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Return of the BAT man


No sooner does your scribe use Batman as a muse than we have a second reason so to do in the same week!

Everyone's favourite pre-Christian Horner jester, that cheeky tike, Craig Pollock has suddenly reappeared faster than a vaping product at a teenage beach party.

Craig's journey into F1 commenced with a first meeting with Jacque Villeneuve at a college in Villers in Switzerland. He was teaching there when a young Jacques was sent there following the tragic death of his father. Once graduated, Jacques immediately pursued a career as a racing driver, while Craig went into more general motor racing business, resulting in the two meeting by chance at Suzuka a few years later. Following this Jacques worked to gain Craig's agreement to be his manager.

This would lead to Jacques first racing in Japan, before a switch to US racing, with Canadian Imperial Tobacco sponsorship. 1993 saw Jacques race in America Formula Atlantic, before switching to IndyCar for the 1994 season. During this rookie season he won at Road America, proving he was a potential force in racing.

In 1995 Jacques won both the Indy 500, and the IndyCar championship. While Jacques was busy winning on track, Craig was winning friends, and significant backing off-track. British American Tobacco had mounted a successful take-over of Imperial tobacco, and with his old connections now in the UK for the newly enlarged firm, Craig set about gaining the finance to build a Formula One team. When Adrian Reynard, the founder of Reynard Motorsport, and a fine engineer, offered his services it launched Craig into a position to create his own team.

Meanwhile Jacques moved to Williams for the 1996 F1 season, being narrowly beaten to the drivers' title by Damon Hill, before winning the championship the following year. The 1998 season with Williams was a poor year for him. Using year-old Renault engines branded as Mecachrome, Jacques' best finishes were third at both the German, and Hungarian Grands Prix. He is perhaps best remembered that season for his shocking crash at Eau Rouge, when he lost control trying to take the corner flat-out at nearly 300 kph instead flying into the barriers at 270 kph. Thankfully while the car was written off, Jacques was fine.

1999, and Craig raised the Phoenix of BAR - British American Racing, from the ashes of the Tyrell team. Jacques duly signed as lead driver with the desire to work from the ground-up to build a winning team.

At the team launch both Craig, and Adrian Reynard talked-up their prospects. Their tag line was "A Tradition of Excellence", while Mr. Reynard spoke of how his designs always gained pole in their debut race, before going on to win the championship in their second season.

Over the course of the 1999 season Jacques would not score a single point.

The team had a mini-relaunch in 2000, when Craig succeeded in negotiating Honda's return to F1 as an engine supplier. During this time he wanted to run one car as a "Lucky Strike" branded car, while the second car was to be branded "555", two of the largest BAT cigarette brands. Pre-season the FIA jumped on this, highlighting a rule which clearly stated the cars had to be identically liveried. No doubt Craig was aware of this, and his prime goal of generating significant coverage was a complete success. Come season start, and the two cars were identical. Craig's cheeky solution being to paint each car with one brand on the left side, and the other on the right, joined by a huge zipper painted down the centreline of each car. Possibly one of the most memorable liveries outside of the iconic Ferrari red. Which, as a point of interest, changed hue to better match the red used by Marlboro cigarettes, so we really were at a point of maximal tobacco impact on the sport.

Sadly the memorable livery did nothing to move BAR towards the front of the grid.

Still win-less by November 2004, Honda purchased 45% of the team, before in September 2005 snapping up the remaining 55%. 15 podiums, a best of third for Jenson Button, with both Craig, and Jacques now long gone.

From 2006 to 2008 Honda ran respectably but without winning. (Anyone else intrigued as to why the esteemed Mr Noble has omitted to mention the MyEarthDream fiasco of 2007? - Ed)

When 2008 saw the FIA confirm the banning of tobacco sponsorship Honda promptly reacted by withdrawing, due to the loss of a major funding source for the team. Leaving the earnest engineer Mr Ross Brawn to bailout the team and race in 2009 as Brawn GP. The year when a number of unique records were set for an F1 team winning in their debut season, as Jenson Button took a well-deserved Drivers' Championship for Brawn GP, before Ross promptly sold out to Mercedes, who had supplied the engines that winning season, thus forming the Mercedes AMG team that went on to become the remarkable force we know today.

So as part of the long and evolving story of a fascinating Formula One team, Lewis, Toto and the gang owe both Ken Tyrell and Craig Pollack at least a nodding thanks and a quality Melbourne latte for their part in shaping what would prove to be a multi-championship winning team. No doubt Mr. Pollack, a.k.a The BAT Man, is reminding potential new backers of this story line even as I type.

Continuing our story, Honda has dipped in and out of F1 ever since, never quite managing to kick the dirty habit.

BAT have moved around sport in various forms, and since 2019 have been partnered with McLaren for their A Better Tomorrow electronic cigarettes. Which one could still consider a dirty habit. Funny how the golden rule still holds; He who has the gold, makes the rules. So it is that BAT money never really left the sport at all, and they continue to shape who is financed, and who has the power to shape teams.

Jacques has bounced around motorsport non-stop, still racing strongly in a number of series, while also offering robustly unfiltered TV commentary and opinion pieces. A true character of the sport, not unlike Alonso he was such a talented racer he deserved more than one F1 drivers' championship. But also like Alonso, he seemed blighted by making poor team selections. There is no doubt if he had been Brawn's lead driver the year that Jenson won, Jacques would have been just as capable of claiming the title.

Craig? Well now. The BAT man has been in and out of a number of sensible business deals, while sensibly avoiding a few poor ones. In 2011 he founded PURE - Propulsion Universelle et Recuperation d'Energie (Universal Propulsion and Energy Recovery) to focus on building power plants for Formula One. By July 2011 he had secured Gilles Simon, who had been head of Ferrari's engine programme, and the former director of the FIA powertrain development activities. Gilles former FIA role in particular plunged the other power-plant manufacturers into a deep blue funk over his potential for inside information. Thus, faster than a questionable energy drink sponsorship deal imploding, PURE lurched from PURE potential to PURE disaster in a matter of months, costing Craig a fair slice of his personal wealth in the process.

Recriminations, grinding teeth and attempted back stabbing proceeded for a lengthy dark period, as all parties complained about something, but mostly the inability of the FIA to successfully define and launch a new affordable power-plant formula to allow healthy competition.

Now, with all the gentle and unstoppable ease of the tide lapping around Canute's ankles, we arrive at season 2023, with new rules hovering on the distant horizon of season 2026, and Craig is once more shaking his charity tin outside some very well-appointed offices.

PURE is under-written by Saudi money, and Craig is proposing two novel approaches that make a compelling story. The first is a 50/50 split of male and female staff members to dramatically tackle diversity in F1 head-on, and the second is basing the entire operation in Saudi Arabia to kick-start high-level engineering and power-train technology in the country. On the surface this is a near unmissable opportunity for the FIA, F1 and the Saudis. It is a win-win all around, and Craig, not unlike Maverick, gets to fly-high one last time.

BAR rose from Tyrell, morphed into Honda, transitioned into Brawn GP, wining a single championship, before the final (for now) transformation into Mercedes AMG, and another seven drivers' titles neatly aligned in the trophy cabinet, alongside all those matching constructors' titles. 1999 BAR's first season. 2009 Jenson pilots the Brawn car to championship honours. A modest ten year journey, even if Craig had been strapped into the ejector seat long before the glory arrived. Then a five-year pause to 2014 when Mercedes started their seven year run of domination.

The BAT man has a knack for finding heaped piles of gold and setting sail in roughly the right direction on his odyssey. He then has a track record of stormy waters, lightning strikes and irritating one and all. More of a golden fleeced moment, than a Golden Fleece gained.

Watch this return of the BAT man with interest. From what would appear a cold start in a dark, damp bat cave, it could well streak past the stalling Andretti bid, and at the very least launch in 2026... even if it wins little prior to 2036 going on past form. What then for the BAT man? Possibly, like that rock 'n' roll bat from Hell, he, along with the gold, will be gone when the morning comes.

Max Noble

Learn more about Max and check out his previous features, here



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1. Posted by Toado, 21/04/2023 16:09

"All in favour of more girls in F1 and racing in general, but mandating 50% / 50% is just daft. If you want more girls in F1, moving the teams to Saudi isn't going to help!
Besides, Liberty got rid of the girls, they didn't encourage them at all. Or does Pollack only encourage ugly girls to get involved? Craig was always a bit bonkers. "

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2. Posted by Max Noble, 20/04/2023 13:19

"@Spindoctor - Ah! Electronic engineers… :-)"

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3. Posted by Spindoctor, 14/04/2023 14:00

"@Max Noble - I wish I could share your optimism! I'm with Noel Coward:
'There are bad times just around the corner
There are dark clouds hurtling through the sky
And it's no use whining
About a silver lining
For we KNOW from experience that they won't roll by
We're going to unpack our troubles from our old kit bag
And wait until we drop down dead...'

I'm sure the feline contingent will love Fiji. My Dad used to go regularly when he worked for TEAL & loved it!"

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4. Posted by Max Noble, 14/04/2023 11:57

"@Spindoctor - yup. The reason companies need strong, clear moral and ethic guides is because they NEED the guidance! Saudi is a work in progress, and I (being by nature a delusional optimist) hope it will actually generate steps in the right direction… Meanwhile in Ukraine and North Korea… Sigh!

@Editor - PitPass Cats clearly need an off-site get together. I’m thinking Fiji? They all need to reconnect with their inner Toto…. :-)"

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5. Posted by Spindoctor, 13/04/2023 15:33

"You gotta laugh, no, seriously.
Saudi is led by a murderous & autocratic family, who're currently screwing us all by bumping up the cost of oil. They're cosying up to the "terrorist" Iranians: previously worse than the devil incarnate & with whom they're fighting a proxy war in Yemen. At home in Saudi people live in fear of the State Security apparatus, notorious for its dislike of women & Westerners.
The notion of them sincerely doing anything to promote "equality" of any kind beggars belief."

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6. Posted by Editor, 13/04/2023 12:23

"@ Max Noble

Speak for yourself... the Pitpass Northern Hemisphere Felines only eat the best."

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7. Posted by Max Noble, 13/04/2023 12:19

"@Esteemed Editor - me thinks there is a money making venture in having a “PitPass Scripting Unit” operate for Liberty… the only problem being none of us wish to sell out for cash dollars…"

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8. Posted by Editor, 13/04/2023 9:43

"I'm not even sure if he can drive, but if he can, and has the balls for raicing, surely Dylan Mulvaney would be a good move for Formula Equal.

From the outset he appears to meet the 50/50 requirement and other than being a natural for Drive to Survive he brings a raft of sponsors many of whom have no previous involvement in motor sport.

Surely it's a win/win, Yay!!!"

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9. Posted by Max Noble, 13/04/2023 4:18

"My apologies @Pawsche - thinking one thing, typed another. The new Saudi-backed venture is named “Formula Equal” - my bad totally. Was thinking it, didn’t type it. The older engine venture was “PURE”.

To my mind “Formula Equal” sounds like a non-sugar sweetener… Which is fitting as I’m sure Mr. Pollack is heaping the honey on his version of the story as he pushes to close the sale…


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10. Posted by Pawsche, 13/04/2023 0:37

""PURE is under-written by Saudi money, and Craig is proposing two novel approaches that make a compelling story. The first is a 50/50 split of male and female staff members to dramatically tackle diversity in F1 head-on, and the second is basing the entire operation in Saudi Arabia..."

I suppose that shows that Mr Pollock has retained his sense of humour. Going for the equality schtic in one of the most misogynistic countries in the world."

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11. Posted by Max Noble, 12/04/2023 5:15

"@ClarkwasGod - Indeed! A gentleman, a racer, and a character… We do not seem to get all three in the same human too often these days…"

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12. Posted by ClarkwasGod, 11/04/2023 17:55

"@ Max - I watched that race (Monza '67) BBC B&W coverage - Clark's drive back through the field after his pit stop was mesmerising - until the last lap......but he never really rated that drive - as he said, the car was so much faster than the opposition - still missed by so many (including me)."

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13. Posted by Max Noble, 11/04/2023 5:20

"Good grief! Day of the living typo too! That was John Surtees at the 1967 Italian GP for Honda, not 1969."

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14. Posted by Max Noble, 11/04/2023 5:19

"@ClarkwasGod - my oversight! You are quite correct, it was the first Honda win as a manufacturer since John Surtees way back in 1969. Somewhat in my defence… I was thinking more of the Championship rather than a single race win, but it is indeed a win none the less!

@Esteemed Editor, and ARL - the entire MyEarthDream was such a wacky side show I felt better quietly skating past on this occasion!"

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15. Posted by ARL, 10/04/2023 23:55

"Well Chester, any inference that I may be English is definitely fighting talk. :). Up there with any suggestion that Max Noble may also suffer such a handicap. Not being English is about all I share with young Jacques.

As I stated "other opinions are ... available", and at least at Pitpass we can agree to disagree on the criteria we choose to rank different drivers without serious fallout.

It seems to me that it is only in the last few years that there has been an inferred prejudice against foreign drivers ascribed to those from the Sceptered Isle. I have not seen it myself, either as an established fact or recent tendency. You may disagree."

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