• Rewind to ... 1992

Running on empty

Martin Williamson November 1, 2010
Andrea Moda had one of the most bizarre seasons in F1 history in 1992 © Sutton Images
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For all moaning about the uncompetitiveness of some of the cars at the back of the field, as well as the farce that was the USF1 entry, any team entering Formula One these days has to show a certain level of competence, if not always financial acumen, before it can take its place in the paddock. It was not always the case, and until relatively recently there were some remarkable outfits which, usually briefly, hovered near the back of the grid.

The decade from the mid 1980s seemed to be the heyday of the hopeless team. Up to the 1970s it was still possible to enter as a privateer providing you could rustle up enough cash to buy a second-hand racing car and run a shoestring garage; after the 1990s the whole business had just become too expensive.

The 1992 season witnessed perhaps the most ridiculous, underfunded and hopeless team of all time - Andrea Moda. In fairness, it did better than some in that it actually started a race - once - but in a fairly brief existence it gave the FIA constant nightmares and left almost everyone else wondering what the point of it was.

Andrea Sassetti was an Italian shoe manufacturer/playboy with lofty ambitions. At the end of 1991 he bought the remains of Coloni - a team which might have gone down in history as the worst of all-time had Sassetti not arrived on the scene - for a reported $12 million and set about preparing for the 1992 season.

The early signs were worrying. Formula One International magazine reported a lavish brochure promoting the team featured a "shadowy, nude female saxophonist" but details of the more relevant facts were harder to come by.

Team boss Andrea Sassetti was an Italian shoe manufacturer © Sutton Images
Over the close-season he signed two Italian drivers - Alex Caffi, a decent driver whose promising career had come off the rails over the previous two seasons, and Enrico Bertaggia, a perennial trier who had failed to qualify in six attempts for Coloni three years earlier. As far as the cars themselves were concerned, Sassetti took the already outdated Colonis from 1991 and gave them a new all-black paint job.

"Andrea Moda Judd was formerly Coloni and both cars will have to pre-qualify," John Watson observed in his season preview for the BBC. "I regret to say that this is as far as they will get".

On the eve of the new season, Sassetti clashed with the FIA. It demanded a $100,000 fee required from all new entrants; he insisted he had merely rebranded an existing team and refused to pay. There were precedents which suggested Sassetti had a good case, but that did not always matter when dealing with the FIA.

The small Andrea Moda entourage travelled to the season-opener in South Africa and the day before pre-qualifying Caffi managed a few laps of Kyalami. But when they arrived the next morning they were met by FIA officials who insisted Coloni had not sold Sassetti his F1 entry, only the team. They demanded the fee, Sassetti refused, and the team was scratched from the grand prix.

As he headed back to Europe, Sassetti was advised that under its rules the FIA might also block him from using the old Coloni cars, even though he had decided to pay the entry fee. He was subsequently put in touch with Nick Wirth at Simtek and he bought two designs which had been readied but not taken up for another team.

The Andrea Moda mechanics had less than three weeks to build a new car and get it to the next race. Working non-stop, and aided by experts from other teams who were moonlighting for some extra cash, they defied the odds and had sent the chassis of the S921 off to Mexico. Rumours abounded about the road worthiness of the cars, but shortly before pre-qualifying was due to start, Sassetti withdrew the entry.

The Andrea Moda S921 in the Mexico pit lane © Sutton Images
Although Sassetti insisted the decision was forced on him because of issues getting all the equipment to the track, many believed it was a simple case of him not having cars that would run. The FIA was livid, the team's backers unimpressed, and Caffi and Bertaggia were again left fuming on the sidelines.

"At first, the testing was fine, the guys were good, but then … I don't know … a lot of things happened," Caffi said years later. "Sassetti … was a crazy man and ended up ruining everything."

The increasingly-unpredictable Sassetti responded to his drivers' anger by firing them both and signing Perry McCarthy and Roberto Moreno. The former had never raced in F1, while the latter, while limited, at least had a few decent performances while with Benetton under his belt.

From Mexico the team headed to Brazil amid continuing rumours they did not have two running cars. It never got a chance to prove doubters wrong as McCarthy, whose superlicence had been fast tracked, equally quickly had it removed after arriving at Interlagos. Moreno finally got out on the track for pre-qualifying where he was more than 15 seconds off the pace.

From there, Sassetti had a month to try to rescue what was fast becoming an embarrassment. He successfully lobbied to get McCarthy's licence restored but within days there had been a complication. Bertaggia got in touch and asked for his seat back, and backed by substantial sponsorship, it was an offer Sassetti jumped at, only for the FIA to point out Andrea Moda had already used its allowance of driver changes. From then on, Sassetti made clear he did not want McCarthy and hampered him at every turn.

Perry McCarthy's Andrea Moda completes just 18 yards during qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix © Getty Images
After some testing at Imola, the team's next stop was Barcelona for the Spanish Grand Prix. It was evident to anyone near the pits that only one of its cars was in any state to run. In pre-qualifying Moreno broke down on the first lap but that was better than McCarthy whose engine expired 18 yards after the pit-lane exit. Moreno returned to the fray, managing three laps before it again cut out. He had shown some improvement since Brazil and was by now only ten seconds off the pace.

The roadshow's next stop was San Marino where there was some progress for Moreno, even though he still failed to qualify, but McCarthy, eight-and-a-half seconds slower than his team-mate, dropped out with a differential problem.

At Monaco things really took a turn for the worse when McCarthy was called in to the pits after three laps and withdrawn because it was needed as a spare for his faster team-mate. It was reported the car had not got a proper race seat and so McCarthy must have been black and blue even after such a short time on the track.

Moreno, meanwhile, had stunned everyone by qualifying for the race, outperforming Damon Hill's Brabham among others. He started at the back of the grid, never looked like overtaking anyone, but as others withdrew had made it up to 19th when his engine failed on the 12th lap.

If anyone connected with Andrea Moda thought its troubles were behind it, they were mistaken. Shortly after Monaco, Sassetti's nightclub on the Italian coast burned down and as he fled from the flames he was shot at by a gunman. And then the team arrived in Canada with two S921 chassis but no engines. It was claimed they had been left at an airport after a freight plane had been forced to land by a storm and then because of weight issues had had to dump some of its cargo to be able to take off again. Cynics countered it was more likely Sassetti had not paid Judd for the engines.

Perry McCarthy attempting to qualify the S921 at Monaco © Sutton Images
Sassetti borrowed an engine from Brabham but Moreno was again horribly off the pre-qualifying pace. The latest calamity might not have been Sassetti's fault, but after that the team started to unravel, with Frederic Dhainaut, the manger, the first to jump ship.

The French Grand Prix a fortnight later was another shambles because of a blockade by striking lorry drivers which closed many of the main roads across the country. The Andrea Moda team failed to make it to Magny-Cours, although every other team found a way through, leading to rumours it had deliberately not shown up to save costs. More excuses followed but it caused almost all the remaining sponsors to withdraw and the team was also haemorrhaging staff.

By the time the British Grand Prix came round the Andrea Moda cars had been stripped of sponsorship and were plain black. McCarthy, who could not run until parts has been taken out of Moreno's car after he had been out, was sent out on a dry track on old wet tyres and was 16 seconds off even Moreno, whose day ended when his clutch exploded. In Germany, McCarthy was disqualified after failing a weight check.

At the Hungarian Grand Prix in mid August, withdrawals among other teams meant one of the Andrea Modas was guaranteed a place in qualifying as pre-qualifying only needed to weed out one car. If McCarthy thought he had a hope he was wrong as he was only sent out of the pits with 45 seconds of the session remaining, making it impossible for him to record a flying lap. Even so, Moreno did not come close to making the grid.

The FIA was fast tiring of the ridicule Andrea Moda were attracting and delivered an ultimatum to Sassetti to the effect he had to run McCarthy's car or else it would call time on his team.

Further withdrawals meant there was no pre-qualifying at Spa and McCarthy's car was actually functioning, but neither qualified and McCarthy suffered a major steering failure as a result of a fault the engineers knew existed. "I went into Eau Rouge, desperately trying to take it flat, and the steering seized," he recalled. "I still don't know how I made it through the corner." He said when he challenged his mechanics they were not concerned. "Oh yeah, we know. That's the duff one we took off Roberto's car at the last race."

Within hours the Belgian police had arrested Sassetti on suspicion of fraud relating to forged invoices. The FIA had had enough and immediately expelled Andrea Moda for bringing the sport into disrepute.

But there was one final twist as the arrogant Sassetti refused to accept the ruling and sent his transporters to Monza for the Italian Grand Prix. They were turned away.

"Given the problems I've endured with the team, it makes very little difference to me," McCarthy said. "I fully understand FISA's position".

Martin Williamson is managing editor of digital media ESPN EMEA

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Martin Williamson is managing editor of digital media ESPN EMEA Martin Williamson, who grew up in the era of James Hunt, Niki Lauda and sideburns, became managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group in 2007 after spells with Sky Sports, Sportal and Cricinfo