There have been many people in the world who have earned a dollar or two that have expressed interest in one day owning their own sporting franchise. Everyone from Hollywood A-listers to trend-setting industrialists have taken their own ventures into the world of sport, whether it would be in a professional or corporate capacity. The majority of said ventures do bare fruit for both the franchisee and the club, whilst others flounder and even drag the team down with them. We perhaps saw the worst case of this back in 1992, thanks to the erratic actions of a mercurial Italian shoe-designer.
Toward the end of the 1991 Formula One season, the Coloni team had finally folded after five years of extreme under-achievement. After having not qualified a car for over two years, it was easy to see why this Italian outfit was on the way out. But, as with most teams in Formula One’s history, what little was left of the team was eventually sold off, to help pay for the trail of debt left behind. The sale of the Coloni team drew the eye of Italian shoe-designer, Andrea Sassetti. Even before Sassetti committed any of his theatrical acts in the Grand Prix circus, the origin of his wealth was somewhat sketchy. Some said it was through inheritance, others claimed it stemmed from gambling. Some had even claimed that he acquired his earnings from deals with the mafia! But either way, questions were raised into the viability of the team under the guise of this man. They had no idea what they were in for.
Now renamed Andrea Moda Formula, the team hired a number of personnel from the now-defunct Coloni team as well as striking up a deal with Simtek. With a new car and Judd V10 engines, the team looked set for the opening round in South Africa. Except, the team would turn up with the wrong cars. The team would run the old Coloni chassis rather than their own, owing to developmental issues. But perhaps the most impressive thing to take from that weekend was that the team was excluded from the event for not having paid the $100,000 deposit set for new teams that enter the championship. Sassetti attempted to argue that the team was not new as it was essentially the Coloni team – despite the fact that it was rebranded, with new cars and now had a new owner. Alas, the FIA wouldn’t have a bar of it and were left on the side lines in Pretoria. They would attend the next round in Mexico, but neither car would run as the cars were still being built - even after a three-week break in-between each event. Team drivers Alex Caffi and Enrico Bertaggia were understandably peeved off at the lax standard of the newly-formed team. Naturally, Sassetti’s reaction to this was to fire both of them.
Onwards to the Brazilian Grand Prix, where the team was now armed with two new S921’s for the two new drivers to play with. The new drivers in question were Roberto Moreno and Perry McCarthy. Moreno had a string of success in the lower formula, whilst McCarthy had achieved very little and didn’t exactly have a reputation for being a fast driver. Although, if his name seems familiar to some, that would probably be down to McCarthy’s role as The Stig on BBC’s Top Gear. But, being a fast driver matters little when the car given to the pilots isn’t capable of qualifying for an egg-and-spoon race; let alone a Grand Prix. The issues over the weekend were compounded when McCarthy was refused a Super Licence and Moreno failed to pre-qualify for the event. The next round in Spain was more-or-less the same, with Moreno failing to pre-qualify, again. McCarthy did attain his Super Licence, but only achieved around 100 meters of driving after his car packed the sulks. After the Spanish Grand Prix, Enrico Bertaggia approached Sassetti with a bill of goods as well as over a million US dollars in sponsorship. Sassetti, always being a sucker for the lure of money, kissed and made up with his Italian counterpart and told McCarthy to take a hike. Then stepped in the FIA, who blocked the move after the theatrics put on by Sassetti and his team in the opening few rounds. Never one to be temperamental, Sassetti would subsequently take out his anger on McCarthy.
The Monaco Grand Prix was always going to be the teams best chance of qualifying for a Grand Prix – and that’s exactly what Moreno did. Albeit last, Andrea Moda did have a car start a Grand Prix in the season of ’92, but it would only last for eleven laps, when the engine blew itself to pieces. This would be the one and only time that the team would qualify for a Grand Prix, but it would not be the last of their adventures. Having failed to pay their engine supplier before the Canadian Grand Prix, the team arrived in Montreal minus that most vital of car components known as ‘the engine’. The team ‘borrowed’ an engine from Brabham solely for Moreno to compete, but still failed to pre-qualify. The French Grand Prix provided an even better source of entertainment after the team-truck failed to make it to the venue. If there is one thing the French love, it’s to go on strike. That particular time of the year, truck drivers around France had staged blockades, which every Formula One team successfully negotiated, except for…you guessed it. By this stage, team personnel and sponsors had enough of the charade and had left Sassetti to fend for himself. Sassetti, who was starting to draw the ire of those around him, was still after McCarthy for his blameless role in lost sponsorship. What happened after France would ultimately bring the Andrea Moda team to its knees.
Being a British driver, McCarthy was looking forward to competing in front of his home crowd at the Silverstone Circuit. Sassetti decided that this would be a fantastic time to start playing hooky with his car. McCarthy was sent out onto a bone-dry track with wet tyres and at the next round in Hungary, he was held in his pit bay until there was only 45 seconds left in the pre-qualifying session, thereby giving McCarthy no chance to put a lap time in. By now, it was apparent what Sassetti and his henchmen were up to. Therefore, they were given an ultimatum by the FIA – run McCarthy or they themselves would be forced out of Formula One.
Thanks to the withdrawal of Brabham, both Andrea Moda’s were guaranteed entry into the Belgian Grand Prix. Although, having spent most of the season failing to pre-qualify in the first place, it was hardly expected of them to qualify at all. And lo, both cars failed to qualify for the race, with Moreno being much slower than pole-sitter Nigel Mansell and McCarthy being slow to the point where one would have to question his driving ability. In what was already an embarrassing weekend for the team, Sassetti would add to the barrel of laughs after being arrested in the paddock for forging invoices!
By this stage, the FIA had had enough. They officially suspended Andrea Moda Formula for the duration of the 1992 season after being deemed to have “failed to operate a team in a manner compatible with the standards of the championship or in any way brings the championship into disrepute”. It was not beyond doubt that all the team did achieve was bring the championship into disrepute. When the team turned up at Monza to compete, they were turned away; much to the delight of everybody who liked motorsport or common sense. And with that, the most farcical attempt at a Formula One entry was dead and buried. So, the next time you may complain about your bosses or your franchisee owner, be thankful for the fact that you aren’t being governed by a mercurial shoe-designer with connections to the mafia and no regard for his own self-worth.