Top Stories from the Sports pages of the International Herald Tribune,
Saturday, August 15, 1998

A Young Owner on the Fast Track

Pollock Engineers the Deals at the Tyrrell Formula One Team

By Brad Spurgeon International Herald Tribune
PARIS - Craig Pollock is a persuasive man. That is why, at 42, he is the youngest Formula One team owner.

Last November, he convinced one of the world's largest tobacco companies and another partner to join him in buying the team of the oldest and longest-lasting team owner, Ken Tyrrell, 73.

As the Formula One season heads for its 12th race Sunday at the Hungarian Grand Prix, the Tyrrell team has yet to score a point. No one involved seems worried. The team is just treading water as it marks the end of one era and the beginning of another.

In conversation, Pollock, a healthful Scottish former physical education teacher, fixes his interviewer with his pale blue eyes while explaining how he moved from teaching in a Swiss private school to owning a Formula One team.

Pollock left teaching and began a promising business career at a Swiss-based company selling motor sport rights. But the story of British American Racing, as the team will be called next year, really started in 1991 after Pollock ran into a former pupil at the Japanese Grand Prix. The pupil was the equally persuasive Jacques Villeneuve, who decided at once that Pollock was the man to manage his mediocre racing career.

At first, Pollock was not interested. But when in 1992 he finally agreed, he moved Villeneuve out of Europe, where he had been racing in lower formulas, and eventually to North America. There, rather than selling his driver to a team, he created a team around his driver. To pay for this Indy racing project he obtained sponsorship from Imperial Tobacco, a Canadian cigarette manufacturer owned by British American Tobacco, based in London.

The team succeeded. Villeneuve won the Indianapolis 500 and the 1995 IndyCar drivers' title. This caught the attention of Formula One's top team, Williams. Villeneuve joined in 1996, leaving his Canadian tobacco company behind. Last year he won the Formula One drivers' title. But this year he is only sixth, with 16 points.

When Villeneuve announced three weeks ago that he will drive for the BAR team in 1999, few insiders were surprised. The players are the same. Tom Moser, the IndyCar team's man at Imperial Tobacco, has become head of sponsorship at the parent organization, British American Tobacco. He has agreed to fund the project. The chassis will be built by Andrew Reynard, who built the IndyCar chassis. He is the other partner in the team. But if the players are the same, Pollock's role is different.

''I was so busy looking after Jacques that I forgot about trying to keep an equity position in the team,'' he said. ''That is why, in creating a Formula One team, I am now a team owner.''

Reynard has won every series his cars have entered. But in Formula One the car design rules change yearly. Cars must be made by the team itself, rather than being bought ''off-the-shelf'' from a supplier, as in IndyCar.

In Formula One, said Pollock, ''your chances of coming out of the box and winning are ten times less than they would be in IndyCar.''

But he is not starting from scratch. Tyrrell had a staff of 115 employees, and that number will nearly double.

Buying an existing team is the only way for a new owner in Formula One to be guaranteed space on the starting grid and a cut of Formula One's lucrative television and promotional rights.

Ken Tyrrell was not seeking a buyer. He was as keen on racing as he was three decades ago when Jackie Stewart drove Tyrrell's cars to three world titles.

''We were having difficulties finding sufficient funds to do the job properly,'' Tyrrell said, ''and British American Racing came along with a very generous offer, so we decided that was the best thing to do.''

Formula One had changed since Tyr-rell's first year, 1968, when his total sponsorship was less than 100,000 and he paid Stewart 20,000. Michael Schumacher earns an estimated $35 million a year with Ferrari and BAT is contributing an estimated $300 million over five years to BAR.

Tyrrell was to spend a final season on the circuit, but after a disagreement with Pollock over this year's budget, he retired before the season started last March. He had not missed a race in 30 years. He said recently that he is not happy in retirement. ''I'd rather be doing what I was doing,'' he said.

Harvey Postlethwaite, Tyrrell's technical director, said change was needed.

''The team was struggling because we were undercapitalized,'' he said.

Money may again leave them behind after tobacco sponsorship is outlawed throughout Europe next decade.

''It's no bigger problem for our team than it is for the other top teams,'' Pollock said, since the top teams all depend on tobacco sponsors. As BAT is part owner, he said he would also ''be looking toward them for solutions.''

Back to Samples Index