Lauda races against time to put roar back into Jaguar

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The Independent Online

On the face of it, Jaguar's fourth place at Indianapolis was another brick in the wall of redevelopment that the beleaguered team has begun building since the sacking of chief executive officer Bobby Rahal just after the Hungarian GP in August.

Since he took sole responsibility for the team two races ago, the former triple world champion Niki Lauda has helped Jaguar score five championship points, doubling their entire score from the preceding 14 starts. The situation is, at best, misleading, however. As drivers Eddie Irvine and Pedro de la Rosa qualified only 14th and 16th in America, Lauda gave a television interview in which he underlined just how tough a battle towards respectability the team faces.

"When I joined earlier this year our 2001 car was too far advanced to do much about it," the Austrian said. "We have to wait to see what happens with the R3 next year, but anyway as far as I am concerned nothing will begin to happen until we get our wind tunnel sorted out. I am looking first to 2003 before we can get any real results. That's when you will be able to tell what we have been doing.

"Look, it took Ferrari 21 years since Jody Scheckter before they won the World Championship with Michael [Schumacher]. These things just don't happen overnight. You need the resources, which is why we have to wait until we can be in our own wind tunnel full-time instead of coming over here [to an American racing car manufacturer's facility in San Clemente] whenever we can get time."

Without realising it Lauda was sounding exactly like the suave Rahal, whom many people in the F1 paddock believe was made a scapegoat for a situation that he was never fully allowed to control. Jaguar's recent points haul owes as much to the changes that Rahal had already instigated as it does to solid race strategy and good performances from the drivers.

Lauda suggested that Rahal's commitment was lacking, because of his own dealerships in America and his ChampCar racing team, a point the popular American strongly rejects. The Austrian then said that there had been no animosity between them. Those aware of the truth of Jaguar's night of the long knives that ousted Rahal could be forgiven for wondering if Lauda has been tearing a leaf from a certain famous wooden puppet's book. Rahal had the onerous task of trying to run things with Lauda sitting at his shoulder as the man brought in over his head by the Jaguar chief Wolfgang Reitzle. Policy disagreements were frequent.

In Indianapolis the hot rumour was that the BMW- Williams design duo of Gavin Fisher and aerodynamicist Geoff Willis will soon head to significantly better paid jobs chez Jaguar. But even as the team are spending money as if it comes out a tap, other indications in America suggest that the funding may not be infinite. At a time when Edsel Ford has been demanding to know who this guy Eddie Irvine is who is listed as the second highest paid man in Ford Motor Company, the Detroit giant's top executives were told not to bother going to Indianapolis to watch the Jaguars race. American domestic series such as CART and NASCAR offer the Blue Oval a better return on investment.

If Ford really are tiring of their expensive plaything, it may yet prove that Lauda's plans for the future are academic if Detroit decides to cut its losses and pull the financial plug.