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PS in Business F1

Long but interesting reading about the team in 2001

Paul Stoddart breezed into Formula One 10 years ago as a bit part player. Five years later he was a team principal and five years after that he was out of the game altogether, richer and wiser. As he negotiates the rights to publish his memoirs in 2007 he decided to tell the story of those years to BusinessF1. This is Part One of his story.

Ten years ago, in 1996, Paul Stoddart was a 40-year-old businessman who had built a very successful aviation business. He had two companies, a new and reconditioned aircraft parts business, and a charter airline, both under the European Aviation banner. Both were based in freehold properties, in Ledbury and Bournemouth, and both, especially the parts business, were throwing off more cash than their owner knew what to do with.

Stoddart is a man of extraordinary energy and in truth he must have been bored. He admits he was never a brilliant businessman, and certainly not a brilliant salesman. But he was brilliant at buying – he could sense a bargain at any distance. It was his exceptional buying skills that had built him a fortune of at least US$80 million back in 1996.

So in May of that year, desperate for something to occupy his time and mind, and not one for taking holidays, he bought himself an old Tyrrell 019 Formula One car of 1987 vintage, from a trader in the south of England, and took it to Donington Park for a shakedown and, as he says now: “I scared myself shitless.” The car had been cheap but it was not concours, far from it. It had only cost him US$60,000, but he had no idea of what he was getting himself into. Through the many problems with the car, he got to know the then Tyrrell team manager Rupert Mainwaring. It was certainly a profitable departure for Tyrrell, as Stoddart quickly bought another Tyrrell, and another one, and by 1997 even had a team racing in the historic Formula One Boss series.

During this period he also got to know Ken Tyrrell and started sponsoring the team and flying its personnel around to races in his planes. He also discussed building the team a windtunnel, which it desperately needed but didn’t have the money for. But this was soon superseded by more important discussions. By then, Ken Tyrrell was ailing and wanted to sell the team. When Stoddart found out, without even thinking about it he offered Tyrrell US$25 million and they very nearly shook hands on a deal at the 1997 Spanish Grand Prix. But waiting in the wings was a higher offer, from British American Tobacco, being negotiated by his son, Bob, and Ken Tyrrell was persuaded to hold off. Stoddart had planned to buy the team in partnership with technical director Harvey Postlethwaite and they were hoping to get Honda involved as well. Had the deal come off, Formula One history would have been very different. Stoddart remembers: “I got very, very close to buying the team. I actually gave Bob Tyrrell a five mill deposit cheque and he tore it up, shedding tears as he did so saying ‘I can’t, I can’t do it’.” Stoddart was amazed at the theatre and picked up the pieces of the cheque from the floor afterwards and stuck them back together. It is still in his desk drawer 10 years on. It is a reminder that just a year after buying a second-hand car, he nearly bought the team as well. Soon afterwards it was sold to Craig Pollock and Adrian Reynard with BAT’s money.

Very shortly after that, Stoddart did get to buy Tyrrell, but not quite in the way he had expected. He explains: “Very shortly thereafter I did a deal with Craig (Pollock) and his general manager Rick Gorne. They were only interested in the name and the licence that went with it but not the team because they had plans to build a brand new facility, as we all know they did.”

So it was that Stoddart bought the Tyrrell team lock, stock and barrel but without the name, entry or cars. It all added up to seven-and-a-half tons of spares and equipment. He became, as he puts it, “a team owner in waiting”. Simultaneously, he began building a Formula One facility at Ledbury in the west of England where his parts business was based. He took over the team the minute the flag dropped at the last race at Suzuka in 1998, as he remembers: “It was all very amicable, there was no griping and everybody was happy. It was a good deal for everybody.” He adds: “So we were effectively a Formula One team.” But with nowhere to race.

He paid precisely US$1 million to Pollock, and then bought most of the cars from Ken Tyrrell separately for another million. Thus the Tyrrell team he was set to pay US$25 million for a year earlier, he now had for US$2 million. He also took on a few ex-Tyrrell staffers.

His objective when he bought the team was to wait for an opportunity to get into Formula One. He simply wanted to be ready. He also founded a Formula 3000 team to get some race practice.

In 1999 he came close again, when he nearly bought a share in the Jordan team. In fact he agreed to buy 20 per cent for US$20 million, but after Eddie Jordan had agreed a deal and shook his hand, he upped the price. Stoddart says: “Eddie, at the time, was riding on the crest of a wave and it was just too expensive.”

His third attempt to buy a Formula One team came a year later, when he sent his accountants into Tom Walkinshaw’s Arrows operation to do due diligence. But that was soon over, as he recalls: “They only lasted two days and I got the phone call to say don’t touch it with a barge pole. It was the quickest due diligence we have ever done.” Stoddart admits that had Walkinshaw’s books not been in such a mess he would have paid him US$45-US$50 million for the team. But he says: “He was in debt for 10 times that and then some.” Stoddart himself was one of the creditors and when it eventually went down he lost US$2 million. He says: “Tom was hard work and you could never get a straight answer out of him on anything – it is a shame because Arrows was a good team and a good bunch of people, and they probably deserve better than they got, and I am happy for them now.”

Stoddart’s obvious solution was to start his own team. But the US$48 million bond put him off doing it from scratch, and in any case, at that time there were no spare entries.

While dithering about buying a Formula One team, Stoddart took the plans for the 1999 Tyrrell that never was, converted it into a two-seater racecar and built eight examples for track days. It was the start of a profitable business that endures to this day. His Ledbury facility, by now fully equipped, enabled the Tyrrell two-seaters to be built from scratch by a staff that included two aerodynamicists. He had 40 people on the project at one point, and says: “We built these cars to stay sharp.” The operating budget in 2000 was US$2 million and the two-seater cars cost US$500,000 each to build. He even bought an engine design from Cosworth and started rebuilding engines as well.

He says now: “The two-seaters put a lot of smiles on people’s faces and they have done a lot of running for a lot of teams. People do not realise that we did three years at Ferrari. We have done BAR, we have done Jordan we have done a lot of teams, and we have painted the cars in their colours. I am pretty proud of that.”

It was all good practice, because by the end of that year, at the fourth time of asking, his opportunity to be a Formula One team owner finally came. He knew the owner of Minardi, Gabriele Rumi, was ill with cancer and the team was on its last legs. In 1999, Rumi had turned down offers of around US$40 million when the team was riding high with millions of dollars of sponsorship from Telefonica. But it had suddenly declined in 2000, after losing Telefonica and most of its other sponsors.

Stoddart watched as a South American cable TV network called PSN dithered about buying it. He says: “I was well aware that they were in trouble, big trouble, because Minardi used to occupy the garage next to where I was. So I kind of knew what was going on. But did I want a team in Italy? The attraction of the other three was that they were all UK based and by then we had a very formidable facility to do it on our own.” The negotiations to buy Minardi dragged on through the close season. At one point, Renault nearly bought the team. But Stoddart’s patience eventually paid off and at the request of Mr Rumi, on 9th January 2001, he finally arrived in Faenza, Italy. Stoddart recalls: “It was just one of those things and it was all looking pretty gloomy. Prost was shaky and we all knew that. Minardi was far shakier. I got the phone call over the weekend to say that Renault had pulled out and that it was available.”

By then, he wasn’t there to buy Minardi but to rescue it. At that stage no sale contract had been agreed, let alone signed, and no money paid over, but Rumi was astute enough to realise that Stoddart was the team’s most credible saviour. Rumi was desperate to save the team as he had guaranteed a US$12 million overdraft. He trusted him to do the right thing. Stoddart has fond memories and says of Rumi: “A nicer guy you are not going to meet.”

Stoddart had to write cheques for US$2.8 million almost immediately and there wasn’t time for him to buy the team. If the cars were going to make the opening round of the 2001 championship in Melbourne, on Sunday 4th March, he had to simply get on with it and start spending money. Wages had to be paid and Cosworth wanted a deposit on an engine.

But the deadline was much tighter than it appeared. It was exactly six weeks and three days from when the FOM freight planes would be leaving for Melbourne and the cars and engines had to be on board.

Stoddart recalls: “I quickly put together a few people. I rang Rupert Mainwaring, who was unemployed at the time, and Tony Lees out of Arrows and Graham Jones the PR guy. In fact we got together a whole group of people and we jumped on a plane, one of ours, and flew there.” He adds: “It was a complete risk but if I had not done that then Minardi would have gone down.”

When he got to Faenza it was worse than he feared. He found a wooden mock-up of the 2001 car, with a wooden mock-up Supertec engine in behind it – nothing else. And no deal to buy a Supertec had been agreed because there was no money, nor any to build the car, which by then should have been ready for testing. Luckily technical director Gustav Brunner had at least designed the new car.

Stoddart’s first move was to secure an engine. He quickly contacted Bernard Ferguson of Cosworth and bought the whole VJ engine project, which the team had used the previous year, along with a mountain of parts. It was a leftovers deal that involved Stoddart rebuilding the engines with support from Cosworth. The engines got built at Ledbury and an outside supplier for the parts.

But while the engine existed, the car did not. Stoddart realised that the workforce at Faenza was not going to get the job done on its own. So he gathered together all his non-aviation staff at Ledbury, some 30 people, and told them to pack bags for a month away. He flew them all to Italy and took over a hotel called the Cavalino. He says: “I realised that the only way we were going to make this car was to put everybody in the same place and cut down the possibilities of things going wrong. There were a lot of language problems, we did not have anybody that spoke Italian and they did not have too many people that spoke proper English.”

Stoddart was faced with an unusual situation where he needed 100 people to work around the clock for six weeks. His own English crew were pushed the hardest, with him leading from the front. And the Italians stopped going home, too, as Stoddart hit on the novel idea of sleeping in relays to squeeze the maximum possible out of each 24 hours, as he confesses: “We got to the point where people were sharing rooms and when someone was so tired they could not work anymore, they would go back to the hotel and kick the guy out of bed to send him back to work, and then jump in bed.”

The staff accepted it because the boss led by example. Stoddart is a man of incredible energy with a time clock that has no borders. He enjoys his work so much that he will stretch the clock to suit. He inspired his people to do the same. He knew that if the cars didn’t get to Melbourne, the FIA would likely throw him out of the series. And if the cars didn’t qualify within the 107 per cent time, the team would likely fall apart anyway. There was no option to use the 2000 car as the chassis regulations had changed and the old car couldn’t be made legal. In any case he knew the chances of qualifying with the old car were virtually nil.

It took all six weeks and three days to produce the two cars – a spare was out of the question. In the end it all came down to some vital titanium engine brackets that were being made in Sheffield in the north

of England. Stoddart says: “It does not sound like a lot but you cannot run the car without them.”

The parts eventually caused a panic when they had still not arrived the day before the car was due to run its shakedown test before being freighted up for Melbourne. Stoddart takes up the story: “We rang through to the suppliers in Sheffield and said, ‘We have got to do a test tomorrow morning and we need your brackets.’ And this was about one o’clock on the day before and they said ‘no, no it will be finished by five o’clock, we have got two guys ready, we will out them on the ferry and drive through, they will be with you in 13 hours.’I said, ‘what if it goes wrong?’ and he said, ‘it won’t go wrong, it will be fine, it is going through a CNC programme fine’.”

Stoddart had been around long enough to know that plenty can go wrong with such an intricate technical operation. He knew that a temporary fix was not possible and sensed the entire future of the Minardi team rested on those parts being in Italy 24 hours later. He simply could not risk shipping the cars to Melbourne without a shakedown. Appearing at a race and not being able to run might have been worse than not appearing at all.

Then he did something that marks him apart from other men. On a hunch that there would be problems, he despatched his BAC 1-11 sitting on the tarmac at Forli airport to fly to Coventry airport in England and wait there in case the parts were late and it was needed to fly them back. He said to his pilots: “You might be on a wild goose chase but you might as well take the plane while you can. If it goes horribly wrong I have got you there to bring the bits over.”

Although it was a 24-hour airport, there were noise issues at Coventry and the plane had to leave immediately to make it in. The plane took off and flew straight to Coventry to wait on the tarmac.

Sure enough, at five o’clock, Stoddart took a call from Sheffield telling him the CNC programme had gone wrong and the parts would not leave until 11 o’clock. But even that was optimistic. He says now: “To cut a long story short, the parts finally turned up at 3am at Coventry airport and the plane took off half an hour later.” Stoddart’s hunch had proved right and the parts could never have got to Italy in time by road. But the saga was not yet over.

He stepped outside the Faenza factory at four o’clock in the morning to smoke a cigarette and was greeted with what he describes as “pea soup fog”. His instincts told him the plane would not be able to land at Forli, 20 kilometres away.

He remembers: “I could not believe it. I thought we have done all this effort and we get beaten by the fucking weather. I did not even go to the airport because I knew that we would not get in.” He rang his pilot on the tarmac at Coventry just as they were about to take off and told him: “You are not going to get in here, you might have to land somewhere else, but it looks like were fucked.” Then something extraordinary happened. The pilot, who for obvious reasons Stoddart will only refer to as ‘Nick’, defied his boss and said: “No we’ll be all right, we’ll get there.” The Stoddart spirit had infused everywhere and the pilots were, by now, clearly prepared to risk their lives to get the team to Melbourne. But Stoddart wasn’t, and he wasn’t having any of it. And by then he was prepared to take the cars to Melbourne without a shakedown. He told the pilot: “You bloody well won’t. I am standing here and I can’t see the fence.” The pilot said, “Nah don’t worry,” and then turned off his phone. Stoddart was distraught and jumped in a car to the airport and as he says, “went to the airport thinking I am going to waste my time”. He didn’t believe a landing attempt was even possible. But as he recalls: “I arrived at the airport and to this day, for obvious reasons I am not going to go into what happened, but he popped it on the ground. We got the parts and the test went ahead.”

It turned out that the pilots had told the Forli airport tower that they could see the runway. They also knew that the BAC1-11 had a Cat 3 Autoland capability. Stoddart says: “It means that if you have got the balls to do it you can land in total blindness – if you have got that much trust then you can put it on the deck. It has never been done to my knowledge and I am not going to say that they did it. Anyway that is the kind of dedication that there was.”

Team driver Fernando Alonso’s car got its shakedown run, but Tarso Marques’s car was finished off in the Melbourne garage. The consequences of not testing Alonso’s car before it left could have been catastrophic, but as it turned out, apart from some overheating problems the cars ran sweetly. Marques crashed in qualifying and consequently didn’t qualify. But the car was repaired and the Melbourne stewards let the cars in on force majeure basis, as they were allowed to do. Alonso, after qualifying 19th, came home 12th. Stoddart recalls: “I will never forget, it was one of the most emotional moments in my life. I walked through the pit wall absolutely elated at my home Grand Prix.” At the time no one in the paddock or in the media knew the emotional and physical turmoil Stoddart and his team had been through to get to the race. To everyone else it was business as usual. Only Stoddart and his crew knew what had really happened. To them 12th place was like winning the championship.

He recalls: “As I came through all the mechanics were sitting on the ground crying and everyone else thought we should have been happy.” But the tears were of pure joy, as he says: “Nobody thought that we could do what we did, but we did it, with grit and


It was a payback for the risk he had taken to buy the team. In the period from 9th January to 4th February he was very financially exposed, but he says he would do it all again even though at the time he had no choice: “People saw that there was money coming in, suppliers that had not been paid were getting paid. Everything was happening.”

Stoddart actually signed the contract to buy the team a month after he arrived, on 4th February 2001. In that time there was a danger that Rumi could have accepted another offer but, in reality, by that time any other potential buyers of the team had been frightened away. They thought the team was dead. But as Stoddart says: “They had gone anyway as no one else had the engine and without the engine they were dead.”

Stoddart says it is now difficult to recall exactly how much he paid for the team as it involved a cash payment to Rumi of US$9 million, his taking responsibility for the team’s US$8 million debts and also taking out a loan to pay off the US$12 million overdraft with an Italian bank.

The team’s main asset was the fact it had managed to take 10th place in the 2000 world championship. This qualified it for the FOM TV fund. The fund only pays the top 10 places in the championship and Minardi, although it scored no points, had beaten the nil-scoring Prost team by being better placed in races.

His accountants later assessed the final purchase price as US$28.2 million. But that was just to get started and didn’t include the money he had to spend to get the team on the 2001 starting grid. Stoddart admits he didn’t finish paying for the team until five years later, when the loan to pay off the overdraft was finally retired after he sold the team to Red Bull. He says: “We just kept rolling it over and paying interest.”

Even when he had bought the team, Stoddart had immediate financial problems. He was a wealthy man running a successful business, but was by no means substantial enough to own a Formula One team and fund it without sponsorship – the team had no on-going sponsorship contracts. He even had to pay for his tyres and fuel, although luckily not straightaway. He says: “We had to run it without sponsorship, that was not a lot of fun.”

And contrary to popular perception, there was no income from rentadrivers. Stoddart says now he was not paid to run Alonso and that Marques’s sponsorship turned out to be worth nothing. In the end, his cash income from both drivers was just US$15,000. Marques was all promises, but at the time there was no one else and a promise became his currency. Stoddart says: “Tarso paid me the sum total of US$15,000 for the whole year. He was always ‘going to have a sponsor’ but he was such a lovely guy.”

Alonso’s deal rested solely on his bringing the Dutch leasing company, LeasePlan, as a sponsor. But even that was not cash, and it involved LeasePlan supplying vehicles to the team, worth around US$800,000.

Stoddart isn’t afraid to admit he was in a cash bind straightaway. He just about had enough cash to buy the team, but he was not in a position to fund a whole season as well. Marques was told he was out as soon as a driver with some money came along. He lasted for 14 races, which worked out at US$1,071 a race, the cheapest rentadriver in Formula One history.

Alonso may have brought no cash, but his obvious potential as a driver and nationality attracted a host of small sponsors. Stoddart also did as many trade support deals as

he could.

And then the financial miracle that the team needed actually happened. Halfway through the year a Malaysian driver called Alex Yoong appeared, with the apparent financial support of the whole Malaysian nation. Yoong debuted at the Italian Grand Prix in September 2001.

Stoddart says: “I funded it until the middle of the year and after some pretty serious discussions with Malaysia, the Magnum corporation came along and gave us some much needed funding at the end of 2001. It set us up for 2002.”

The Magnum deal was worth US$5 million in cash for 2001 and US$10 million for 2002. It was nothing in Formula One terms but a lifesaver for the Minardi team. Stoddart, to this day, is not sure how he would have got by without it.

That US$5 million and the TV fees from FOM was all the cash the team had for 2001. The TV money came to US$14 million in cash, which meant the team had a budget of US$22 million with contributions from testing and small sponsors. But by year end the team had spent about US$25 million in cash and got trade support worth at least US$10 million. It was US$12 million less than Stoddart had budgeted for. In all he lost around US$4 million in cash operating the team in that first season. With the purchase price, in the first 12 months he was out by just over US$32 million, half of which he had borrowed. But there was also a hidden cost. European Aviation had contributed another US$6 million by flying the team around and rebuilding the engines.

To him it was a fortune, but in Formula One terms it was ridiculous: Ferrari had spent eight times more in cash and 10 times more overall. Stoddart put prominent Michelin logos on the cars and hoped that the French company would forget about its invoices, and in the end it mostly did.

The money situation was a continuing worry all through the year. It was made worse by the fact that, as Stoddart admits, he did no due diligence before walking in. Just as Rumi took him on trust, so he took Rumi on trust. It was an amazing deal and inevitably the debts were nearly double what Stoddart had assessed. He explains: “Part of my deal was to take out all the suppliers and the creditors, and they were very significant.” But it was more than that. He was used to English accounting methods and unprepared for the Italian way of doing things. He confesses: “I was trying to work out how to read Italian figures and then work out the amounts.” He was lucky that he inherited an exceptionally able and honest finance director from Rumi called Stefano Sangiorgi, as he explains: “I placed my trust in two or three people and I backed the right horse in the finance director Stefano Sangiorgi. Stefano was fantastic, he was just so good.”

In fact, Stoddart reveals that Sangiorgi, a man few people will have heard of, ran Minardi day-to-day until Red Bull took it over. He cannot praise Sangiorgi enough and credits him with saving the team: “They do not come much better than that, he is honest, straight and one of the best financial guys I’ve ever met. He knew how to duck and dive and he did it the right way, unlike some others, and he kept telling me you need this and you need that.”

But there was one difficult moment with Sangiorgi. The team had a tricky tax situation with the Italian authorities, but Sangiorgi insisted it owed nothing. Stoddart was not so sure. He was simply not familiar with the Italian way. He remembers: “There were all these investigations, things I had nothing to do with, and I did not understand what we were being investigated for.

Stefano said, ‘don’t worry we just appeal, we appeal’. But you can’t keep doing that, you have to solve problems.” Stoddart decided to take the English approach to a tax demand by paying up. But luckily in Italy there is a process called tax amnesty, which enables errant payers to clear old tax debts by agreeing to pay 10 per cent of a blind assessment. He took the risk, as he says: “The first one that came along we availed ourselves of, paid the amnesty money and of course that cleanses everything and so that took enormous pressure off me and it was over.” But even then he admits Sangiorgi did not want to pay: “I said ‘that sounds like a good deal’ and he said ‘no, no, no we do not owe them anything’. I said we’ll pay the 10 per cent for the grief factor, and that sorted it out.”

Stoddart admits there were some bloody battles with creditors who sought to take advantage of the team’s perilous situation and he lost a few court cases along the way. He explains: “I inherited some horrendous baggage going right back to before Rumi’s time – right back.” Even now Stoddart isn’t quite ready to admit what a terrible year 2001 was financially for the team. Without the arrival of Alex Yoong the team would probably have closed down after the first year. Luckily that never happened.

There was one other nasty taste in his mouth that first year and it hit Stoddart like a bolt from the blue. On Monday 7th May it was a bank holiday in England and he went into his deserted offices for a few hours’ quiet work. As he sat down, the fax machine that sits on the left-hand edge of his desk, started to whir. It was a letter from his technical director Gustav Brunner, a man who he thought he had a great relationship with and regarded as an enthusiastic hard-working individual. It read: “Dear Paul, I have bad news. I am leaving for Toyota. I hope you understand. Thank you, Gustav.”

Stoddart admits he was shocked rigid. Brunner was one of the team’s key assets and its highest paid employee. He had built up a big reputation with the team and was under contract until the end of 2003. The next day, the 8th, Toyota issued a press release. Stoddart responded angrily and said he would sue Brunner and Toyota. At the following race he met with Toyota team principal Ove Andersson. It soon became clear that

Brunner had not told Andersson about his contract. He says: “I don’t think they

knew he had a contract. They are genuine people and Ove was mortified when I showed him the contract.” Toyota later settled with Stoddart.

But he soon forget about that and appointed Gabriele Tredozi as new technical director. As the 2001 season wound down, the arrival of Malaysian money heralded better times for 2002. There was also a free engine on the horizon, as midway through the season, Stoddart signed a deal with Asiatech that would save him US$5 million a year.

But there was much sadness when it became known that Fernando Alonso, against his will, would be a Renault test driver in 2002 instead of racing again with Minardi. Stoddart says: “Fernando wanted to race again with us but Flavio wanted him to test. He had shown that one day he was going to be world champion. I knew how good he was. At the last race he told me, ‘I am going to go out and show you just how good I am’, and if everyone needed a sharp lesson that was it. Then he went out for the Japanese Grand Prix, put in 53 qualifying laps and drove the race of his life, his times only varying by tyre degradation and fuel load. I thought this one really has got what it takes.”

Part 2 next month.


  • Great stuff 'rule! Goood find and quite a good read.

    Nothing about GCM though.....
  • that's a brilliant read, thank you. I look forward to part 2 next month.


    Gotta hand it to Paul, he didn't let the obstacles stand in his way.
  • “I inherited some horrendous baggage going right back to before Rumi’s time – right back.”
  • Right before Rumi: was that when Briatore was in charge???
  • Originally posted by Minardus
    Right before Rumi: was that when Briatore was in charge???

    Thats what I was thinking. Or is this a dig at GCM?

    [Edited on 8-8-0606 by Ger]
  • Great story. Like him or not. Stoddart deserves respect.
  • Fantastic read.
    Loved the fog part, thats some pretty crazy shit :)
  • Not sure if we're going to get part two as it has been taken down from the website I "borrowed" it from, maybe someone was a bit over eager in putting up???

    I did wonder at the lack of mention of GCM but we shall wait and see
  • Originally posted by Ger
    [quote]Originally posted by Minardus
    Right before Rumi: was that when Briatore was in charge???

    Thats what I was thinking. Or is this a dig at GCM?


    I think he does mean when GCM was in charge, but I don't think it's a dig at him, no. It's just the truth. The team didn't just get in trouble while Rumi was running it.
  • I have to admit it seemed like an awful chunk to read and I couldn't bear anymore of that Timothy Collings "Boy we only had six weeks to build that car but we made it" stuff but this is quite a refreshingly new look at things from a more financial point of view.
  • Minardi - the accountant's view. I guess that we'll have to add Sangiorgio to our list of official Minardi heroes.
  • Originally posted by Rekart
    [quote]Originally posted by Ger
    [quote]Originally posted by Minardus
    Right before Rumi: was that when Briatore was in charge???

    Thats what I was thinking. Or is this a dig at GCM?


    I think he does mean when GCM was in charge, but I don't think it's a dig at him, no. It's just the truth. The team didn't just get in trouble while Rumi was running it. [/quote]

    Point taken!
  • In Part Two of the Paul Stoddart Story, financial reality strikes after 9/11 and aviation goes into recession. Belts are tightened as he goes into debt to fund the team. But even in that scenario, Stoddart can’t resist signing Mark Webber despite bringing no money with him. Worse still, Tom Walkinshaw buys the Prost team and tries to steal his TV money.

    By the beginning of 2002 season, Paul Stoddart was convinced Fernando Alonso was a major talent. And for a while it seemed Flavio Briatore might relent and allow Alonso to drive another season for Minardi. But it wasn’t to be, as Briatore had also realised Alonso was a star in the making and wanted him secure in the Renault stable, even if he couldn’t offer him an immediate drive. The loss of Alonso opened up another opportunity and Stoddart was soon to find that every cloud has a silver lining. Australian driver, Mark Webber, became available. The only problem was that Webber was flat broke, albeit with a rich benefactor who had no intention of opening his own wallet.

    But the financial side of the team was shaping up better than Stoddart could have imagined. The deal with Alex Yoong’s sponsor Magnum was for US$10 million, the engines were free from Asiatech and even though Minardi had finished 11th in the constructors’ championship and not qualified for TV money, the 10th placed Prost team had gone bust. It could not compete in 2002, which Stoddart believed meant that Prost’s money would be his.

    But the Asiatech deal was most important to the team. It became available after Tom Walkinshaw announced that his Arrows team would be buying Cosworth engines for 2002 in an attempt to become more competitive. The Asiatech engines were supplied free to Minardi in exchange for a sponsorship deal. For his part, Stoddart never bothered to find out what Asiatech, one of the strangest organisations ever to appear in Formula One, was about. Asiatech had been a mystery ever since it entered Formula One when it bought Peugeot’s defunct operation in France. He says now: “I never knew. I heard all the same rum-ours that everybody did about Sony, the son of Sony and all this stuff but we never saw any proof of it. To us they were dead straight.”

    He was just grateful for the engine, which he reckons saved him US$10 million that season. He says now: “All I knew was that there was an engine and that they were there. The deal was all done properly through solicitors in London and we paid them a lot of money for the engine and they paid us a lot of money for the sponsorship. The fact that the two happened to balance each other is a surprise but it really helped us out big time.”

    What Stoddart does know is that whoever Asiatech’s backers were, they spent an enormous amount of money providing engines for Arrows in 2001 and Minardi in 2002. He visited the Asiatech factory in France and there were 50 brand new engines on the factory floor. He says: “John Gano told me that their costs for the year were US$85 million dollars. Could they have spent US$85 million dollars? From what I saw then, yes, they could. Why did they spend it is a different story?”

    But despite that Stoddart describes the engine as “average”: “It was better than the Cosworth that we built in 2001 but it was not as good as the Cosworth that we got the next year. But it was okay.” In reality it was the old Peugeot engine, which had powered the Prost team in 2000 upgraded.

    With that free engine and the Malaysian backing, Stoddart figured he could afford to give a free deal to the driver of his choice, as he was prepared to do with Alonso. But after Alonso declined he was reluctant to extend the offer to another driver after the financial tremors of 2001.

    Although he had run the team in 2001 for less than US$25 million he was unsure whether it could be done again. After 9/11 the aviation business had gone into recession and Stoddart’s European Aviation had suffered with it. He realised his F1 team had to pay its way or it could bankrupt his aviation business.

    2002 was a whole different ball game because his TV income from Formula One Management was in doubt. There was no question that the team fell outside the cash distribution window which restricted payments to the top 10 teams. But with the Prost team’s demise the previous November, Minardi was inside the 10 again and according to the rules it inherited Prost’s share. But the money was not assured as the rules were ambiguous. If anyone bought the Prost company from the receivers the money could be theirs. And if not there was a chance the other nine teams could claim it.

    It was against that scenario that Mark Webber came on the radar with his mentor, Australian Grand Prix promoter, Ron Walker in tow. Webber was finagled into the drive by the silver tongue of Walker, even though Stoddart insists he never put a dollar down on the table. Instead he appealed to his sense of patriotism and a belief that Australian sponsors would flock in once he was signed to an Australian team. Stoddart remembers and puts it very succinctly: “Mark got his break because he was Australian and Ron was doing my head in on the phone.” He says he was initially determined to resist and it reflects well on Walker’s salesmanship that he eventually relented, as Stoddart recalls: “I knew how much it cost me in 01 and I was not going to do it in 02. I could not have done it, it would have bankrupted the airline. And so Ron kept saying, you have got to do it, we will find sponsors, we’ll find sponsors. But I kind of knew that we wouldn’t.”

    Even though it was financial suicide, somehow Walker eventually persuaded Stoddart to sign Webber on the eve of the 2002 season. Even now Stoddart has no idea how he succumbed when he kept saying ‘no’. In the end Walker flew to London in the last week of January to do the final persuading in person. From that point it was probably inevitable. Stoddart says Walker made all the promises in the world and delivered on none of them.

    When the deal was done, because of the time differences, they corralled journalists into a London TV studio at midnight on Monday 29th January to broadcast a press conference to Australia for the morning news programmes.

    The madness of Minardi’s 2002 season effectively started then and Stoddart openly admits he was crazy to let Walker persuade him to take Webber without any cash on the table: “Looking back it was foolhardy to sign a driver without money and with the doubt over the TV money.”

    As he predicted Walker didn’t produce any sponsorship. But the promoter had cleverly played on Stoddart’s emotions. If there was ever an example of why Stoddart was in racing Webber was it. He couldn’t resist the dream of an Australian driver in an Australian team competing in the Australian Grand Prix. Stoddart smelt glory and doesn’t mind admitting it: “From my point of view, I never made it as a driver and it was the old story: when you are young enough and fast enough you have got no money and when you are old and ugly enough you become the team principal because you cannot do anything else.”

    Stoddart had succumbed to Walker because he believed with Asiatech and the Magnum money, and the TV money from Prost’s demise, he had a budget of US$40 million. But there were question marks over all of it. Would the Malaysians pay? Would he get the Prost money? Would Asiatech last the season, as that operation looked as shaky as his? He says: “The budget would have been, if we had got paid, US$40 million. But we knew we were going to struggle to get the FOM money.”

    His worst fears happened when the Prost team was finally liquidated and the assets auctioned at the end of January. Ominously the Prost cars and intellectual property were bought a businessman called Charles Nickerson, who it turned out was acting as a front for Tom Walkinshaw via a company called Phoenix Finance Ltd. Nickerson paid E2.55 million for all the cars and parts and the intellectual property plus the commercial rights. But the purchase of the commercial rights was irrelevant as the Concorde Agreement decreed they could not be transferred without buying the original company. Even so it instinctively worried Stoddart. But even he couldn’t have guessed the sheer audacity of what was coming next.

    Walkinshaw, in desperate financial trouble himself and simply hanging on, made a naked grab for the Prost monies. He tried to convince everyone that he had the right to Prost’s entry and the TV cash that went with it. In reality Walkinshaw was desperate and had little to lose. At that point no one knew that his own Arrows team was on the brink of collapse and Prost was his fallback position. It appears he thought that if he could get the cars scrutineered, he could claim the cash. It was ludicrous, of course, but that didn’t stop him trying and he turned up in Melbourne with a few body parts to present to the scrutineers. That failed. And then he tried again in Malaysia with 20 people and two proper cars. But the Concorde Agreement clearly stated that only the original company that qualified for the money could receive it. And that company, Prost Grand Prix, was in liquidation. Stoddart remembers: “I had to fight back through Melbourne and Malaysia.” Stoddart hired a legal team and in the end it went to court and Walkinshaw lost.

    But Walkinshaw had created enough smoke, and another problem emerged. The other nine teams believed the regulations said the Prost money should be shared amongst them. This prompted Bernie Ecclestone to hold on to the money pending resolution. It appeared that Walkinshaw had stoked the teams up and wanted his revenge on Stoddart.

    With all this going on, and the uncertainty it provoked by the beginning of the season, the strain was beginning to tell on Stoddart. By January 2002, the first anniversary of his takeover, including buying the team he had spent US$30 million. That had all seemed fine pre 9/11 but not so rosy afterwards. The figures were also worse than they looked as he had been paying for all the team travel and sponsoring it as well through European Aviation. That was another US$5 million.

    Stoddart admits now that he was forced to borrow money and mortgage all the assets he had to keep the team going, putting European Aviation in danger. It was something he had not had to do before. But at that stage he had no choice. 9/11 had started a financial depression in Formula One. Sponsorship had dried up and team values, at a peak in early 2001, had plummeted. His option to sell the team on to someone else had disappeared. He had to stick it out or close it. He says now: “We were in that stage for about US$30 million, we weren’t keeping a running tab because obviously revenues were coming in all the time and we were charging ourselves sponsorship because we were running European Aviation on the cars. What was on the books was about 30 but it was a bit more because we were being our own sponsors to a certain degree. I think that Rupert Mainwaring charged the companies varying amounts between two and five mill for sponsorship.”

    Stoddart is not over keen to recall those dark times when his whole empire nearly toppled over because of the cash drains of the Formula One team. But he knew he couldn’t turn the clock back. Whole swathes of the world economy, on which Formula One depended, had gone into recession.

    Stoddart says that luckily his companies could afford to borrow the money: “It could but it was stretching things. I had borrowed money on assets that we had already owned and paid for. So I went in debt to do it.”

    It was against this shaky background that he finally decided to give Webber the drive and the European Minardi circus prepared to leave for Melbourne. But it was to be no ordinary departure. Considering his financial problems it was done in a style that Formula One, or even Australia, had never seen before.

    In the immediate wake of 9/11, British Airways had panicked and sold off everything it didn’t need in a fire sale. That included six Boeing 747 jumbos it was no longer flying. After 9/11, no one wanted these jumbos, which immediately before the terrorist attacks had been worth up to US$10 million apiece. It was costing the airline a small fortune to store and maintain them. They were on the point of ordering them mothballed in Arizona to await better times when, in November 2001, along came Stoddart and offered them US$6 million for the lot plus a load of spares. It was a repeat of his BAC1-11 deal with the Royal Australian Air Force 20 years before. British Airways said yes to his proposal.

    The deal was better than it looked. These were not decrepit planes but were well maintained, with Rolls-Royce RB 211 engines, with the range to fly non-stop to places like Malaysia, Singapore and Dubai. Stoddart says: “The earliest one was a 1979 and the latest one was a 1987, they were good aircraft, retired before their time.”

    Stoddart believed the planes could be viable in the charter market, especially the busy holiday routes and transatlantic. It worked because the oil price was low and fuel was cheap. He immediately set European Aviation the task of getting a wide body air operator’s licence, which it didn’t have. He says now: “BA has got one, Virgin has got one, but I don’t think that anyone else in the UK has got one, and I got one in 10 weeks from a standing start. The European Aviation team got all their ducks in a row and we were soon carrying passengers.” By February of 2002, the aeroplanes were in operation, three months after Stoddart had bought them. It was an amazing feat of logistics. The wide body operator’s licence came just in time for the whole team to fly to Melbourne for the first Grand Prix of 2002.

    This time the team was much better prepared for the start of the season than it had been in 2001. Loic Bigois and Gabriele Tredozi had designed a brand new car, the new PS02, to take the Asiatech engine and it was ready for its shakedown test some two weeks before the cars had to be shipped to Melbourne. Hopes were very high.

    Looking back, Stoddart says the last week of February and the first week of March 2002 in Melbourne were the best of his life. He says: “I had two dreams in life – aviation and Formula One – and I fulfilled both of them in Melbourne. If you are a kid from Melbourne, and I grew up there, you will know what I mean. Anything that signing Mark Webber was going to cost me was made up for by that Sunday in Melbourne. It was the best day of my life. ”

    It had already started well when he flew into Melbourne as a hero, in his own plane, with his new Formula One car in the cargo hold to race in the Australian Grand Prix with an Australian driver. The razzmatazz that greeted the team in Melbourne was extraordinary and Stoddart was totally unprepared for it. Ron Walker had sensed the promotional value of Stoddart and Webber and he prepared a welcome for them in Melbourne they could not have imagined.

    Stoddart says: “When we landed the 747, there was a full brass band waiting and a red carpet, the premier was standing there.” The arrival was carried on live television, and as they landed there was blanket coverage in every newspaper in Australia.

    Stoddart recalls: “They got me to get the flag out and wave it out of the escape hatch on the 747. It was fantastic, it was real hero status. It was something that I have never seen at any other Grand Prix. It was total media domination of an event.” And that was before the Grand Prix weekend had even started. Walker had arranged a series of public events, and the team found itself immediately thrust into a media whirlwind. Stoddart explains: “They closed the streets. We did pitstop practice in Burke Street. We did so many things that had never been done and for that 10 days you could forget the rest of the Grand Prix, it was just Minardi and Webber – we just dominated everything.” Walker had also told Stoddart he could drive his two-seater himself on practice day. It was unprecedented for a team principal to do that but he grabbed the opportunity to drive in front of his home crowd.

    Stoddart remembers: “We had all the parades and the receptions but I thought we would be washed off the pages when the real racing started.” But he was wrong; the blanket coverage of the team continued into practice day on Friday and at that evening’s Grand Prix Ball, Stoddart and Webber were feted as heroes in front of Melbourne’s great and good. It was almost too much. Particularly for three-time world champion, Australian Sir Jack Brabham, who was a guest at the ball. Brabham had won three world championships and one in his own make of car and had received hardly any acclaim in his native country. He didn’t know what to make of it.

    But by Friday evening, as the lauding continued, Stoddart had stopped enjoying it. After Friday’s practice he was seriously worried about qualifying his cars for the race. The 107 per cent qualifying rule existed then and both Minardis were vulnerable. After all the coverage the team had received, it would be very embarrassing if they did not qualify. He recalls: “There was a very real chance that we would not make it.”

    He was far more worried about Alex Yoong than Mark Webber, as he says now: “We had all the Malaysian money and if the kid didn’t qualify we were going to be in the shit.” But luck was about to shine down on him. Saturday dawned wet and both cars were comfortably inside the 107 per cent. Stoddart remembers: “When the rain was coming down in qualifying we had 17th and 21st positions and I remember the track commentator giving me the microphone and saying to me, ‘I suppose you guys want the rain to dry up so Mark can go out and get a better position’. I said ‘no way, right now I want it to piss down’, so I said jokingly to the crowd ‘stand up you lot and do a rain dance’. They stood up like a Mexican wave and it bucketed down and that was the end of qualifying, so we got both drivers in.”

    Once the drivers had qualified Stoddart had no more expectations for the race. He had already enjoyed the time of his life. He says: “I thought if Mark could get top 10 at his first race at home it would be like winning the Grand Prix. Well, I could not believe what was happening after half the cars went out on the first corner of the first lap.” Webber stormed through the field in eighth place on the first lap, but his advantage would have been lost if the race was stopped and the red flag came out and it was re-started.

    Amazingly the Australian marshals at the first turn sensed this and resolved to get the circuit cleared as quickly as they could under the safety car. They fought like Superman to clear the track in record time. What cars they could not shift quickly with the cranes they physically picked up and carried off. It was an amazing sight. One said later: “We knew that they would have to red flag it if we could not clear the track and once we saw Mark go through we were determined that track was going to get cleared and we used every crane we had. But there was still a Sauber on the track. So eight of us carried the car off the track.” Stoddart says: “So it did not get red flagged. It was meant to happen I think.”

    But his troubles were far from over. There was a problem with Webber’s car, as Stoddart explains: “We did not even think that we would keep going as from the third lap we had a terminal problem with the hydraulic diff. The engineers called Mark over the radio and told him his race was going to be over soon. But he kept going and came in for his pitstop. I thought that he would not get back out and that once we stopped the car it would be terminal, but he got back out.”

    Then serendipity struck again as Mika Salo, in his Toyota, spun while he was catching Webber for fifth place. After the spin Salo settled for sixth behind him. Stoddart says he is mystified about Salo’s spin to this day: “I have known Mika for a few years, we are good mates and have done a lot of things together. To this day I do not know whether he spun that car intentionally, but I also know that he is a good enough driver not to fall off where he did. But he knew what it meant as by then we only had a couple of laps to go. Even Michael (Schumacher) recalls this story because he said every time he came round he had to keep asking his pit, ‘is the race over?’, because the whole crowd was erupting on every lap as Mark was right behind him.”

    At the end of the race, the crowd really exploded in joy as Webber brought the car home. They weren’t interested in race winner Schumacher but the man who had by some miracle come in fifth, Mark Webber. It was also the first world championship points for Paul Stoddart’s Minardi team and only the third time in five years it would score any. By most teams’ standards it was a small achievement, but not for Stoddart’s Minardi, or the partisan Australian crowd.

    Whilst a small celebration was going on at the podium, a huge one got going in the pitlane at the Minardi garage. Stoddart was hoarse with delirium and Murray Walker called him from England on his mobile and broke down in tears of joy at what he had just seen on TV. Stoddart remembers it so well: “Murray was crying down the phone and that got us going, it was really emotional.”

    When the official podium ceremony had finished Ron Walker arranged for Webber and Stoddart to go on the podium and celebrate with champagne. That was unprecedented and strictly against FIA rules, but Stoddart could get away with anything that day. He was an Australian hero. Afterwards John Harman, the chief executive of the race, asked him to speak to a post-race party of the marshals. Some 3,000 of the race staff turned up to hear him. It was just another part of the day’s emotional roller-coaster, as Stoddart recalls: “I thought that there would be 50 of them and there was 3,000, the whole Grand Prix staff in this marquee.” And that is when he had an emotional meeting with the marshals at Turn One and they told him how they had helped Webber on his way.

    Afterwards he went back to the Minardi pit garage where a party had started, fuelled by Mumm champagne. Stoddart recalls: “We had everybody at this party – 660 people turned up to a party that was not even planned.” The highlight was when Michael and Corina Schumacher skipped out of an official Marlboro event early to join in as well. Schumacher had a special favour to ask Stoddart that night, and he was ready to grant any favour. He asked whether he could borrow the Minardi two-seater to give his wife a ride. At the end of that year, with the car painted red, it happened.

    But the end of the season still seemed an age away and the team was on a real high when it took off for Kuala Lumpur in the Boeing for the Malaysian Grand Prix. The party continued in the aeroplane all the way. When it landed the plane was waved to be docked at the prime minister’s private suite. With Alex Yoong driving and the Malaysian sponsors, it was like a home race for the second time in succession and the team was catapulted into a series of demonstrations and media events fuelled by the success in Melbourne.

    But Stoddart was again worried sick the whole time about Yoong qualifying for the race in Sepang. Non-qualification at Sepang would have been even more disastrous than Melbourne. In the event both drivers were last on the grid, 21st and 22nd, but the times were as respectable as they could have hoped. Yoong was 1.8 seconds inside the 107 per cent rule. But this time there was to be no glory in the race just a double retirement. Webber retired on lap 34 with electrical problems and Yoong on lap 29 with gearbox failure. But Stoddart was just glad to be there.

    After Sepang, the Minardi circus returned to Europe in a more sober mood as reality set in. Stoddart remembers: “Unfortunately we had to come back down to earth.”

    His main problem became money. He needed the US$10 million television fee and even though he had seen off Tom Walkinshaw’s ridiculous attempts to claim it, others had their eye on his money, in the shape of nine team principals. He says now: “The Walkinshaw Phoenix operation was just that, a phoenix, it never got off the ground but they fought hard.” But as Stoddart had anticipated, the nine other teams demanded that Ecclestone hand the US$10 million over to them. He had thought that recognising Minardi’s perilous position, the teams might concede him the money without a fight, but he had seriously underestimated the sharks that roamed the paddock disguised as team principals. He also had to face a vengeful Tom Walkinshaw who led the team principals’ fight to get the US$10 million. He says: “I had to fight and fight and fight for the righteous position of having that money. It was a pretty busy period in my life.”

    The battle got really vicious and it seemed the other teams, egged on by Walkinshaw, were anxious to finish Minardi off. Surprisingly, in view of what was to happen later, FIA president, Max Mosley, rode to his rescue. Mosley firmly represented his point of view to the teams. Stoddart said Ecclestone also helped but seemed in no hurry to release the money, possibly sensing it might eventually stick to him.

    Finally, after much argument, in June 2002 Ecclestone released just US$6 million of the US$10 million Prost money to Stoddart. The share-out of TV money according to the Concorde Agreement is a complex one and is worked out by what happened in the previous season and the current one. Ecclestone withheld the portion of the money that was awarded on the previous season’s results and it has sat in his bank account ever since. But the sharks were not finished with Stoddart and threatened legal action in the form of arbitration to get the money back. Stoddart had to sign a personal guarantee to Ecclestone that he would return the US$6 million if they were successful.

    Stoddart was disappointed, as he believed with Prost’s demise the whole US$10 million should have been his. He says: “The other teams were trying to divvy it up between themselves. But we got enough crumbs to get through.”

    But Stoddart was to face even worse problems when it came to his Malaysian sponsors paying money that was due. Alex Yoong suffered three non-qualifications at the San Marino, British and German Grands Prix. That led to the non-receipt of sponsorship monies from Malaysia, and Stoddart was forced to carry out a threat to stand Yoong down at the Hungarian and Belgian Grands Prix. This got their attention after Anthony Davidson was called in. After two races Yoong was restored as the second driver as the monies came through and he qualified for the rest of the season’s three races without drama. But it had left a nasty taste and Stoddart’s love affair with Malaysia was over and he began a short-lived one with Russia.

    Gazprom, the giant Russian oil and gas company appeared, introduced via an agent by Giancarlo Minardi after numerous trips to Moscow. Stoddart recalls: “Giancarlo is not the worst at finding sponsorship because it is hard for a small team to find sponsorship. He came up with Gazprom, which was our biggest ever deal, US$50 million.”

    The actual deal signed in late 2002 was worth a total of US$54 million over three and a half years. It comprised US$2 million for the balance of the 2002 season, US$12 million for 2003 and US$20 million each for 2004 and 2005. It was all signed and sealed and Gazprom stickers first appeared on the cars in August, midway through the season. The team received the US$2 million for 2002 and eagerly awaited the title deal starting in 2003.

    The Malaysian sponsors were naturally disappointed with the performances of Alex Yoong and blamed Stoddart. In the end he got only half of the money he had been promised and his total cash income for the year was US$22 million, against the projected US$40 million. He says now: “Unfortunately Malaysia had a slightly different idea of what they thought was the sponsorship monies, as these things sometimes happen when you have got staged payments and when they arrive, but we got through the year.”

    The whole season turned into a scramble for cash. Around US$7 million finally arrived from Malaysia, US$6 million from FOM for the TV money, Christian Baha’s Quadriga hedge fund contributed US$1 million and BSA another million. With Gazprom’s US$2 million and US$1 million scrambled together from others, it all added up to US$18 million cash, and with around US$2 million from Stoddart’s own resources for European Aviation’s sponsorship and free travel, the team got through.

    He also got some surprise help from Ron Dennis with his Michelin tyre bill. Minardi had to pay around US$2 million a year for its tyres and Stoddart delivered Pierre Dupasquier a cheque at every race paying off the previous year. But by the end of 2002, the team owed Michelin US$2 million and couldn’t pay. Dennis and Frank Williams lobbied Edouard Michelin personally to forgive the debt, which he did. Stoddart says: “By the end of 02 we were a couple of mill in the shit with Michelin. And I used to bring Pierre cheques race by race – as much as we could afford. At the end of 02, Ron, Frank, Edouard, god bless him, and everybody chipped in to get Michelin to forgive the debt. and they did.”

    As money ran short rumours flooded the paddock that Stoddart had mortgaged his six Boeing 747s to Ecclestone in return for a loan. But he says that was never true and that he was not loaned a cent by Ecclestone during his five years in the sport. He says the only help he got was having his TV money advanced a few months to get him through some tricky periods, as he explains: “Bernie would always give the small teams a cash advance. If you were short of a mill or two, myself and Eddie (Jordan) got those advances when we were tight for cash. So yes, he did help but not in an involved way.”

    Stoddart credits Max Mosley with helping him the most with money in 2002: “I have to call a spade a spade; Max was instrumental in getting us that 2002 payment, there is no doubt about it. Without his intervention we would never have seen that money. There is no doubt in my mind that if Max did not help then we would have been in the shit big time.”

    Apart from the fight for the money, the other real drama of the year in racing was the Spanish Grand Prix when Stoddart withdrew his cars. Mark Webber’s rear wing failed in the morning warm-up. It came after the team had experienced manufacturing failures in the front wings, which had been fixed by making new ones over the weekend at the Firenze factory and shipping them out.

    There was a stress failure in the rear wing along a line of rivets caused mainly by the extra stress at the Barcelona circuit, which subjects wings to greater loading. Stoddart was surprised as his engineers had stress-tested the rear wings to twice the projected loads of a calculated 450kg to 900kg. Stoddart says now that he had no hesitation withdrawing the cars despite the real financial and reputational issues for the small team. He said at the time: “It’s the hardest decision a team owner has to make but we feel that it is the only responsible thing that we can do in the circumstances.” It was not a decision every team owner would have taken in the circumstances.

    But he is now unsure whether he was right. He says now: “I think that it got a bit tense. Everything went wrong.” In hindsight he thinks he may have overreacted that morning: “After the front wings, when the rear wing broke that was it, I just pulled the team.”

    It caused a major rift with Asiatech when its boss, John Gano, found out about it from journalists. Stoddart says: “It was the only cross words that we had with Asiatech but I could not find him before I pulled it.”

    It didn’t matter as at the end of the season, Asiatech announced it was closing down. Whatever ambitions the company had did not come to fruition and its backers nixed plans to build its own car. The French factory went into receivership and Stoddart sent a representative to the liquidation auction to buy some of the engines. He bought 12 engines from the receivers and 19 engine blocks plus a small mountain of spares so he could keep his old cars running. The whole lot cost him E37,000. Straight away he sold four of the engines on for E50,000. He says laughing: “Luckily I did not go to the auction or we would have spent a lot more.” And most likely would have become an engine manufacturer himself.

    There was a lighter end to the season in Japan when the Asiatech engineers, knowing that it was all over, tweaked the engine so that it could play a tune through the exhausts via a special programme. Stoddart recalls: “I will never forget it. It was the first ever singing engine. In the garage after the race the technicians had worked out how to make a Formula One engine sing. And it sang ‘When the saints come marching in’ and that was Asiatech’s swansong and they were out.”

    When Stoddart reflected on his season he could not complain. His goals for 2002 had been relatively modest. He aimed to finish in the top 10 of the constructors’ championship and to score at least one or two points. To his intense surprise, he achieved both and, most importantly, guaranteed he would receive his full share of TV monies for 2003.

    But money worries had dominated his season. In December 2002, under pressure Stoddart sold off his charter airline to a travel agent group for US$35 million. He sold it cheaply because it was coming up to a period of high investment and the new owners agreed to do it. Included in the sale were the five Boeing 747s and 10 Boeing 737s. He kept the property and two of the planes including a 747 and an Airbus he used to transport the team. He says: “I kept the spares business and ownership of the hangars so they were just buying the air operator’s certificate, the assets and people that they needed to do that with.” But the business ran into trouble almost immediately without him at the helm. Stoddart explains: “They put in a management consultant from hell, there is no other way to describe him. There were unimaginable losses, the magnitude of which I have never seen in my life. They doubled the workforce, dropped the turnover.” The sale was to come back to haunt him in 2004, but by then he was in a much better financial position to deal with it.

    Next month in BusinessF1 the Paul Stoddart story continues with the 2003 season and the campaign to raise a fighting fund to save the smaller teams, as Minardi nearly goes bust in the middle of the season before it is saved by a sponsorship resurgence. And for the first time, the inside story is told on the deal for Bernie Ecclestone to take a half share in the team which is finally never consummated.
  • Bring on Pt3. Hollywood couldn't come up with this stuff.
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