The old kings of the road return

Maestros Stewart and Mansell spin back the clock as Formula One shows it is still in the grip of the money monster; David Tremayne assesses the market forces driving a pair of legendary comebacks
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Jackie stewart has not been shy of the limelight since Ken Tyrrell, the man he raced for in his heyday, was a boy, but even by the 57-year- old Scot's elevated standards the launch of his new Stewart-Ford Formula One car in London last Tuesday was an object lesson. McLaren's Ron Dennis would have offered body parts for a tenth of the good press that it generated.

Stewart, ever the public relations man's dream, brought an unusual level of propriety to his racing as a driver, and exploited the theme in his tongue-in-cheek comments. "Our marriage with Ford has had a socially acceptable period, 11 months, and the conception and pregnancy has also been a very respectable nine months of remarkable effort."

A number of "blue chip" companies have provided a healthy budget, as Stewart acknowledged. "We are really very, very lucky to have attracted such companies when we haven't turned a wheel. Most of the other teams who have as much money have been around for a while, and won world championships."

Failing to ink a deal with Damon Hill had not been a disappointment, he was quick to stress. "We really didn't expect him to come in the first place. And it would almost have been too much for our team to bear. The reigning world champion... if we had had Damon as a driver there would have been more pressure on the mechanics and engineers, and on the team, which is like a very young child. The bones are not really fully set or grown yet. It would have been nice emotionally to have Hill in the team, because I've known him since he was a wee boy, but I think it might have been too much really for the infrastructure."

He cited a top-10 finish as his initial aspiration, and admitted that it had been a longer road than he had anticipated. "No company makes decisions in a short time, because you are dealing with large multi- national corporations, so nobody makes fast decisions. And I wasn't counting eggs before they'd hatched. The ink had to be dry and the cheque in the bank." Informed sources say around pounds 25m has gone through the Stewart account.

The ability to move as comfortably in the rarefied atmosphere of high finance as he did in the cockpit has been crucial, and his name has opened doors others might have found closed in their faces. But it hasn't always worked.

"I was at a dinner party in London not so long ago, and there were only two people at a table of 10 who even knew I was thinking of starting a grand prix team. It's the world of fairly big players, so you'd be rather naive if you thought you were important. They'd bring you down to earth, because to them it's so insignificant."

The ability to tell a story against himself has always set Stewart apart from many of his rivals. But he is not the only former champion returning to F1, for last week Nigel Mansell had his much-hyped test drive for the Jordan team in Barcelona.

Mansell's link with Jordan was first mooted in this newspaper, shortly after it became apparent just how limited Jordan's options were, but it was scarcely a feat of mental gymnastics to rival splitting the atom. When two people are blundering around in a darkened room, it is only a matter of time before they bump into one another.

Whether Mansell really wants the money he can still command or is simply restless remains to be seen. But there is no question that signing him could be the best means by which Eddie Jordan could redress the catastrophic and highly embarrassing mismanagement of his negotiations with Damon Hill. Peugeot (who are expected to switch to an Alain Prost-owned Ligier team in 1998) are said not to favour the idea, which seems a trifle myopic, but the sponsors, Benson & Hedges, would love a British driver, especially one guaranteed to hit the headlines as, it would seem, only "Our Nige" can. And following a season in which Jordan failed to deliver when they had expected victory, Mansell would bring much-needed knowledge of what the team must do before they can truly aspire to win. It may not be a sweet ride, because with Mansell it rarely ever is, but he does know how many F1 beans make five.

Mansell settled in quickly, as one might expect, and is now considering his future. But anyone who thinks he is over the hill at 43 may be looking through the wrong end of the telescope. Motivation can be more important than age, although he will need to exorcise the ghost of his disastrous 1995 affair with McLaren.

His old boss, Frank Williams, sounded a cautious note. "Nigel must ask himself if he is fit and motivated enough to push to the limit every lap, the way you have to nowadays because of refuelling. The last time he had to do that was 10 years ago."

And Jackie Stewart said: "F1 is a young man's game, and as a team owner I think you've got to go young."

In a week when he had to share the headlines with the Scot, Mansell could take heart that he would be the talking point during F1's Christmas break. Love him or loathe him, Mansell is a visually exciting driver. And odd as it may seem for those whose views have been coloured by the more difficult side of his off-track nature, the prospect of watching him in action as the underdog exerts a strange yet compelling fascination.

Gridlocked: Five teams who have tried to break into the big time

Onyx

Mike Earle's team from Littlehampton had a glittering record in F3000 when they moved to F1 in 1989 with a car designed by Alan Jenkins, architect of Jackie Stewart's new machine. In their first season Onyx took a third and a fifth, but Earle was taken over by the controversial sponsor Jean-Pierre van Rossem, who later sold out to the idiosyncratic Swiss designer Peter Monteverdi. He steered the team haphazardly to a pathetic end midway through 1990. They deserved better.

Scuderia Italia

Set up in 1988 by the wealthy Italian steel magnate Beppe Lucchini, their best result was third at Imola in 1991. Inevitable financial pressures eventually forced a merger with Minardi.

Pacific

Like Onyx, Pacific were winners in F3000, but their debut in 1994 was hampered by a grossly out-of-date car. They soldiered on for part of 1995, before the financial writing on the wall spelled finis.

Simtek

Born out of a stillborn project for BMW, Simtek's first season in 1994 was marred by the tragedy to Roland Ratzenberger, killed the day before Senna at Imola. Last year's car showed promise in Jos Verstappen's hands, but by Monaco the team was insolvent. Owner Nick Wirth is now Benetton's designer.

Forti

An Italian team run by another successful F3000 entrant and financed out of Brazil, Forti lasted through 1995 courtesy of money injected by Pedro Diniz (now Damon Hill's team-mate) and his wealthy father. When Diniz switched to Ligier for 1996 Forti's days were numbered, and after a controversial takeover this season they spluttered to a halt. Enthusiasts were merely grateful that a plan to transfer the Lotus name in 1995 came to nothing.

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