Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Life sucks - it certainly did in 1990!

As you all know, I love my motorsport.   The current era of Formula One always brings up some points of interest to discuss.   Today however I want to go back a mere 22 years – when West Germany won the World Cup, Nelson Mandela was released from prison, Glasgow was the European City of Culture  and I was a mature-yet-small 7 year old probably ferrying people about in a rowing boat.  It was also the year that Ayrton Senna won his second of three F1 World Championships.

It was a classic year of Formula One – action aplenty both on and off the track.  However, I want to focus on a story that could almost be seen as a comedy. This is the story of the Life Racing Engines F1 team.
The team was principled by Ernesto Vita and based in Modena, Italy.  It was seriously under financed from the start – something that could never happen in the era of modern F1.  The poor ingredients went on: They had one chassis, one engine and few spare parts.  The unreliable W12 3.5ltr engine was the least powerful on the grid with just 480bhp – hopeless when others had 600 to 700hp.  It was also one of the heaviest cars in the field at 530kg, meaning terrible handling. 
Richard Divila was the concept designer of the car, which originally was the meant to be for the stillborn ‘FIRST’ team in 1989.  When he saw the final design, he suggested that the car was too dangerous.  In 1989, it alarmingly failed the FIA’s crash tests, backing up Divila’s comments.  Somehow it got through for 1990, under the new chassis banner of the Life L190.  Divila was so concerned he took legal action to prevent his name being used in connection to the car. 
What was the point of the team being on the grid? Life Racing Engines aimed to showcase its ‘innovative’ W12 engine so a major team would step in and take the engine on in their own cars.  With the car and engine built by the same enterprise, they were the only team on the 1990 grid other than Ferrari to do so.  Unfortunately, race wins weren’t on the horizon - but neither were race starts as it turned out!
The first race in Phoenix, for the USA GP, Australian Gary Brabham – part of the Brabham family motorsport dynasty - was nearly thirty seconds away from the nearest car in front.  These were the days of pre-qualifying, which allowed the fastest cars into proper qualifying, which would then make up the race grid.  In other words, Life was at the bottom of the pile and would have a mountain to climb to even make qualifying. 
After the second race in Brazil, when the car broke down before even it could record a lap time, Brabham had seen the iceberg and left the team.  He was replaced by the aging Bruno Giacomelli.  This didn’t improve anything.  In what has to be the worst performance ever by an F1 car, his timed lap at the San Marino GP was over seven minutes…the pole time was one minute twenty three seconds!
The team gave up on the W12 engine by the time the Portuguese GP came around later in the year, replacing it with a Judd-manufactured V8.  It’s a wonder why they bothered, seeing as the sole aim of the team was to showcase its own engine.  When hilariously the engine cover didn’t fit over the car at the Portuguese GP, they went home.  The next race in Spain showed no better promise, with the car still almost twenty seconds off the pace in pre-qualifying. 
It appears this was the end of Life Racing Engines – an innovative concept that was fatality flawed from the start.  They didn’t fly out to the Southern Hemisphere for the final two races of the 1990 season.  
The Life L190 car (the only example in existence) did make a public appearance at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2009, fully restored with its original W12 engine.
The most amazing thing is that the team tried to qualify for fourteen of the sixteen races in 1990, yet they never got close to even qualifying in a single one of them. 
If you look back at it, it’s a pretty funny story.
Here's a photo that really sums the car up...http://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/40/1990brunogiacomellilife.jpg/

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