Written by Vyas Ponnuri, Edited by Sameena Khan
Nowadays, it is common to see fans lament over their favourite team getting the strategy, engine reliability, pit stops, or being unable to keep up with their rivals during a season. It is understandable, considering the level of competition and rate of development in the pinnacle of motorsport, and it takes a lot of coordination and unity between various departments of a team to be able to compete at such a level.
While teams today are much more stable and have what it takes to mix it up with the best in Formula One, this wasn’t the case in the 1980s and 1990s. This era saw the likes of many backmarker teams, far off the pace of the front-runners, such as Mastercard Lola, Life, Pacific, or even the likes of Arrows, who once fell for a Nigerian Prince scam too, Zakspeed, or even Osella-Ford. However, while they were good enough to remain in Formula 1 for many seasons, the same couldn’t be said of another backmarker team - Andrea Moda.
Birth of The Team
Named after owner Andrea Sasseti’s shoe brand, the team came about in 1992, following the purchase of the erstwhile backmarker team Coloni F1 team, one that had failed to pre-qualify for every race the season prior, in 1991. An engine agreement had been signed with Judd, drivers Alex Caffi and Enrico Bertaggia had been hired, and an agreement had been sought with Simtek to run a car designed for BMW in 1990. Although, things spiralled downhill quickly for this new entrant to the sport from here.
Sasseti arrived at the season opener in Kyalami with a modified Coloni C4B chassis for its drivers. However, the team were excluded from the event, having failed to pay the $100,000 deposit to be paid by every new team. Yet, they wouldn’t have been able to race, as the cars were not built. The team arrived in Mexico, but the cars weren’t ready to race. At this point, Caffi and Bertaggia seemed to have had enough and lashed out against the team for their inability to give them a chance to race and were fired by the team for doing so. New drivers were hired for the team, in the form of F1’s super-sub Roberto Moreno and Perry McCarthy, one who had tested for Williams and would be the Stig on Top Gear. Yet, there were more setbacks to follow.
The next round at Brazil saw the team finally make it out onto the track, Moreno giving it his all but not making it past pre-qualifying. McCarthy, meanwhile, was denied a Super License and thus didn’t appear on the track. At the next round, in Spain, he did make it out onto the way, having been granted a Super License, but his appearance on track lasted to just a few metres, the S921 grounding to a halt with engine issues. Not the ideal start to his Formula 1 career. The next round at Imola didn’t go too well either, McCarthy being grateful, more so, to make it out alive following a differential failure. His seat wasn’t fitted correctly, causing him to be uncomfortable in the cockpit. Neither had his team fitted a windshield to the car, leading to McCarthy being prone to buffeting as he did his lap around the fearsome racetrack.
An Unlikely Return by a Former Driver and More Controversy
At this point, another factor slowly came into play - the team’s former driver Enrico Bertaggia returned to Sasseti with $1 Million worth of sponsorship in his hands. While Sasseti looked to replace McCarthy with Bertaggia, the FIA disallowed this following the team’s actions prior. Thus, McCarthy’s status within the group fell drastically and saw Sasseti ignore his entry.
The team’s best weekend of their controversy-ridden stint came at the famous Monaco GP. During pre-qualifying, Moreno surprised everyone, dragging his S921 past pre-qualifying and onto the grid for Sunday’s race, albeit starting in 26th and last. McCarthy’s time at Monaco didn’t yield much; the Briton was eliminated, having set a lap time of 17:05.924. Once again, the team didn’t fit a windshield onto his car, causing McCarthy to experience buffeting on his lap. The team’s first start lasted 11 laps, with Moreno pulling into the pits following an engine failure.
Their season kept going from bad to worse; in Canada, the team couldn’t take part once again. This time, it was due to Judd not providing them with engines, as Sasseti hadn’t made the payments for the same. At the following round, in France, the team’s trucks couldn’t reach the circuit, following a protest by the truck drivers on the highway, whereas every other team had made it to the circuit. At this point, the team’s few sponsors realised they had enough and withdrew, which left Sasseti with no option but to fund the team from his pocket.
The team later got a warning from the FIA to provide a reasonable effort to run McCarthy’s car or else risk exclusion from the sport following two instances of unfavourable treatment to the Briton. At his home race, McCarthy was sent out on wet tyres on a dry track, thus not being able to set a competitive lap time; and later at Hungary, sending him out with only 45 seconds left before pre-qualifying was completed. It was a shocking sequence of events, which had tested McCarthy’s patience as he lashed out against the team.
The Final Moments
At Spa Francorchamps, Andrea Moda and their eventful tale across the season was well-known in the Paddock. Both Andrea Moda cars were granted entry to qualifying following the withdrawal by the Brabham team from the event. Sasseti realised his inferior treatment towards McCarthy wouldn’t be accepted and, thus, provided the Briton with a chance to set a lap time. McCarthy, frustrated by the events of prior rounds, realised this would be his only chance to show his skills to the team to retain him. Yet, even he wouldn’t have expected the sequence of events that followed.
On his flying lap, as McCarthy barreled down the straight towards the fearsome Eau Rouge-Raidillon complex, his car’s steering jammed, the S921 on a collision course with the barriers on the left-hand side of the track. McCarthy slammed on the brakes, reducing the impact when his car struck the barriers and rebounded back onto the track. Afterwards, when he inquired with his mechanics about the steering, they told him it had been tested on his teammate Moreno’s car a week prior. This was the nadir for the Italian outfit.
The team took another big hit during the weekend, with team owner Sasseti being arrested by the local police on charges of fraud and, thus, his team being thrown out of the championship. Andrea Moda tried to make a surprise entry into their home race at Monza but was denied by the FIA. And thus, Andrea Moda’s troubled journey in Formula One came crashing down to an abrupt end halfway through the season.
Having been through such a multitude of operational hurdles during their short stint and not treating one of their drivers right, Andrea Moda could be considered the poorest effort ever to run an F1 team.