Onyx Grand Prix
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|Full name||Onyx Grand Prix|
|Base||Westergate House, West Sussex, United Kingdom|
|Noted staff||Mike Earle
Jean-Pierre Van Rossem
|Noted drivers|| Stefan Johansson
|Formula One World Championship career|
|Debut||1989 Brazilian Grand Prix|
|Races competed||26 (25 starts)|
|Race victories||0 (best finish: 3rd in the 1989 Portuguese Grand Prix)|
|Final race||1990 Hungarian Grand Prix|
Pre-Formula One beginnings
Onyx Grand Prix originally began life as Onyx Race Engineering in late 1978 as a partnership between old colleagues Mike Earle and Greg Field. Prior to approaching Field and asking him to join him in a new venture, Earle had had extensive experience in open-wheel racing, running the successful Church Farm Racing team in F3, F2 and Formula 5000 as well as previously working with Field and driver David Purley in the LEC racing team in Formula Atlantic, F2, European Formula 5000 and occasional Formula One races. In their first foray into team ownership, the duo intended to enter their own chassis in Formula 2 for the 1979 season but it turned out to be a largely unsuccessful campaign. They returned in 1980 & 1981 running a semi-works March for Johnny Cecotto and Riccardo Paletti. After a competitive 1981 season, Paletti's sponsors took him to Formula One with Osella. Not wanting to be left behind, Onyx tried their hand at F1 by entering a private March in 5 rounds for Spaniard Emilio de Villota, with de Villota only failing to qualify once. Inspired by this, Onyx planned to enter their own car once again, but this time taking a step-up into the world of Formula One with a returning Paletti. But disaster struck as Paletti was killed at the 1982 Canadian Grand Prix and this seemed to curtail Onyx's progression forward.
The next step
At this time, co-founder Greg Field decided to leave the team and sold his share to racing enthusiast Jo Chamberlain, and this looked like a further step backwards for the team. But finally some good fortune arrived as March Engineering co-founder Robin Herd had decided to outsource the running of the works March Formula 2 team and he approached Earle and Onyx to do it. So, Onyx had now inherited a class-leading chassis, a dominant BMW engine and the best Michelin tyres for the 1983 season, along with capable drivers in Beppe Gabbiani, Thierry Tassin and Christian Danner. But it never turned out to be a championship season as the team fell behind the works Ralts. 1984 would see the team slip further behind the Ralts and even a privately entered March. In 1985 Formula 3000 replaced F2 as the stepping-stone series to Formula One and Onyx continued to run the works March effort, finishing 3rd with Emanuele Pirro in 1985, then progressing even further as Pirro finished as runner-up in 1986 before Onyx achieved their finest moment as Stefano Modena was crowned the 1987 Formula 3000 champion. With Modena off to Formula One, Onyx set their sights on retaining the championship with Volker Weidler but 1988 turned out to be a huge disappointment as Weidler battled with the March 88B, finishing in 15th position overall. Nevertheless, buoyed by a largely successful Formula 2 and Formula 3000 tenure, Earle was now eager to enter Formula One and set about building a solid team with which to enter the pinnacle of motorsport.
Prior to entering Formula One, Paul Shakespeare had purchased the majority shares of the team in September 1988 and this provided Onyx with the much needed injection of cash to make the step up. Martin Dickson was hired as Team Manager and the team was further boosted by sponsorship from Marlboro and Moneytron, a company owned by flamboyant Belgian Jean-Pierre Van Rossem. Van Rossem would soon purchase all of Shakespeare's shares, becoming the majority owner in a deal that would cause the team a considerable amount of problems in the future. In the meantime, the team, now rebranded as Onyx Grand Prix, had struck a deal to use Ford V8's and Goodyear tyres. Respected engineer Alan Jenkins, who had previously worked for McLaren, was commissioned to design the team's first Formula One car, resulting in the tidy-looking Onyx ORE-1. Earle went for a mixture of youth and experience on the driving front and hired the respected Stefan Johansson and the young Belgian rookie Bertrand Gachot, who had actually been responsible for the arrival of Van Rossem and his Moneytron sponsorship. So, with a solid business plan in place, a wealth of experience in junior formulae, a sound car and engine package and a solid driver duo, Onyx Grand Prix looked set to have a rather promising future in Formula One.
Despite all of the excitement and preparation, Onyx only just made it to their first Grand Prix. Their cars were only completed on the morning of their launch, before having to be hastily packed and sent off to Heathrow the same day for transportation to Brazil, the scene of the seasons first race. Having had no testing done to fine-tune the cars, neither car would make it out of pre-qualifying in the first 3 rounds. Things got worse as a testing accident completely destroyed one chassis prior to the race at Imola and at the race itself, brake failure on Johansson's car resulted in another car-destroying crash. But positive signs were beginning to show as Gachot just missed out on pre-qualifying in Imola, Johansson would do the same at Monaco before finally, Johannson would make it out of pre-qualifying in Mexico, setting the 6th fastest time in Saturday free practice before qualifying 21st for the race, ahead of the illustrious Nelson Piquet and respected drivers Pierluigi Martini, René Arnoux and Eddie Cheever. The car however, and expectedly, would suffer a mechanical failure in its debut race, but the signs were promising. More good news arrived at Phoenix with the return of Greg Field who replaced Dickson as Team Manager, and Johansson once again making the grid, qualifying 19th before a front suspension failure ended his day. Johansson was once again on the grid in Canada, this time 18th. Gachot had yet to make his first Grand Prix start, but he was getting ever closer.
But it was during this upswing that things started to look ominous. Van Rossem's lavish lifestyle and extravagance came to the fore, having purchased a US$20 million Gulfstream Jet 4 prior to the Phoenix Grand Prix. Johannson was also disqualified in Canada after a botched pit-stop saw him tear the air gun rig apart. Amidst all the dark clouds however, a sunny day arrived at the 1989 French Grand Prix. Both cars were ideally suited to the Paul Ricard circuit and comfortably finished 1-2 in pre-qualifying. They both had an even more impressive qualifying proper, with Gachot ending up 11th on the grid and Johansson 13th. Gachot ran with Alesi, who finished 4th, before a battery problem put him down to 13th, while Johansson scored the team's first points with a fine 5th place. The two points were now set to get the team out of pre-qualifying for the remainder of the season, but it came to nothing at the next round in Britain as Johansson failed to qualify and Gachot qualifying 21st before having his race blighted by handling problems. The Minardis would finish 5th and 6th however, condemning Onyx to the ruthless world of pre-qualifying. Johansson would qualify in Germany, Hungary and Belgium with Gachot missing out in Germany. But the trouble flared up once again with Van Rossem and his flamboyancy as he had been quoted in the press as saying he was attempting to attract top drivers to the team and was in the process of investing US$40 million into Porsche's F1 engine project, while in reality and behind closed doors, Van Rossem was beginning to bemoan the cost of running a Formula One team and was even rumoured to be reluctant to pay the team's bills. Van Rossem went one step further by saying on Belgian TV that he will quit F1 if the Porsche engine deal falls through. Many saw this as an admission that he was tired of the sport and a reason to get out.
At the Italian Grand Prix, Gachot qualified for what would be his final race for the team while Johansson failed to make the grid. Gachot raised the ire of his erratic boss and was sacked for voicing his displeasure at the team's lack of testing and an apparent lack of faith in his driving. Finn JJ Lehto was drafted in at the last minute as his replacement, but with little time to familiarise himself with the new car he failed to qualify for the next round in Portugal. But yet again it was Johansson that came to the fore and gave Onyx a reason to smile at the Portuguese Grand Prix. He decided not to change tyres during the race and after everybody else had made their pit-stops and following Mansell & Senna's collision, he was running an incredible 3rd before his tyres started to go. He was rapidly caught and passed by both Williamses but they soon retired and Johansson was left with a clear run home in 3rd, crossing the line with no fuel and just about driving on his rims. It was a great moment for the team but it would also turn out to be their last points finish. With Van Rossem reluctant to make funds available, development on the car was slow and Johansson would not qualify for the rest of the season, although Lehto would continue to improve, making the grid in Spain and Australia.
The team finished in a respectable 10th position overall in their début season, scoring 6 points, and rewarding them with not having to take part in pre-qualifying for the following season.
After what should have been a solid foundation to build on in 1989, things started coming apart heading into the 1990 Formula One Season. At the back end of 1989, Van Rossem's lack of interest began to show. Finances quickly dried up and Van Rossem's flamboyant and uncooperative personality had resulted in Earle and Chamberlain quitting the team, with Field quitting the team for a second time. Alan Jenkins took charge of the team with Peter Rheinardt taking over as Team Manager from Field. Having failed to secure a deal for either Honda or Porsche V10's for the 1991 Formula One Season, Van Rossem acted on his threats and left the team, taking his Moneytron sponsorship with him. Now seeking new ownership, Swiss car-collector and former racer Peter Monteverdi purchased 50% of the team with the father of driver Gregor Foitek, Karl Foitek purchasing 25% and Brune Frei purchasing the remaining 25%. The team was already in such dire financial straights that Foitek had to pay for Goodyear tyres used by the team in 1989 before the company would provide them with tyres for the 1990 season. The team would then rehire Earle and Chamberlain but Alan Jenkins was soon fired after refusing to work with Earle, and to make matters worse, Earle and Chamberlain would leave once again along with Team Manager Rheinhardt and the bulk of Onyx's experienced staff. This loss of key personnel would be the team's first crisis of 1990.
For 1990 the team had retained JJ Lehto but in an obvious move they had opted to go with Gregor Foitek in the 2nd car, as he was the son of part owner Karl Foitek. But, Foitek was contracted to Brabham for two races so Johansson was kept for the opening two rounds. As little money had been put into developing a car for the 1990 season, the team arrived at the opening two rounds with last year's ORE-1. Neither driver managed to qualify for the first two races with Johansson destroying two chassis in the process. On to Imola for round 3 and the team arrived with slightly updated ORE-1B chassis. Foitek was finally available to the team and he replaced Johansson, but this would result in the second crisis of 1990 as Stefan Johansson was upset by the team's disloyalty and sued them for breach of contract and along with Alan Jenkins, he attempted to get a court injunction to block Monteverdi's planned relocation of the team. Imola did prove to have a happy ending as both cars made the grid with Lehto coming home 12th. At Monaco, Foitek was running 6th late in the race when he collided with Eric Bernard's Larrousse, resulting in him being classified 7th, a result that would be Onyx's best finish of the season. Both cars made the grid in Canada and Mexico, but could only manage one finish between them with Foitek's 15th place in Mexico. In July Monteverdi had fulfilled his desire to move the team to Switzerland, but that improved nothing. A clear indication of how far behind the team had fallen came in France where both cars failed to make the grid, whereas at the same track last season, they had both qualified high up and netted a points finish. On to Britain and once again neither car made the grid. By the time of the German Grand Prix, Monteverdi had succeeded in changing the teams name to Monteverdi Onyx Formula One, but once again it meant nothing as although both cars scraped onto the grid, Foitek retired early and Lehto finished 6 laps behind and was unclassified.
There were also alarming rumours beginning to circulate regarding poor car preparation, including broken suspension parts being welded back together instead of being replaced and the cannibalising of Monteverdi's sports car collection to replace parts on the Formula One cars due to a lack of spare parts. One instance saw Lehto repeatedly complaining of poor handling, a problem that was finally solved when his driveshaft was discovered to have been installed the wrong way around. At around this time part-owner Karl Foitek withdrew his money and barred his son from driving a car that he now felt was a death-trap. With finances already a huge problem, Foitek's withdrawal was the final straw and the team would ultimately not see out the championship, wrapping up operations at the Hungarian Grand Prix in a sad ending for a team that had entered the sport with such promise and potential.
Complete International Formula 3000 results
(Results in bold indicate pole position; Results in italics indicate fastest lap)
Complete Formula One results
|1989||Onyx ORE-1||Ford DFR V8||G||BRA||SMR||MON||MEX||USA||CAN||FRA||GBR||GER||HUN||BEL||ITA||POR||ESP||JPN||AUS||6||10th|
|Ford DFR V8||G||USA||BRA||SMR||MON||CAN||MEX||FRA||GBR||GER||HUN||BEL||ITA||POR||ESP||JPN||AUS||0||NC|
- Galpin, Darren. "Onyx ORE 1-Cosworth". The A-Z of Racing Cars. Retrieved 23 February 2013.
- Galpin, Darren. "Onyx/Monteverdi ORE 1B-Cosworth". The A-Z of Racing Cars. Retrieved 23 February 2013.
- Tremayne, Sam (7 January 2014). "Ex-Formula 1 team Onyx reforms for World Touring Car Championship". autosport.com (Haymarket Publications). Retrieved 7 January 2014.