Buying a Formula One team seemed a great idea to executives at Ford three years ago. Ford's production engineers and component buyers had turned Jaguar from a maker of cars you'd want to own for the first 5000 miles of their life into a serious contender. Jaguar shot up the 'Customer Satisfaction' surveys conducted by the company, J. D. Power. In these surveys, Jaguar was ahead of BMW, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz and the people at Ford knew that there were brilliant new designs in the pipeline.
In 2001, Jaguar broke all previous production records and, for the first time, sold more than 100,000 cars in a year. It is not likely that many customers were swayed by Jaguar's presence in Formula One.
During 1999 Stewart Grand Prix won its first race and Jackie Stewart was negotiating with Ford for a buy-out. Jackie has been a much-prized, and heeded, consultant to Ford for nearly 30 years. Jackie has at his disposal a top-of-range Ford with the number plate, JYS 1. The car comes with a chauffeur, should he be required, and is replaced twice a year.
This news will be welcome to the 35,000 plus employees that Ford has sacked. In North America alone five factories have been closed, which means five ghost towns.
Ford's world-wide marketing strategy was not on target and things were not helped by more than 200 deaths caused, it is alleged, by tyre blow-outs on its Explorer model. Ford blamed its supplier, Firestone, and Firestone blamed Ford, but the upshot has been the payment of billions of dollars in replacement tyres and compensation. The story is far from over and the ultimate cost will not be known for years.
Before that came to light, Ford bought Stewart Grand Prix and built a new facility. There were planning objections over the size of the car park, which had nearly 500 spaces. A detail which was missing was a wind tunnel. There was car parking, but no wind tunnel.
Testing over the winter proved embarrassing when the 2001 R2, was quicker than the 2002 R3. Jaguar's Technical Director, Steve Nichols, a man whose CV includes heading design teams at McLaren and Ferrari, promptly 'resigned'.
This of course follows a series of faux pas that saw public humiliation for Jaguar as it secured the services of McLaren 'wonder-kid' Adrian Newey, only to find it hadn't. This was followed by the embarrassing 'dumping' of Bobby Rahal, a man who in all honesty was never given a fair crack of the whip. If ever one needed an example of the blind leading the blind, Jaguar is it. It only remains to be seen how long matters will be allowed to continue before Ford throw the towel in.
The R3 was a bitch of a car, there's no other way to put it. Even team boss Niki Lauda was moved to say; 'I didn't believe a car as disastrous as this could exist'. To give you an example of just how bad the R3 was, it was found that the uprights were bending, the team was - once again - the laughing stock of the pitlane.
Aerodynamically the car was found to be less efficient than its predecessor, as a result a whole host of new aero people were brought in and slowly thing began to improve. Gunther Steiner was brought in from Ford's WRC programme, but he too was gone by the end of the year.
Admittedly things improved a little later in the season, with Irvine taking a superb third at Monza, however it was too little too late.
Both Irvine and de la Rosa were dumped in favour of Mark Webber and Antonio Pizzonia, while Niki Lauda was booted out ahead of a 'radical' overhaul of the outfit's management structure.
Although 2003 was a considerable improvement on previous seasons, though it is hard to see how the team could have done any worse, the Milton Keynes outfit continues to shoot itself in the foot PR-wise. The R4 is the best car that Jaguar has produced thus far, but there were problems, not least the team's apparent inability to prepare two cars to the same standard.
Despite some outstanding qualifying performances by Webber, the Australian's races usually ended in heartache as the R4 suffered a number of technical problems, not least with the fuel pick-up, which resulted in the cars having to run with heavy fuel loads from the outset seriously compromising performance.
As ever the team scored a dreadful own-goal with its treatment of number-two driver Antonio Pizzonia. Hardly had the season begun when rumours started filtering out of Milton Keynes that the team was unhappy with the Brazilian's performance. After a handful of races it was reported that the former WilliamsF1 tester faced a deadline - buck up by the time of the Spanish GP or your out. Fellow drivers, his former bosses at WilliamsF1 and even the media rallied to the Brazilian's cause and in the end the deadline passed with Antonio still at the wheel of the second car. Then, hours after the British GP, it was revealed that he was to be replaced by Minardi driver Justin Wilson.
In all honesty Wilson's performances didn't exactly get the pitlane buzzing, though poor reliability didn't help, once again prompting the question, can Jaguar really prepare two car?
At season-end the green team was seventh in the Constructors' Championship, one point behind Sauber and two ahead of Jordan, ironically all but one of the points scored by Webber.
Towards the end of the season team boss Tony Purnell stunned the pitlane when he revealed that the Ford-owned team might need to consider a pay driver for 2004, this proved true shortly afterwards when the team signed Austrian youngster Christian Klien, who has considerable support from Red Bull.
Following some outlandish promises made in previous seasons, Jaguar played down its chances in 2004, though it clearly expected to move forward a little.
The Milton Keynes outfit's cause wasn't helped when Tony Purnell was (apparently) mis-quoted, when he said that fundamental problem with the R5 wouldn't be resolved until mid-season. Hardly the best start to the year.
However, despite a poor start to the season in Australia, Mark Webber boosted team morale two weeks later at Sepang when he qualified second. Unfortunately the team had to wait another couple of weeks before it scored its first points, courtesy of Webber, in Bahrain.
Throughout the year, Webber gave 100% doing his best to motivate the team, while Klien did the best that he could. Ten points from 36 starts is hardly something write home about, but at least the green cars showed the Toyotas the way home, and one would hate to imagine how many millions of yen was needed to provide the Cologne based team's nine points.
However, Jaguar's problems weren't confined to the race track. Throughout the summer there was talk of the team being sold, or at the very least changing its name in deference to a sponsor or even Ford.
Then, on September 17 came the bombshell news that nobody, in their wildest dreams, could have predicted. After almost forty years in Formula One, Ford was pulling out, consequently Jaguar Racing and Cosworth were up for sale.
While the rest of us tried to take in the news, the team fought on, led impeccably by Webber.
There was talk of a possible buy-out by Red Bull but nobody was taking anything for granted. When the team turned up for its final race - Brazil - the future was still in doubt, and though the crew tried to put on a brave face, everyone feared the very worst. How sad therefore, that the team's final race ended up with the two Jaguar drivers colliding and Webber having to watch the race from the grass verge.
On Monday November 15, just days before the 2005 entry deadline, Ford confirmed that Red Bull had bought Jaguar Racing, while Kevin Kalkhoven and Gerald Forsythe, co-owners of the Champ Car World Series and heads of the PKV and Forsythe Championship Racing Champ Car teams, respectively, had bought Cosworth.
The cat, having seemingly run out of lives, had been given wings.