If you think of a backmarker team, you might think of Life, who never made it past pre-qualifying, Andrea Moda, whose owner was associated with the Italian mafia or Pacific, who used a 3 year old Benetton with some F3000 design elements in their 1994 car. However, Mastercard Lola were the worst of the lot.
Written by Ben Robbins, Edited by Esmée Koppius
Lola designed chassis for multiple teams from the 1960s to the mid-90s, when they decided that creating designs wasn’t enough. They wanted to be among the 11 other teams on the grid. The trouble is, they didn’t actually make it to the grid.
In 1994, Lola created a mule car and drove it around test tracks to gain sponsorship from companies willing to fund their venture, and aimed to be on the grid for the 1995 season. This wasn’t possible due to the fact that the car was illegal to drive, with no airbox, and most importantly, no sponsorship. They carried on driving a test mule with the end goal being to be noticed by a sponsor, which eventually came in the form of MasterCard. Unfortunately, the deal was struck with too little time to run in the 1996 season, but that didn’t matter, Lola’s plans were to join F1 for the 1998 season, because they wanted to create an in-house engine and develop their team, which would be achieved for the ’98 season.
That wasn’t what MasterCard wanted. They threatened to pull funding for Lola if they didn’t compete in the 1997 season, and that meant an undeveloped car, and no in-house engine. They built their car based on American open wheel racing technology, which wouldn’t be enough for F1. In terms of the engine, they decided to use a Ford ECA Zetec-R V8 engine which Forti used in 1996, and that gave them 3 race finishes, the rest were either DSQs or DNFs.
They ended up signing Vincenzo Sospiri, who was a decent driver, and Ricardo Rosset, who was not a good driver to say the least. The team expected to be ahead of Stewart Grand Prix, who ended up 9th in the championship and with 6 points to their name. All they needed was to get 6 points to their name to achieve their season goal.
Round 1- Australia. In the first practice session, they were only a couple of tenths back from the Minardi of Katayama. They had managed to put a relatively decent backmarker car together in 4 months, which was impressive. However, Minardi was doing race simulations. The Lolas were doing quali simulations, with low fuel and pushing their tyres to the limit.
In qualifying, Jacques Villeneuve set a time of 1:29.3, and to stay within the 107% rule, you had to set a time of 1:35.6. Sospiri was the fastest Lola, setting a time 5 seconds slower than the 107% rule, and 11 seconds off Villeneuve. Needless to say, MasterCard was not impressed. Lola had gotten all of their funding from their exclusive “F1 Club”, which gave the buyers a range of items depending on what credit card you bought. £100 a year could get you photos and a magazine, whereas £5000 a year would earn you VIP hospitality for one Grand Prix and a factory tour. They decided to cancel their sponsorship and the funding was gone. They didn’t even make it through the first qualifying of the season, and Lola was no more.
It’s mainly a “what if?” question. What if MasterCard waited until 1998? Could they have succeeded with their own engine and time to develop?
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