Jaguar in Crisis
Jaguar Racing have had a torrid time so far this year with their troublesome R3 chassis and today in qualifying, the team set the 17th and 20th fastest times with Pedro de la Rosa and Eddie Irvine respectively. So bad is their new chassis, that Eddie Irvine was unable to get within two seconds of his qualifying time set last year in what was considered at the time to be a poor chassis. Jaguar Racing has moved the goal posts backwards once again this year and even by their own admission, are in big trouble.
Twelve months ago under the leadership of Bobby Rahal, the team struggled to qualify 12th and 15th with Irvine setting a best time of 1:37.140. Today, one-year on with Niki Lauda at the helm of the Ford owned company, progress is not something talked about as the team now talk of survival and damage limitation as the key focus for 2002 season. On a circuit was considered by many to be roughly half a second slower than the same session last year, Irvine could only manage a best of 1:39.121. A team in disarray? Certainly.
The John Russell/Mark Handford deign has proven awful from the outset and for this great British name in motorsport, their performance has been dismal despite a lucky three points picked up in Australia.
"I couldn’t do anymore out there," said Irvine. "Maybe my last lap could have been better had Panis not blocked me, but when you are fighting for positions at the back of the grid, I can’t say it makes a massive difference, to be honest. I am finding it very hard indeed to get to grips with this car. Pedro has done a better job with it and that’s probably down to his style of driving, particularly the way he tackles the corners. I like carrying speed through the corners and this car isn’t conducive to my approach into corners – particularly the slower ones. Not much has changed in the cars between Melbourne and Sepang. We tried some revised bits and pieces but, to be honest, our problem is much bigger than that. Last year, I qualified two seconds faster here and that would have meant 7th position on the grid today! I’m not saying we should have come here with R2, but it goes some way to justifying the reason for doing the comparison test next week and taking it from there. Either way, we need to find a way out of this quite fast. Together with Niki and Guenther, I’m sure we’ll find a way. I really don’t think it’s a case of ‘if’ we’ll find a way out - it’s more a case of ‘when.’ Next week is critical to our season and everybody is working to the limit now in an effort to break through this difficult issue."
Pedro de la Rosa managed to find some time in the jaguar, but was still unable to match the pace of the slowest Arrows car of Enrique Bernoldi who utilises the same powerplant as the Jaguar team. "We did the best we could today with the R3 and for the first time, we took this car to the limit," the Spaniard said tying to put on a brave face. "The final qualifying position is not exactly worth celebrating, I know, but that’s what this car is capable of at this point in time. We certainly didn’t get the best out of the package in Melbourne, but I don’t think there’s anything else we could have done today. The car was handling quite well for me, but speed is what we lack. Simple. The Michelin tyres worked very well and while I could probably have squeezed a bit more from my final lap, the overall position wouldn’t have changed that much. Tomorrow’s race will be very tough indeed with R3, probably the toughest of the year when one considers the extreme heat too!"
Team boss Niki Lauda has so far managed to be up front about the team’s problems with the R3 and was once again talking up the situation in what is rapidly turning into a nightmare for the Jaguar team. "With the R3 arriving in Malaysia last week direct from Melbourne, we were not expecting to find a great deal of additional speed here compared with Australia," Lauda said. "Therefore, the qualifying positions are representative of what the car is capable of at this time and it is no more than we expected. Although we have made some progress towards understanding more about the new car this weekend, we still haven’t unravelled the mystery that is R3. We have tried some minor modifications here and while there has been some progress, it is simply too marginal to make a noticeable difference. Eddie could maybe have squeezed into the mid 1m 38secs, but it wouldn’t have changed what is obviously a very disappointing performance. I very much doubt that half the field will retire tomorrow, as was the case in Melbourne, and we will therefore aim to generate as much data as possible from the race. This, combined with next week’s back-to-back test with last year’s R2, will dictate what we do from here on. We must keep our cool, be logical and move forward in a systematic way. We are disappointed, yes, but everybody is keeping their heads up and thinking positively about the challenge ahead. This commitment is not just evident within our Jaguar Racing team, but also from our partners like HSBC, EDS, AT&T and Hewlett Packard, to name but a few, all of whom are working tirelessly towards our mutual goal of getting over this problem."
Without a doubt, the team will be forced to revert to last year's R2 chassis for the Brazilian Grand Prix but unlike rivals Ferrari who are currently running the 2001 design, last year's Jaguar was not a particularly fast machine. Jaguar Racing is in crisis as illustrated today in Malaysia and two weeks ago in Australia. However, the buck has to stop with the current management/design departments as the R3 was of their own doing.
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