try to boost his confidence and pace while putting him on a race-by-race probation.

"I have no problem with that at all," Stewart says immediately. "Last season we gave Jan every opportunity to perform, with zero pressure until the last third, when he did perform. And then this season it has slipped away again. My response is that applying pressure is the right way to do things. It's not a question of being nasty or rude or condescending. Just being realistic about it."

That comment, and the fact that most other teams would have pitched Magnussen this time last year, tells you more about the way in which Paul and Jackie Stewart are tackling their Formula One programme than anything else.

Paul Stewart has the air of a man not given to sparing himself. "I might still be naive about certain things," he says, "and I might say the wrong things at times, but that's the only way I'm going to learn."