Simtek Grand Prix

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Simtek Grand Prix

Post by Admin on Fri Feb 10, 2017 8:34 pm

Back in 1989 Max Mosley was looking to invest in a high technology racing company. His former March Engineering partner Robin Herd recommended a young engineer called Nick Wirth, who had been in the same class as Robin’s son Mark, studying mechanical engineering at University College, London. Mosley met Wirth and decided to fund a company called Simtek Research Ltd. Simtek (which stood for Simulation Technology) built its own windtunnel in Banbury and Mosley’s connections brought in business from the FIA, the French government and Ligier (for which Simtek built a wind tunnel in Magny-Cours). There was also the hush-hush BMW F1 project, which began in 1990, with the aim of entering a BMW factory team in 1991.

Back in June 1986, BMW had announced its intention to withdraw from F1 as an engine supplier at the end of that season. The Munich company explained that its F1 success was at the mercy of the teams it partnered with, and that this meant there was too much beyond its control – which was not good for the BMW image. The idea of staying in F1 and fielding a full works team was discussed – with Adrian Newey being mentioned as a possible designer – but the BMW board had concluded this was too expensive an option. By the middle of 1988 BMW Motorsport head Wolfgang Peter Flohr had departed and his job was given to Karl-Heinz Kalbfell, a racer at heart. He wanted BMW back in F1 and so a plan was developed to present the company with an F1 chassis that it could call its own, at minimal cost. The BMW board, however, did not like this idea either – and so the programme was cancelled and the car was left unbuilt. Mosley and Wirth had an F1 chassis design – and nothing to do with it. Max was busy getting involved in FIA politics at the time and in order to avoid any clashes of interest he then sold his shares in Simtek to Wirth.

As all this was happening the hopeless Coloni F1 team was dying quietly at the back of the F1 grid. Enzo Coloni decided it was time to get out of the sport and sold the team’s assets to a shoe manufacturer called Andrea Sassetti. He announced that the team would be transformed into Andrea Moda Formula. There was no time to build a new car and so the team planned to start the 1992 season with the old Coloni cars before introducing a new design – the Simtek – as quickly as possible. It soon became clear that Sassetti was running a chaotic operation. The team was excluded from the first race in South Africa because the entry fees had not been paid. The crew then spent the entire Mexican GP weekend building up the Simtek cars in their garage, but neither ran. The original plan was to have drivers Alex Caffi and Enrico Bertaggia, but in Brazil AMF had Roberto Moreno and Perry McCarthy. The team had not done the paperwork to get the latter a Superlicence, so despite finishing the cars before pre-qualifying began, it could only run Moreno. He did not pre-qualify. In Spain McCarthy completed 10 yards outside the pitlane in pre-qualifying and Moreno did just a couple of laps. It was a joke. The only time when AMF looked to have some potential was in Monaco where, against the odds, Moreno not only qualified but completed 11 laps before stopped by an engine problem. In Canada the team had no engines because it had not paid Judd, so it had to borrow one from Brabham. Moreno did four laps before the car broke down. The team missed the French GP, being the only F1 operation to gets its truck stuck in a lorry driver blockade. And so it went on… until Spa where Sassetti was arrested in the paddock by Belgian police. The team was turned away by the FIA at the Italian GP for bringing the sport into disrepute.

There was then a plan to provide another new team with a revised version of the design. Escuderia Bravo F1 Espana was being put together by former Formula 3000 team boss Jean-Francois Mosnier, with Spanish money. The budget was tiny but the prototype S931 was built by November 1992 – but then failed its crash test. Soon afterwards Mosnier died of cancer and the plans fell apart.

Frustrated by the failures, Wirth decided early in 1993 that he would start his own team and founded Simtek Grand Prix in August that year. The team was launched three months later and in December the Simtek-Ford S941 ran for the first time. The team hired drivers David Brabham and Roland Ratzenberger and in Brazil in 1994 Brabham qualified one of the Ford-engined cars and finished 12th. Both qualified for the Pacific GP in Aida and Ratzenberger finished 11th. But then came Imola, where Ratzenberger died in a high-speed accident on the Saturday. The team never truly recovered and closed down in June 1995 with $9 million in debts. The sorry tale was over.


Last edited by Admin on Fri Feb 10, 2017 8:53 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Re: Simtek Grand Prix

Post by Admin on Fri Feb 10, 2017 8:49 pm

Wirth and Mosely start Simulation Technology

The history of Formula One is littered with 'if only' and 'what if' stories. It's true that many of the drivers and teams featured on this site brought about their own unsuccessfulness through lack of application, naivety or mismanagement, but there are just as many stories where the outcome could have so different if only the cards had fallen the right way. But, amidst the Grand Prix tragedies of 1994 and the worldwide economic downturn of the early to mid-1990s, the story of Simtek was a heartbreaking example of all the cards falling the wrong way. Though not a team with lower category pedigree, Simtek had much going for it. Simtek Research Ltd (Simtek being short for 'Simulation Technology') was a company founded in August 1989 by Nick Wirth and none other than Max Mosley. Wirth had been a top mechanical engineering student who was friends with Mark Herd, son of one of the co-founders of the March F1 team, Robin Herd. Mosley, of course, had been another of the team's original owners. Wirth had been so impressive, within two days of graduating from university he was working for March as an aerodynamicist.

He then assisted Adrian Newey in designing the March 881, and he personally penned the March-Nissan Le Mans challenger. He was approached to join Ligier as chief designer in 1989, yet decided to stay with March instead. But when March was sold to the Japanese Leyton House concern, Herd and Mosley pulled out, Max wanting to invest in a high technology racing company instead. Upon Herd's recommendation, Mosley and Wirth formed Simtek in an office in Wirth's home, but it grew so quickly with Mosley's backing that soon they built a windtunnel in a new base in Banbury, Oxfordshire. Mosley's connections also meant that this fledgling R&D company soon had an enviable list of clients. Those who utilised Simtek's services included the FIA, the French government, Ligier (for which Simtek designed and installed their Magny-Cours windtunnel), and Group C, Indycar and F3000 teams. Above all though, Simtek secretly designed an F1 car for BMW in 1990 as the Bavarians toyed with the idea of entering F1 on its own, although the plan was eventually rejected, and developed and ran the 3-series touring cars which competed in Germany in 1991.

Sir Jack and David Brabham on board

In 1992 Mosley became President of the FIA, and sold his shareholding in Simtek to Wirth. That year Andrea Sassetti of the ill-fated Andrea Moda team came calling, bought the two-year-old BMW designs, and proceeded to undertake the most farcical F1 effort has ever seen. Thankfully, that did not reflect badly on Wirth, so much so that for 1993, Simtek was asked to design a car for the new Bravo Grand Prix team. But when that project's backer died suddenly, the deal was off. Nevertheless, it left Wirth itching to show the Grand Prix paddock what his designs were capable of. So, in August 1993 he decided to form an F1 team of his own, and Simtek Grand Prix was born. In stepped triple World Champion Sir Jack Brabham as a shareholder, and when the team was officially launched later in the year, Sir Jack's youngest son David Brabham was announced as one of the drivers. A deal was done to run customer Ford HB engines, and the US$500,000 new team entry fee was paid (a far cry from the US$48 million entry fee today). With Herd labelling Wirth "the next superstar designer", Simtek had much to live up to in its debut season in 1994.

But already the team struck difficulties and setbacks. The original design for the Simtek S941 featured active suspension, but when driver aids were banned for 1994 Wirth had to revert to a design that was conservative, and which also turned out to be overweight. On the other hand, the outdated Ford HB engine was down on power. Also, when the car began pre-season testing in December 1993, it ran without sponsorship, and money was clearly also going to be an issue. Alongside Brabham, Wirth had to find a paying driver who could bring some sponsorship. Simtek entered into negotiations with the experienced Andrea de Cesaris, who came with Marlboro backing, and also Gil de Ferran, but the Brazilian took his money from meat-packaging company Sadia over to America. Wirth looked next to Jean-Marc Gounon, but the Frenchman had commitments for the first half of the season, and finally the likeable Austrian Roland Ratzenberger was given his F1 break for the first five races. With Ratzenberger aged 31 and Brabham 28, at 27 Wirth was the only team boss younger than his drivers.

Tragedy strikes at Imola

Though a major backer in MTV was signed in time for the start of the season, it was clear that a challenging debut year was in store, with an inexperienced team, only just enough money, a conservative chassis initially featuring a fully manual gearbox, and an engine giving away horsepower to the best on the grid. While team manager Charlie Moody encouraged the team members to treat the season as an adventure, it seemed as though the best Simtek could hope for was to beat fellow debutants Pacific. But what they didn't realise when the year began was just how tough 1994 would turn out to be. Disaster struck early. Only Brabham qualified for Simtek's first race in Brazil, but he brought it home 12th. Then both cars started at Aida, and Ratzenberger in his first start also finished, this time in 11th. But then at Imola, on his Saturday qualifying out-lap, telemetry showed that the Austrian had had an off, and probably damaged the front wing. After a quick systems check, Ratzenberger decided to attempt his first flying lap. At the flat-out Villeneuve corner, the front assembly loosened, the car lost downforce and plunged head-on into the wall. Ratzenberger was killed instantly, his neck broken.

It was the first fatality in F1 since Elio de Angelis died in testing in 1986. Needless to say, the debutant team was left devastated and confused. And though traditionally the other team driver would withdraw in such a situation, seeing the demoralisation around him Brabham bravely decided to race on, only to crash out after a suspension failure of his own. But it had been a pivotal moment nonetheless, as Brabham's courage gave Simtek the heart to keep pressing on. In Ratzenberger's memory the team made a collective decision to see out the season. Simtek ran only one car at Monaco, where Karl Wendlinger then had an accident in his Sauber which left him in a deep coma. Many Simtek mechanics had worked for Wendlinger at March, and this was yet another hurtful blow. But there was still more to come; for Spain the team signed talented Italian Andrea Montermini, who then on his first flying lap had another sickening accident coming onto the front straight. It left another chassis destroyed, and, although Montermini only suffered a broken toe and a cracked left heel, another injured driver.

Brabham heroic as Simtek struggles on

It was an amazing amount so early for a new team to endure. That Wirth, Brabham and the whole of the Simtek crew pushed on through all this was a tremendous tribute to their fighting spirit. Montermini had been signed for both Spain and Canada before Gounon would be available to drive in the seven races after that. But after the Italian's injuries and the ever-mounting repair bill, once again Simtek was forced to take only one car to Canada while yet another new chassis was being built up, hoping that perhaps the run of cruel fortune had come to an end. As Gounon joined the team for France, a sense of normality returned, and both he and Brabham could knuckle down to the job at hand, and try to finish races and put some decent results on the board. Whilst regularly slower than Brabham (he only once out-qualified the Australian), the Frenchman was fairly consistent and managed to keep the hapless Pacifics in the nether DNQ regions. But due to the high attrition rate in his debut race for the team at Magny-Cours, Gounon managed to bring the car home in 9th, which turned out to be Simtek's joint-best result.

Brabham, though, in the words of the Autosport season review, was one of the heroes of the season. Despite his car's obvious disadvantage, he managed to challenge the Lotuses and Larrousses, and occasions beat them. His average grid position was better than 23rd, and he put egg on Larrousse driver Erik Comas' face in Belgium by out-qualifying the Larrousse, only a race after the Frenchman had promised jokingly to retire should he ever be lower on the grid than a Simtek. Brabham's determination to make the Simtek adventure bear fruit meant he was not someone to mess with. But all jokes aside, Brabham's best finishes were 10th in Spain, 11th in Hungary, and 12th in Japan, where he also set the 13th fastest lap in the wet conditions. He was also running 9th in Germany and 10th in Italy when he retired, and generally there were a few too many mechanical retirements and teething problems for Wirth's liking. Nevertheless, Brabham's near-faultless efforts throughout the season did much to hold the team together, his only errors being two tangles with Jean Alesi in Monaco and Portugal, and an accident in testing at Silverstone in July when he rolled the car.

Money becomes the central issue

But towards the end of 1994 the monetary situation was again tight, and after Gounon left Wirth was on the look-out for a pay driver once more, signing Domenico Schiattarella. Though the Italian didn't bring a massive wallet, it was a bargain basement deal that brought a steady driver into the team. As it turned out, Mimmo came 19th at Jerez and impressed with his careful approach. Less so Taki Inoue in Japan, the ultimate pay driver, who was four seconds off Brabham in practice and pitched the car into the pit wall early in the race (in admittedly impossibly wet conditions). Not surprisingly, Schiattarella was brought back in for Adelaide. And so ended what was an unexpectedly difficult and tragic 1994 for the debutant team. But more disappointments were still to come at the end of the year. MTV's sponsorship commitment was about to decrease for 1995, leaving the team a rather precarious financial position. Brabham saw the signs, and though his heart was committed long-term to Simtek, when he had the chance to drive for BMW in the British Touring Car Championship, it was an offer he couldn't refuse. But Wirth was undaunted. 1994 had been an inconclusive year, but he was convinced that Simtek could do better.

Thus he pushed on into 1995 with the new S951 chassis. For drivers, he kept Schiattarella for the first half of the season, whilst signing journeyman Hideki Noda for the second half and gladly taking the Japanese driver's deposit. In the other car, Wirth signed Jos Verstappen, who after a debut season with Benetton littered with mistakes and off-track excursions was being farmed out by Flavio Briatore to gain some more experience. In addition, along came ex-Benetton gearboxes to drive the Ford ED engines, which were better than the HB but still not state-of-the-art. But right from the outset, it was apparent that the S951 was one giant leap for Simtek. Even though Schiattarella was no new Ascari or Nuvolari, he could quite readily beat the Pacifics and the debutant Fortis. But it was Verstappen who extracted maximum potential out of the car. In his hands, at times the car was flying, managing to mix it in the midfield with the Minardis, Tyrrells, Ligiers, Saubers and Arrows. Jos the Boss reported that it was an easy car to drive, rather like a go-kart, and as a result it encouraged him to go fast and stay on the track.

Jos the Boss mixes it with the big boys

After an early double-DNF for the S951 in Brazil, Jos was as good as his word in Argentina, undoubtedly Simtek's best ever race. There he qualified a fabulous 14th, and making a lightning start moved all the way up to the points by the first round of pit stops, even fending off Gerhard Berger's Ferrari. But it all came undone at the pit stop, where Simtek's lack of a fast wheel clip system cost him over 25 seconds, and the next lap Verstappen's gearbox gave up. Nonetheless, Schiattarella picked up the pieces and came home 9th. Simtek's competitiveness in Buenos Aires had left Wirth ecstatic. But, sadly, it was soon to all come unglued, and fast. Another double-DNF at Imola was followed by a double finish in Spain, but by the time they reached Monaco, money was becoming a desperate struggle. There Wirth revealed that in 18 months the team had amassed a 6 million pound debt, especially after "a broken deal" and a con involving "bogus bank transfer documents" that had left Simtek in a lurch. Though some potential backers were interested, none were prepared to take the plunge. Wirth negotiated with all of them, threatening to shut down the team if funding was not forthcoming.

As a sign of their plight, Simtek could only bring three troublesome gearboxes to Monaco, and then Verstappen compounded the misery by hitting the wall twice. Both Simteks then retired with gearbox problems without starting the race. Meanwhile, Noda's funds, especially via the Men's Tenoras sponsorship, were severely dented by the Kobe earthquake. Wirth's appeals were to no avail, the backers never came, and Wirth was forced to close down the team immediately, leaving 48 crew out of a job. Even though Wirth took his deposit, poor Noda never drove the S951 in anger. To try to offset some of the debts, Tom Prankerd tells us that an auction of Simtek's property was held in July 1995. Verstappen's rolling chassis raised �,000, Schiattarella's �,000. Two of the older S941s couldn't even fetch �,000. The team's transporter was sold for �,000 to a BTCC privateer, whilst the driver's pit boards went for under �0, and even Verstappen's undertray from Monaco garnered �. Most poignant of all, a mountain bike presented to the team by Ratzenberger in Brazil to mark his F1 debut was auctioned for only �0.

Major debts close the team

To add insult to injury, for a team whose entire history seemed to have been a baptism by fire, when the fire sale was concluded it only raised a total of �0,000, when its accumulated debts was around the US$9-10 million mark. Who knows how many good reputations could have been made and surprises could have been sprung if Simtek got the money it needed and saw through 1995 with a more reliable car? If its early-season promise and speed was anything to go by, our guess is that Verstappen would have picked up anything up to half a dozen points. Though his dream of running his own F1 team was now shattered, and with it virtually his whole Simtek company, Wirth was still in some demand as a designer. He was courted by Ferrari, Sauber and Benetton, choosing the latter because he wanted to stay in England. With the departure of Rory Byrne and Ross Brawn, he became chief designer in 1997. But after some average seasons in 1998 and 1999, when some of Wirth's more radical design initiatives failed to pay off, he resigned from the Enstone team, and left Formula One completely to work in robotics.


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Re: Simtek Grand Prix

Post by Admin on Fri Feb 10, 2017 9:33 pm

1994

In August 1993, Nick Wirth took the decision to enter Formula One with his own team for the 1994 season. Triple world champion Jack Brabham became a shareholder in Simtek Grand Prix, and his son David Brabham was signed as a driver before the end of 1993.[2] Andrea de Cesaris and Gil de Ferran, both carrying sponsorship money, were initially considered for the second seat but negotiations broke down. Frenchman Jean-Marc Gounon was also considered, but already had commitments for the start of the season so eventually 31-year-old F1 rookie Roland Ratzenberger took the place. Charlie Moody, a former Leyton House manager, was appointed Simtek's team manager.

The company secured customer Ford HB V8 engines from Cosworth, and prior to the season starting, MTV Europe stepped in as title sponsors. Wirth's initial design for the 1994 race car included active suspension, a technology used by Williams to win both the drivers and constructors championships in 1992 and 1993. However, active suspension was banned prior to the start of the 1994 season, and so Simtek were forced to revert to a more conservative design, named the S941. This design was heavy, initially included a fully manual gearbox compared to the semi-automatics being used by the frontrunning teams and the Ford HB engine was less powerful than the engines being used by the front-runners. The company employed 35 people, the least number of any team competing in Formula One during 1994, and only 10% of the number employed by Scuderia Ferrari.[4]
These deficits showed at the first race of the 1994 season. Brabham qualified in 26th and last place while Ratzenberger failed to qualify. Brabham finished the race 12th, but all cars behind him retired. The next race saw both Simteks qualifying but again occupying the back of the grid. Brabham retired early with an electrical failure, and Ratzenberger finished 11th, last of the cars still running.

The next round was the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. During the Saturday qualifying session, Ratzenberger left the track during an out-lap dislodging his front wing. After rejoining the track, Ratzenberger decided the car wasn't damaged, and eager to ensure qualification for the race the next day began a flying lap. At the Villeneuve curva while traveling at 190 mph (310 km/h) the front wing failed, causing Ratzenberger to lose control and the car crashed into a concrete wall. Ratzenberger suffered a basal skull fracture, and was killed instantly. Traditionally, the team would have withdrawn from the event, however David Brabham decided to race on, in tribute to Ratzenberger and in order to raise the morale of a devastated Simtek team. A time posted earlier in the qualifying session by Ratzenberger would have given him the 26th position on the grid. His death, the first at a Grand Prix weekend for 12 years, was overshadowed by the death of three-times world champion Ayrton Senna during the race the following day.
Brabham's decision to continue racing, in part resulted in Simtek making a collective decision to continue racing and "For Roland" was painted on the airbox of the car, to show their reason for continuing.[6] The team only had one chassis to enter at the Monaco Grand Prix, and before the start, a minute's silence was held in memory of Senna and Ratzenberger with the second grid slot painted with the Austrian flag. In Spain, Andrea Montermini drove for the team, but during the practice session crashed heavily. He escaped with only a broken toe and cracked left heel but was unable to race and his Simtek chassis was badly damaged. After another one car entry in Canada, Jean-Marc Gounon became available to the team for the French Grand Prix. He finished the race ninth, the team's best finish of the season, in part down to high attrition but finishing ahead of Mark Blundell's Tyrrell which was still running. Both cars qualified for all the remaining Grands Prix, ahead of the Pacifics, and occasionally also Lotus and Larrousse. Brabham qualified in 21st for the Belgian Grand Prix, ahead of a Lotus, Larrousse, Footwork and Tyrrell car.
Three races before the end of the season, Domenico Schiattarella took over Gounon's race seat finishing 19th. He was replaced for the penultimate round in Japan by another pay driver Taki Inoue, however his race ended after three laps when he crashed into the pit wall. Schiattarella was reinstated for the final round at Adelaide, however both Simteks retired from the race with technical problems.
After a challenging debut season the team finished with no world championship points but, convinced that Simtek could do better, Wirth decided to continue the Grand Prix programme.


1995

MTV Europe's sponsorship commitment was reduced for the 1995 season, but they remained title sponsors to the team. Rather than money, MTV paid Simtek with airtime on their television channel. This airtime was then sold by Simtek to its other sponsors for them to show commercials.[7] Cosworth again supplied engines to the team, with the more up-to-date Ford ED. These were combined with ex-Benetton gearboxes and Wirth designed a new chassis, the S951.
David Brabham was made an offer by BMW to race in the British Touring Car Championship, and accepted. He was replaced by Jos Verstappen, who was seeking more experience after an incident filled season at Benetton in 1994.[8] The second seat was kept by Domenico Schiattarella for the first half of the season, while Hideki Noda paid a deposit to secure the place for the latter races.
Both cars retired from the opening round, but the second round in Argentina brought much promise. Verstappen qualified 14th for the race and moved up to sixth by the first pitstop. A slow pitstop dropped him down the order and then his gearbox failed the following lap. Schiattarella finished ninth, equaling the team's best finish the previous season. Verstappen's gearbox also failed at the next race in San Marino. Schiattarella retired with suspension failure. Spain brought 12th and 15th-placed finishes for the team, but there were bigger problems behind the scenes. In the 18 months the team had been in existence, they had amassed £6 million worth of debt.[9]
At Monaco, neither driver completed a lap of the race due to another gearbox failure on Verstappen's car, and the marshals failing to recover Schiattarella's car after the first aborted race start. Following the race Wirth wrote, in one of his regular Usenet newsgroup postings, that "a major new backer of the team, with whom I had signed a contract before the season, has finally pulled out and left a large hole in our finances".[10] Wirth frantically tried to convince potential sponsors to come forward, threatening to shut down the team if none did so.[11] In the event a sponsor could be found, existing sponsors MTV, Russell Athletic and Korean Air pledged to increase their own sponsorship commitments. The team did not appear at the Canadian Grand Prix, but were not fined by the sports commercial rights holders, FOM, for their absence. The CEO of FOM, Bernie Ecclestone agreed that the team entered the championship intending to compete in 16 races and as the championship was extended to 17, they were permitted to miss one race.
Negotiations with the potential backers and sponsors failed, and the companies that would pay for Hideki Noda to drive the Simtek were severely affected by the Kobe earthquake. Prior to the next race, Simtek Grand Prix went into voluntary liquidation and the receivers, Touche Ross, were called in.[12] The collapse of the Formula One team also forced Simtek Research to declare itself bankrupt.[13] In total, 48 jobs were lost and with the team unable to be sold as a going concern, Simtek's assets were auctioned off.

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