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Jaguar to bow out with a limp, not a leap
Alan Baldwin | September 18, 2004 12:19 IST
Eddie Irvine and Mark Webber provided the few highs of Jaguar's five-year Formula One adventure. The lows were more numerous.
Ford's announcement on Friday that they were pulling out of Formula One at the end of the year and putting Jaguar up for sale may have surprised some by its timing but not by the substance.
"I don't blame Ford, I'm just surprised they haven't done it earlier," said Minardi boss Paul Stoddart, whose team uses Ford-owned Cosworth engines.
"It was inevitable and it wasn't really a shock to me," Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone told Reuters. "They couldn't really afford to be running around at the back of the grid with the likes of Jordan.
"I don't think they had the necessary financial investment to be competitive and in my opinion they shouldn't have run this year at all."
As British television commentator James Allen observed on Friday, Ford have always been 'a day late and a dollar short' in Formula One.
Since Jaguar came into the sport in 2000, Ford buying the race-winning Stewart team from founder Jackie Stewart, they have struggled to make an impact.
Irvine secured Jaguar's first podium in Monaco, the season's slowest race, in 2001 and bagged another third place at Monza the following year.
Those results remain the team's sole podiums in 82 starts and even then Irvine was complaining that the car was uncompetitive.
In their first season they were ninth. Since then they have been eighth and then seventh for the last two years -- the position they occupy at present.
Internally, the team has been through the wars as well with repeated changes of leadership, redundancies and budget cuts imposed by Ford.
Stewart stood down as the first team principal before the start of the 2000 season and American Neil Ressler lasted little more than a handful of races before compatriot and former CART champion Bobby Rahal arrived.
The following year, after a failed attempt to persuade McLaren's technical director Adrian Newey to jump ship, Rahal was ousted by former champion Niki Lauda.
His tenure lasted until November 2002, when the Austrian was sacked and Tony Purnell took over with a determined back-to-basics campaign.
His direct style was highlighted last year when he referred to the evil-handling 2002 R3, presented as the team's first real Formula One car, as "a dog of a car which has embarrassing things that anybody with a little bit of engineering commonsense would never have allowed out of the factory."
The irony of Ford's decision to pull the plug now is that Jaguar has rarely looked more focused than it had this season, with Purnell, managing director Dave Pitchforth and Webber putting the team back on a steady footing.
The mechanics are highly-regarded and the staff have a strong team spirit.
This season Williams-bound Webber, who has yet to finish higher than fifth in his career, put Jaguar on the front row of the grid for the first time when he qualified second in Malaysia last March.
That high was followed by an immediate low, with the Australian struggling to get away due to a computer software problem and soon being lapped by Ferrari's world champion Michael Schumacher.
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