1979 Belgium Grand Prix, 1979 Spanish Grand Prix, Gianfranco Brancatelli, Kauhsen, Patrick Neve, Willi Kauhsen
“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.”
~T.S. Eliot – The Sacred Wood~
Few teams have entered Formula One with more enthusiasm only to encounter abject failure more quickly than Kauhsen. Willi Kauhsen had been a sports car driver who took the barebones Alfa team to victory in the 1975 World Sportscar Championship and gave Alfa their first World Championship since Fangio had won the Formula One Championship in 1951. Boyed by his initial success as team manager Kauhsen bought the 1976 Formula Two championship winning car, the Elf-Renault-2J, and entered it in the 1977 Formula Two championship. Driver Michel Leclere put the car on pole position in the team’s first race, seemingly boding well for the future.
Unfortunately Kauhsen’s engineers weren’t satisfied with a potentially race winning car and continued to modify it throughout the season, the car becoming ever slower at each successive race, until they reached the point where they were struggling even to qualify. This rare ability to turn gold into lead should have given them some clue as to the difficulty of open-wheel car design and development but despite this Kauhsen decided to play in an even bigger pond and move up a level to Formula One.
Initially Kauhsen attempted to buy Kojimas to race. When this deal fell through, most likely due to a lack of ready cash to actually pay for the said chassis, he then decided that it would be “easier” to just build his own car – after all, how difficult could it be? He bought together a team which was headed up by designer Klaus Kapitzu from Ford, engineer Kurt Chabek from Porsche (who at least had assisted with the TOJ F2 and F3 cars and so had some open-wheel experience) and three very enthusiastic professors from the University of Aachen who, though experts on theory, were unfortunately light on the practical side of aerodynamics. The design brief he gave them was to build a car like the Lotus 79.
Kauhsen had rightly recognised the importance of ground effects and their project started off with building a 1:5 prototype and testing it in the Aachen University wind tunnel. The results looked great on paper, but there is more to aerodynamics than having good wind tunnel tests as they soon found out. When a car is on the track it actually moves, unlike in a wind tunnel where it merely has to sit still and let the wind flow over it. It was when they drove their first prototype that they discovered that the variation in ride height associated with breaking and accelerating completely negated any of the ground effects they had attempted to design into the car. They then decided it would be easier to redesign the car to use wings for downforce instead of ground effects. By the time the car appeared for the first time on track the only similarity to the eminent Lotus 79 would be its black livery.
Niki Lauda summed it all up when he said to Kauhsen after first seeing their car, “Your idea can’t work. If it did everyone else would be an idiot.”
Their first test driver Patrick Neve bought with him significant sponsorship which provided enough money for three chassis, six engines and the cash to hire Derrick Worthington as team manager. Unfortunately both Neve and his sponsorship money rapidly disappeared when Neve decided that the car was un-drivable and decided to pull out before his reputation was in tatters. Neve was replaced by Italian driver Gianfranco Brancatelli whose background consisted of single seater racing in the Italian Formula 3 series. Kauhsen had to spend all his spare time trying desperately to get enough sponsorship backing to even have the $30,000 entry fee for the FIA as their cheque had already bounced twice…
In their first race at Spain (when they were fined their $30,000 entry fee for not having their car ready for the beginning of the season) they were the slowest entry, over 8 seconds slower than the pole sitter Jacques Laffite in his Ligier. Their speed was further adversely affected by the fact that the only tyres they could afford were old Goodyear race tyres while everyone else was using qualifying tyres. With no ground effects, poor aerodynamics as well as a distinct lack of mechanical grip they had no real hope of being competitive.
Undaunted they turned up the Belgium GP two weeks later but were even further off the pace because of multiple mechanical failures and, with no reasonable prospect for either more speed or more money, they sensibly quit. Despite failing to qualify for either of the two races attempted, amazingly Kauhsen found a buyer for his non-award winning car and sold his chassis to Arturo Merzario who was looking for a swifter substitute for his own self-designed car which, although not particularly competitive, at least had managed to qualify. Merzario renamed the car the A4 and it continued its career of failing to qualify. The high point for the car was its 11th (and last) place at the 1979 non-championship Dino Ferrari Grand Prix at Imola.