On paper Paul Stoddart had a US$40 million budget in the bag by the start of the 2003 season. It was set to be his best ever, but it soon turned to dust as all the promise dissolved amidst a season of broken promises. A struggle to survive started almost as soon as the New Year festivities were over.
By Tom Rubython
The 2003 Formula One season was shaping up to be Paul Stoddart’s best ever. After his stand-out performances in 2002, Mark Webber had predictably been lured to Jaguar Racing by the promise of a hefty retainer and full works car. To replace him Stoddart eventually found a driver with arguably as much potential, who also brought money with him, in the shape of Justin Wilson. Money was the crucial factor and Stoddart was in no hurry to sign any deals, believing the nearer it got to the season opener in Australia the more money might be on offer. He was right. In December the phone rang and it was Jonathan Palmer on the line, as Stoddart recalls: “He said, ‘Paul you know we have got to get this kid a drive, he is really good.’” Stoddart didn’t need any convincing of that, as he says: “I knew Justin and he is really good.” But any notions the wily Palmer had of getting Wilson a free drive were quickly disabused. Stoddart told Palmer he had been through all that with Fernando Alonso in 2001 and Webber in 2002 – and suffered for it. He says: “So they came up with this novel idea that they would set up a PLC around the driver. At the time I thought ‘oh no, I am not going to get paid. I can see this coming’.” But for once his fears were misplaced. The idea of an unquoted public company, with shareholders subscribing to effectively back Wilson, was to prove a good one. Stoddart signed Wilson for US$2 million. And he needed the money badly. At that point no Gazprom funding had come through and he was having real doubts about the validity of that deal. He says now: “We were a bit tight, we really were and we had to face paying Cosworth for an engine this time around. It was like, ‘shit can I afford a driver that does not pay?’” Stoddart is still surprised now at how the Wilson drive played out, as he says: “Jonathan played it dead straight and the payments were never late and indeed they were early. And full credit to him, every bit of money that he said that we were going to get we got.” After two years of empty promises Stoddart was stunned. Palmer raised the full US$2 million from small shareholders and they all got shares in Justin Wilson Plc. Stoddart says: “It was not big money but it was a very straight deal.” Palmer has a lot of critics in the business and more enemies than friends, but Stoddart has a very different view of him: “You could not deal with a nicer bunch of people. There were no shenanigans at all, what you saw was what you got. We got every single penny, including the fact that Justin went to Jaguar and never completed the season with us.”
Stoddart had another pleasant surprise when Jos Verstappen came on the phone seeking the second drive. But this time there was no hard cash on the table and Verstappen was full of promises, as was his long-time manager Huub Rothengatter. But Stoddart was again pleasantly surprised and was about to experience the power of Dutch support for its own. Whilst Rothengatter trotted off names to a sceptical team principal of sponsors who would come on board, his instincts told him there might be something in it: “I have a good relationship with the Dutch, and I was a personal friend and still am with Jos.” He also thought there was potential in such a line-up: “I thought with the combination of Justin and Jos and the Cosworth engine, we could give Jordan a run for its money.”
Stoddart and Rothengatter stitched together an interesting deal. With some cash on the table from Trust Computers, the rest was a profit share. Verstappen did not need a retainer but he was used to earning money from driving. So they agreed to split any sponsorship money that came in above the initial deal 50:50. It meant there was plenty of incentive on both sides to deliver. Stoddart explains: “It worked because he needed wages as he was used to being a paid driver and not a paying driver.” In the end Trust paid the upfront sum, as Stoddart says: “Trust paid that upfront, one payment, bang, a mill and a half. Then we did an open deal where we split the rest of the money that came in and it did work actually. Jos got a good wage and we got paid at least that much again.”
But the real saviour of 2003 was the ninth-place TV money from 2002. In 2003 that was beginning to ramp up after Bernie Ecclestone did some big rights deals with RTL Television and ITV. Stoddart says: “We had our guaranteed ninth place money so we knew that we were going to get 15 mill from FOM.”
Stoddart also got a bit of help with his tyres by switching to Bridgestone. He struck a deal with Hiroshi Yasukawa, which saw him pay less than US$1 million a year, half of what he had been paying Michelin. And Michelin was glad to see the back of him as it had enough teams to service and forgave much of the US$2 million he owed. It was a lifesaver and he is eternally grateful for Edouard Michelin’s approval of the deal.
With that US$17 million and US$3.5 million from his drivers plus Gazprom’s expected US$20 million, it all added up to US$40 million, enough to do the season with plenty in hand. He would need most of it, however, as for the first time Stoddart had to pay for a proper engine. His deal with Cosworth was for US$12.5 million, over which he had little choice as Asiatech had gone bust and there were no old parts left lying around in his factory. There was no more bodging to be done. Against that he was promised a competitive engine with upgrades during the year. But the killer became the large payments for the engine. Cosworth’s managers, stung by Tom Walkinshaw’s default the previous year, demanded a lot of the US$12.5 million in advance weighted towards the beginning of the season. At that point Stoddart was only assured of US$20 million and had just US$7.5 million left to run the team after paying for the engine. He remembers: “We thought that we could do it but we struggled almost from the very beginning.”
Some money was saved by not building a new car for 2003 and the 02 car was carried over. Cosworth was relentless and he says now: “We were struggling even before the racing got started.” He was in the same boat as Eddie Jordan who was paying Cosworth US$17.5 million for his semi works engine. But Jordan was nursing a guilty secret. Honda had paid Jordan US$25 million in compensation after it withdrew its support for his team. This money was specifically to pay for his engine supply for 2003 and 2004. But Jordan had diverted the money to one of his private companies in Dublin and the team never received it or even knew about it and Honda was bound by confidentiality. The only person who knew was Bernie Ecclestone.
Still Eddie Jordan began milking the situation and appealed to the other teams for a financial lifeboat to help his team pay Cosworth. Jordan wanted a ‘fighting fund’ to help the smaller teams. Naturally this money could not be paid to Jordan but not to Minardi so Stoddart went along with Jordan’s bail-out plan. And they had a bargaining chip. The big teams wanted some technical changes and needed Jordan and Stoddart’s support to get the measures voted through. He recalls: “There was that famous January 15th meeting at Heathrow where the words ‘fighting fund’ first emerged for the independent teams. Eddie was bleating about having to pay Cosworth 17.5 mill, I was hugely struggling with a 12.5 mill bill and the manufacturers wanted us to give on some regulations that were not in our interest for us to give on – traction control and various things.”
Jordan’s ruse worked and the other teams, surprisingly enough including Honda (which had already paid Jordan for the engine) sympathised and agreed to get together and pay US$8 million (US$16 million) to help out the two small teams. Sauber, as an independent, would also be entitled to the money, but Peter Sauber waived his entitlement as his engine was paid for by Petronas. It had all gone surprisingly smoothly and was agreed without argument.
Then, as Stoddart clearly recalls, Eddie Jordan blew it. In fact to this day Stoddart still can’t quite believe what happened: “We were promised an US$8 million deal each in the morning. I came out of the lunchbreak believing that there was eight million dollars on the table to each of us. Peter Sauber being the true gentleman withdrew and said ‘these guys need it, I am another independent but I do not need anything’. I will always remember his words: ‘I hope,’ he said in his lovely Swiss English, ‘you all remember if one day I need help that I have stayed out of this.’ He put his hands up.”
As the meeting broke up for lunch it was a done deal. But Eddie Jordan has only one negotiating technique in business and that is if one side agrees to pay something then they must always be prepared to pay more – never to accept the first offer. It was a technique that had sometimes served him well and sometimes not. But it was a card he always played come what may.
After the meeting resumed, what happened next astonished Stoddart, although it perhaps shouldn’t have. He recalls: “Eddie said ‘no, I want more’.” But this time the first offer was the only offer, as Stoddart says: “Eddie screwed that and I believe to this day that we would have got that money, but that’s Eddie.” Jordan’s demands sparked a furious row with Ron Dennis and the two men almost squared up over it.
But then Max Mosley weighed in and sided with Eddie Jordan, seemingly unaware that he had the US$25 million from Honda. Stoddart remembers: “Max just lashed into them and told them this is how it is going to be and we are going to do this and we are going to do that.” Jean Todt was swayed by this and was the first one to put some money on the table. This emboldened Bernie Ecclestone who said to the others who were clearly wavering: “I want to see both of these guys’ engines bills paid so I want to see US$31.5 million dollars out of you lot in this room.” Ecclestone was effectively suggesting that the teams pick up the entire engine bills of Jordan and Minardi. This was surprising as he was the one person in the room who knew that Jordan had already been paid by Honda for his engines (he knew because he had negotiated the pay-off for Jordan). But Ecclestone also misjudged the mood of the room. The teams were astonished when it was suggested they pick up the whole tab, which would have cost them around US$4 million each. They were ready for US$2 million. It all fell apart in the afternoon. Stoddart admits now that it was never going to happen. Todt was the first to waver and withdrew his offer. Slowly, to Mosley and Ecclestone’s chagrin, one by one the team principals said they were not going to do it. And neither did they propose an alternative. So instead of each walking away with US$8 million the teams had agreed to earlier, Stoddart and Jordan left with nothing. Stoddart says now: “I could have killed Eddie.”
Stoddart was in a precarious position, with no agreement and Cosworth on his back. “We went on with our lives with a lot of hoo-ha in the press about fighting funds,” he says, but it was by no means over: “We got to April 28th and the Formula One Commission meeting and there was an item on the agenda calling for the complete banning of traction control.”
The teams had an agenda and this gave Stoddart his bargaining chip. He decided to go for broke, as he explains: “I said to Ron, you are asking a lot of the independent teams. It is going to cost us more money to support all the things you want. You want this that and the other. What is in it for us?”
When the commission meeting concluded agreement seemed to have been reached, as Stoddart explains: “Ron, on behalf of all the other manufacturers, gave an undertaking in that meeting that the independent teams would get commercially affordable engines. So on that sole basis, Eddie and I voted for it. Peter was always doing what was right and he was my hero.”
It was a relief, as Stoddart admits there was a real situation where he would have to close the team as he was putting his aviation parts business at risk. His borrowings were getting dangerously near the asset value supporting the debt. He had sold his charter airline by that stage and was missing the cashflow it provided in the summer months. The payments to Cosworth were around US$2 million a month, and he says now: “I was thinking, shit this is not a lot of fun, we are blowing our brains out, we have not got enough sponsorship, we have not actually got anywhere else that we can go. The coffers were dry and for the first time ever in that early 2003 period I actually thought that we were in the shit. Before that I never thought we were in the shit. I thought that we could get through it.”
As predicted the Gazprom money had not arrived and the deal had fallen apart. Verstappen had yet to come up with more cash and the TV money trickled through. The final straw was when the teams reneged on the fighting fund as if the agreement on 28th April had never existed. Cynically they all took the view that it was not binding and they could ignore it now they had got what they wanted. Stoddart was sickened and in serious financial trouble: “By the time we got to Canada I had had a gutful. Because I was sick of broken promises I was sick of hearing what might going to happen and what is not going to happen.” But he was the wrong man to cross. He was not overawed by the forces ranged against him and vowed to fight. He was determined to show them he could not be sidelined.
Stoddart vowed to have a public showdown in Montreal. With his back to the wall he figured he had nothing to lose. He had around US$5 million a month going out and US$2 million coming in. He decided he would make his case publicly and resolved to take a legal team with him to Montreal where he was ready to release all of the documents and the full text of the Concorde Agreement to journalists to make his case for receiving the fighting fund monies. He commandeered one of his Boeing 747s and flew out early to the race to prepare with his legal team for what he saw as a full-scale fight to the death. It was a pivotal moment in his life, as he recalls: “I went prepared to Canada and we actually ran off 75 copies of the Concorde Agreement with its annexes and we had 75 press kits made up with the entire Concorde Agreement. He also included the minutes of management meetings and Formula One Commission meetings, technical working groups. In Montreal his first meeting was with Eddie Jordan, as he remembers: “I said to Eddie, this is not going to go away and I am not walking away from this. I cannot walk away without them honouring the promises. I cannot pay bills with fresh air.”
Max Mosley and the FIA communications supremo Richard Woods surprisingly agreed to co-operate with Stoddart and effectively handed him a platform. Woods made certain that Stoddart would be on the panel for the regular Friday afternoon FIA press conference along with the other leading team principals in the affair. As Stoddart recalls: “Max was still very friendly at that point and good old RFW (Richard Woods) was quite useful. That press conference was designed so that I would have a platform to air my problems.” But long before he got anywhere near the Friday briefing it had gone around that Stoddart was going to let everything go. The paddock was also abuzz with rumours that it would soon be all over for Minardi. The rumours galvanised the other team principals into action and they were not ready to see everything made public. Stoddart figured this was his final leverage. It seemed to be going his way as they decided to do the right thing. He recalls: “I was running up and down, as you do, getting team principals to sign a document which guaranteed both Jordan got money and I got money. But it was the same old culprits that did not want to sign.”
And there were unexpected complications. Eddie Jordan had taken Vodafone, one of Ferrari’s main sponsors, to London’s High Court suing it for US$150 million compensation for a failed sponsorship deal. Everyone had expected it to settle. But it had not and was due to be heard in court straight after the race. It had all become embarrassingly public. Todt was scheduled to travel to London to show his support for Vodafone and was infuriated at Jordan’s witness statements which had accused Vodafone’s sponsorship team of Peter Harris and David Haines of dishonesty. As a result Todt refused point-blank to give Eddie Jordan any money. Stoddart says: “I had a meeting with Todt and he said ‘nothing’ with a few adjectives thrown in.” Surprisingly, Ron Dennis also refused to sign and maybe he had also been annoyed by the Jordan-Vodafone situation. McLaren’s sponsorship boss Ekrem Sami was also supporting Haines and Harris in court. In fact Sami was apoplectic about what Jordan had done and was worried that confidential information would become public during the case. Stoddart found himself caught up in a situation he had nothing to do with. He says: “I get on really well with Ron now, but I think sometimes you have to go through a baptism of fire to earn a bit of respect.” Sitting in his office in the McLaren motorhome, Dennis proceeded to deliver Stoddart a sermon as he recalls: “He told me he knew what it was like to not have any money, he said ‘Paul, you should not be here in Formula One – it is not a soup kitchen’ and all this sort of stuff. I got the speech.”
Without Dennis and Todt, an agreement was not possible. And there was another surprise. Bernie Ecclestone, for reasons best known to himself, came out against Stoddart publicly. Stoddart says: “Throughout that week Bernie had been telling the press that there was no place in Formula One for the likes of Stoddart and he should pack his bags. He said if he cannot afford to pay his way there is no place for him in Formula One and all that shit.” Stoddart could have been forgiven for feeling confused, as behind the scenes, he says, Ecclestone was saying things like ‘how much do you need to get through?’. But when Stoddart told him, the response stunned him. Ecclestone had sensed that because of Vodafone, McLaren and Ferrari would never agree the fighting fund deal. And so followed a classic Ecclestone manoeuvre. He made Stoddart an offer to buy his team. As he was saying one thing publicly he was doing exactly the opposite in private, seeing the chance to make some money for himself in Stoddart’s hour of greatest need.
After some negotiation, Ecclestone agreed to buy a 50 per cent share of the Minardi team from Stoddart for US$4 million. Stoddart didn’t want to sell his team, but he did need the insurance and confirms: “I agreed to sell Bernie 50 per cent of the team but I kind of did not trust anyone at this point.” In fact it was the last thing he wanted to do as the team was worth much more, but he confesses: “It was just good ammunition in my armoury.” Regardless, Stoddart still intended to get the fighting fund money.
Without Dennis and Todt’s agreement, Stoddart prepared for the press conference. He had plenty of ammunition: “I thought if I am going to do this publicly I had better know what I am talking about. I had better be bomb-proof. It was amazing what I collected in documentation. Letters that I probably should never have had but were freely given to me by the recipients.”
In fact he had three crucial letters in his possession. There was one from Dennis to Mosley. One from Ecclestone’s lawyers to McLaren’s lawyers. And the final one from Warburg Pincus, the owners of the Jordan team, to both Mosley and Ecclestone. This letter was interesting as it detailed cash Warburg had advanced the team to pay for its Cosworth engine pending receipt of the fighting fund monies which hadn’t materialised. Its public release could have been catastrophic for Eddie Jordan as it proved that the team had not received the US$25 million cash he had received from Honda, And, crucially, that Warburg Pincus did not know about the money Jordan had diverted to his private company. On the surface the letter detailed how the money had been promised on 15th January and on that basis Warburg had advanced the funds. The letter demonstrated the intent to pay out the fighting fund. Ecclestone also had reason to be worried if that letter was made public. He was in danger of becoming co-conspirator to the fraud Eddie Jordan had perpetrated on his own company. He was also worried that if it came out the teams might want to know why he had hadn’t told them about it. Of course Mosley hadn’t known about any of this when he had given Stoddart a copy of the letter. The other two letters proved the intent to pay the fighting fund and would be embarrassing to Ron Dennis if released. Half an hour before the start of the press conference, Ecclestone called a meeting of the team principals without Stoddart present. That confused Stoddart as some of the people in the meeting were due to speak at the press conference starting at two o’clock. When he arrived in the media centre, Richard Woods told Stoddart he had been ordered by Mosley to start the conference at two o’clock sharp. And that he was “not to wait for anybody”. Woods told him: “You are the only one there, you go up there and you have the world’s TV for an hour, use it any way that you want.”
Stoddart says that both Woods and Mosley were fully aware of his plans. Stoddart found a room packed with journalists in eager anticipation of what was to come. It was a classic media feeding frenzy. The conference was also being broadcast to the whole circuit via video and watched live by 2,000 people as well as being recorded by more than a dozen TV channels for later broadcast around the world in magazine shows and news bulletins.
At two o’clock sharp, Stoddart duly got started on his prepared monologue. He was detailing the background to the problem when after seven and a half minutes Ecclestone arrived with the team principals. Stoddart recalls: “I was methodically going through the background to all of this when the door opens. I just kept going and said ‘I think we have got some new arrivals, can they come up and take their positions. I sat in the middle, Ron was on the right and Frank (Williams) was in his wheelchair on the left. Eddie was behind me to my left
and David Richards was to my right.”
With their arrival Stoddart was interrupted by Williams who said he was there to talk about racing and not politics and that he was not going to discuss it. Dennis announced that, although he would probably regret it later, he was going to challenge Stoddart and admitted to the assembled journalists that he could not help himself. He proceeded to deliver his own monologue in a style that only he can. He said that no one had ever given him anything in Formula One and he didn’t see why the independent teams should have anything. The strategy of the other team principals seemed to be to talk Stoddart out and deny him any time to speak. This provoked a fierce debate between Dennis and Stoddart on the rights and wrongs of the fighting fund. Stoddart started to argue how Ferrari was paid extra from the TV fund and said he would reveal the details of that to journalists. This infuriated Dennis who declared it irrelevant and said there was no such real obligation for any principal to contribute to a fighting fund. He repeated that people should fund their own way through the sport and that no one ever gave him any help when he started. At one point he shouted: “If you cannot stand the heat, then you should get out of the bloody kitchen.” Williams sat through it all silently. An incensed Stoddart turned round to Dennis and showed him the letter in his hand that McLaren’s lawyers had written. Dennis suddenly shut up.
Stoddart was stunned at what came next. When it was Eddie Jordan’s turn to speak, he effectively repudiated what Stoddart had said and amazingly told the journalists that he did not want the money from the fighting fund and that he was not a beggar. He sought to distance the Jordan team from Minardi and said Jordan was a successful team that did not need a handout from anyone. Stoddart immediately realised that Jordan had been nobbled to undermine his own case, as he remembers: “I am thinking that this is not the same guy here.”
When Jordan had finished, Stoddart fingered the Warburg Pincus letter and recalls what happened next: “I spun around on the chair and I opened the tabbed folder at the page from Warburg Pincus and Eddie saw this. Eddie almost fell off his perch.” Jordan was absolutely floored when he realised Stoddart had this letter, which if released would prove instantly that Jordan had told the meeting a pack of lies. A flustered Jordan tried to change the subject and turned his attentions to the conference moderator Bob Constanduros. He told Constanduros he was a troublemaker and was deliberately stirring up the meeting by asking controversial questions that he had no right to ask. It was the second time Stoddart would be stunned and he says now: “You could not hope to meet a nicer bloke than Bob and I was really disappointed in Eddie that day and I nicknamed him Judas Jordan.”
But the tactics worked and the conference descended into chaos. As it ended Ecclestone inferred to Stoddart that something could be sorted out and he was persuaded not to immediately release the documents as he had been prepared to do. In the end Stoddart backed off from confronting his colleagues. It was a messy end. Jordan had already been promised US$2.8 million and Ecclestone told Stoddart he would get US$2.3 million. He says now: “I found out afterwards why he said what he said – because they had promised him money.”
But then Stoddart was surprised again, when Ecclestone chose afterwards to announce that he had bought 50 per cent of Minardi. Stoddart is unsure to this day what Ecclestone’s motives for announcing it were. But the consequence, unintended or not, was that Stoddart’s problems almost immediately melted away. Once his suppliers, including Cosworth, who were all baying at the door to have their bills paid, thought Ecclestone was involved they dissolved as well. They changed from baying wolves to willing supplicants, actually extending credit lines all over the place. It gave the team valuable breathing space. As Stoddart remembers: “All my problems went away. They all said, ‘if Bernie is part of it we will talk about it later.’ It was like all the pressure went off me.”
Despite the promise, the US$2.3 million took a long time to arrive. In the end Ron Dennis did a chameleon reversal and became Stoddart’s champion and organised the paying of the money. Stoddart says: “Ron went into bat and actually got them all on board, and poor old Minardi got a couple of mill and so did Eddie. And that was the end of the so-called fighting fund – all the mega millions that were talked about never happened.”
But something unexplained happened after Montreal. Stoddart’s team turned the corner. More sponsors arrived and then Niki Lauda came to the rescue and decided he wanted to hire Justin Wilson. The team had tired of Antonio Pizzonia and in the way of the Formula One world decided it just had to have Wilson to replace him and was prepared to pay handsomely for the privilege. Lauda forgave some of the Cosworth bill and, more importantly, Stoddart was able to sell Wilson’s seat to Nicolas Kiesa for US$2 million for the last few races.
Altogether another US$7 million was scrambled together to bring the team’s overall income to US$27 million, as Stoddart admits: “That got me out of the shit completely, and with Ford’s help, Niki’s help, we limped through 03.”
Altogether the budget swelled to US$28 million, a far cry from the US$40 million anticipated at the beginning of the year but enough to get the job done. In the end US$14.7 million came from the TV money, US$3 million from Verstappen, US$2 million from Wilson and US$7 million from everyone else. It was a minor miracle.
Whilst all this was going on Ecclestone’s accountants were doing due diligence on the team and he appeared keen to buy it. But Minardi was getting stronger and stronger. Stoddart was morally obliged to go ahead with the deal and Ecclestone sensed he wanted out, as Stoddart recalls: “Bernie said to me, ‘do you really want to do this deal?’ and I said ‘well I am out of the shit now’. And he said ‘well it is up to you, the offer is there if you want it’ and I politely declined.”
As a result Stoddart will always have a lot of affection for Ecclestone. He accepts that Ecclestone has not always been on his side but says: “I really have so much respect for Bernie, so many people in the sport owe him so much and I am one of them. And not for handouts but for the help that he genuinely gives people.”
It was not until the end of the season that Stoddart had time to draw breath and finally realise the Gazprom money was not going to come through despite the huge effort put in by Giancarlo Minardi who had made many trips to Moscow.
The team received US$2 million in 2002 but after that nothing. Sergei Zlobin, a 26-year-old Russian had been signed as test driver as part of the deal and had a few runs in the car. The deal signed was long term and worth US$50 million. US$12 million was scheduled for 2003, US$20 million in 2004 and 2005. In the end the team launched a lawsuit to try and get the money but the affair left a nasty taste in Stoddart’s mouth. He pulled the deal at the Spanish Grand Prix and the car was stripped of the Gazprom logos. He says now: “They blew us straight out of the water and left us swimming. We had a massive lawsuit against them which I am sure that Red Bull have now dropped.”
The Gazprom deal was done through an intermediary, a sponsorship agent and the chief executive of the company. It made it very messy, but Stoddart says now: “I think the politics changed – we certainly never did anything wrong. We did exactly what we were supposed to do. We got a few mill and it all turned to shit after that. They were the reason that we got into so much shit at the start of 2003. And we had budgeted everything on that happening and we had nowhere to go. Giancarlo bless him pursued it and even stopped coming to the races to go and get the money. He did a lot trips and he tried really hard. The defining moment came months later in an Italian courthouse as Minardi’s lawyers tried to persuade a judge to issue an order to seize Gazprom’s assets in Italy. Stoddart says wearily: “In the end the judge would not do that because of the size of the company. We were listed to go to a full hearing earlier this year. And I think they would have settled because it was all bang to rights stuff. And it did not happen, it was the one that got away.”
It had been a year of incredible ups and downs and predictably performance on the track suffered as a result. The team scored no points but still good enough to qualify for 2004’s television money, which was some good news at the end of a tumultuous 12 months. At that point Stoddart had almost had enough and he decided he would sell the team if he got a good enough offer. It began a saga that would continue for two years before he finally did a deal. No fewer than 38 individuals and organisations conducted due diligence on the team in that period. As 2003 dissolved into 2004, Stoddart figured that things could only calm down. He was wrong about that.
Next time in the continuing Paul Stoddart Story we look at Minardi’s 2004 season. Financially it was Stoddart’s best season as he secured a decent budget, and there was
little controversy. But it was also a sad year as his team manager and sporting director, John Walton, died suddenly, knocking the Australian for six.
[Edited on 20-11-0606 by minardirule]