The early 1990s were a time of turmoil for the mad world of Formula One. The previous decade had been all about the inevitable banishment of ground effect, and the rise of the turbocharger, but from 1989 the sport took a decidedly more sober turn.
Because of their cost, complexity and dangerously high power, underlined by the fatal testing accident of Brabham driver Elio de Angelis (ITA), turbo engines were phased out over a two year period. In their place, 3.5L naturally aspirated engines were to become the norm.
Turbo engines were banned after they became too powerful for their own good.
With flat floors and normally aspirated engines, the new breed of F1 car inadvertently opened the floodgates on the pinnacle of motorsport. Ground effect floors and turbochargers were such novel technologies they had all but eliminated smaller teams from the grids.
With their limited funds and success, very few smaller teams could survive without factory assistance. Zakspeed and Minardi were the only true independents left by the end of the 1986 season, as everyone else had been forced to buy hugely expensive factory engines from BMW, Renault, Honda, Ford and Ferrari.
The Ford-Cosworth V8 made a welcome return at the end of the turbo era.
As soon as the ban on naturally aspirated engines was lifted in 1987, the status quo changed dramatically. Renowned engineering firm Cosworth was the first to cash in on the new formula, and hastily dusted off its veritably ancient DFV V8. The by then twenty year old design was stroked to 3.5L and rebranded DFZ, after which it was eagerly adopted by Tyrrell, AGS, Coloni, March and Larrousse-Lola.
Because of the much lower running costs of a Cosworth-engined car, the sport essentially reverted to the days of the "kit car". Everyone who had the money could have a simple chassis made, lease some V8s and bolt them to the classic Hewland manual transmission. As a result, gaining entry into F1 became deceptively easy.
The Osella FA1 started the teams plagued history.
Among the influx of new teams like Coloni, BMS Scuderia Italia, EuroBrun, Onyx, Larrousse and Life, one plucky Italian squad still stood after surviving the corporate apocalypse that ruled the 1980s. Osella Squadra Corse had first entered in 1980 with the Cosworth-powered FA1, but found a semi-stable spot on the grid after becoming a B-team of the struggling Alfa Romeo works effort in 1983.
The unfortunately named FA1L was in fact the most powerful car of 1988.
Using secondhand engines, transmissions, suspension parts, and even complete chassis of the illustrious manufacturer, the tiny team battled through the decade despite a dreadful sequence of results.
The cars often failed to even qualify, and when they did they almost never saw the finish. Nevertheless, a fourth place at the 1982 San Marino Grand Prix in the hands of Jean Pierre Jarier was their best ever finish.
The FA1ME, the last Osella.
In 1989, the team gained a new title sponsor: Fondmetal, an Italian producer of high quality alloy wheels. Fondmetal was founded by motorsport enthusiast Gabriele Rumi in 1972, after he wound down his general auto parts supply business due to frustration with his clients, including Maserati, Fiat, Iveco and Magneti Marelli.
The Fondmetal name was first seen on the overalls of Piercarlo Ghinzani in 1983.
An avid amateur racer himself, Rumi decided to take his first step into Formula One in 1983, personally sponsoring Osella driver Piercarlo Ghinzani. The sponsorship eventually extended to the team itself, and lead to lucrative supply contracts with Ligier, Tyrrell and Williams.
Fondmetal became Osella's title sponsor for the 1989 season and Gabriele Rumi was beginning to increase his stake in the team. For 1990, he assumed the role of principal shareholder, and began making plans to take over the team in its entirety. The following season would see the arrival of Fondmetal Corse.
First order of business for Rumi was replacing the lackluster design team which caused Osella to perform so dismally in its final two years of existence. At the time, it was common knowledge the best motorsport engineers originated from Britain, as virtually every team has some part of its design process taking place on the island.
With this in mind, Gabriele Rumi founded Fomet, a design and engineering consultancy firm based on premises owned by fellow competitors March Engineering. In fact, the almost exclusively British staff was initially lead by March co-founder Robin Herd, a gifted designer in his own right. Principal design was however handled by Tino Belli and Tim Holloway.
The Fomet team went to work on what was to be Fondmetal's first chassis, a fairly straightforward carbon fiber monocoque affair bearing some resemblance to the Osella that came before it. Though simple, it was also effective at bringing weight down to 515 kg (1135 lbs).
The main differences between the Fomet-1 and its forebear were a narrower monocoque, completely redesigned aerodynamics, and the switch to a transversely mounted version of Fondmetal's in-house developed 6-speed manual transmission.
The engine was the same Cosworth DFR as used in the FA1ME, an update of 1987's DFZ. The most recent batch had been sourced from Tyrrell's 1990 supply, and had been prepared by specialists Hart Racing Engines.
However, the DFR was the least powerful engine on the grid, as it was nearing the end of its service life. Cosworth had already introduced a new narrow-angle, pneumatic valve HB engine in 1989, and was starting to supply downgraded customer versions.
This meant the Fomet-1 would have to contend with just 620 horsepower, around 50 less than the top spec HBA5 Benetton used, and 80 less than the rival Judd GV and Ilmor 2175A V10 engines.
Olivier Grouilliard already had an unfortunate reputation in 1991.
In terms of driving talent, Gabriele Rumi decided to retain Osella's Olivier Grouilliard, who had campaigned their single entry in 1990. The 33-year old French man was about to start his third season in the sport, and had shown promise at Ligier in 1989.
However, he also garnered notoriety for being prone to crashing out, and being a blocker. Grouilliard had partnered veteran racer Rene Arnoux of Renault and Ferrari fame at Ligier, and had seemingly adopted Arnoux's unfortunate late-career habit of ignoring his mirrors and blocking faster cars. As a result, Olivier's reputation was less than rosy.
Olivier Grouilliard in the rebranded Fondmetal FA1ME-90, Phoenix 1991.
As work on the Fomet-1 wasn't progressing fast enough, Fondmetal was forced to re-use one of the Osella FA1ME-90 chassis for the first two Grands Prix of the 1991 season. Since the design dated back to 1989, it seemed unlikely the team would have much to celebrate.
As a new team, Fondmetal was forced to take part in Pre-Qualifying. This session was a direct response to the explosion of small F1 teams following the introduction of the 3.5L formula, as there were often far more teams entered than there were places on the grid.
Grouilliard in the FA1ME, Interlagos 1991.
As a result, teams which had failed to score World Championship points, or were new altogether, were forced to compete against each other in a separate session ahead of genuine qualifying. Owing to Bernie Ecclestone's hatred of amateur teams, Pre-Qualifying was slated on at eight o'clock sharp on the Thursday morning, when the paddock was still eerily quiet.
Only the four fastest cars would be allowed to partake in the actual qualifying session, where they could actually still fail to make the grid if they were too slow. The teams which hadn't made the cut were immediately and unceremoniously ordered to leave the circuit, embarrassing their sponsors in the process. Unsurprisingly, the warmed over Osella-chassis saw Fondmetal fail to Pre-Qualify twice in a row.
Grouilliard struck out at Imola.
When the Fomet-1 finally made its debut, it still wasn't quite finished. Time constraints meant the car only had a few tentative shakedown tests under its belt, and it base setup hadn't been finalized yet. Pitted against BMS Scuderia Italia's Dallara F191 Judd, the Lambo 291, the Jordan 191 Ford and a lone Coloni C4, things weren't looking very good for the Fondmetal.
Olivier Grouilliard couldn't get further than 6th in Pre-Qualifying. In the process he had classified 1.254 seconds behind Andrea de Cesaris' Jordan, beating only the Lambo of Nicola Larini (ITA) and the Coloni of Pedro Chaves (POR). Unsurprisingly, Grouilliard did not pre-qualify.
Worse luck was to follow at Monaco, as the Fomet-1 did not seem to take kindly to the tight street circuit. The performance gap proved to be so vast Olivier Grouilliard placed dead last in Pre-Qualifying, some 4.499 seconds behind JJ Lehto in his Dallara.
In an effort to mitigate the unfolding disaster, Gabriele Rumi hired accomplished designer Richard Divila, formerly of Fittipaldi and Ligier fame. Divila promptly started developing the Fomet-1 in a series of tests, but progress was slow.
Pre-Qualifying at Montreal saw Grouilliard jump ahead of the Lambo's and the Coloni. However, he was still 1.551 seconds behind Emanuele Pirro's Dallara. Once again, he was registered as DNPQ.
Fondmetal found its stride in Mexico City.
At Mexico's Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, Fondmetal finally had their big turnaround. Richard Divila's hard work seemed to be paying off, as the car was much faster than before. Olivier Grouilliard guided the Fomet-1 to second place in Pre-Qualifying, marking the first time the team actually progressed beyond PQ purgatory.
Grouilliard continued to impress on the Saturday, as he managed to qualify an amazing 10th, 1.757 seconds behind Ricardo Patrese's pole-sitting Williams FW14. Sadly, disaster struck virtually immediately on race day, as the engine failed on lap 13.
Olivier Grouilliard waiting at the weighbridge, Magny Cours 1991.
As the team had missed out on the crucial 6th-place points finish, Fondmetal was back in Pre-Qualifying for the French Grand Prix. Grouilliard's home race was the first held on the Circuit Nevers Magny Cours, an intense and technical track in central France.
A close third behind De Cesaris and Lehto gave Olivier enough to advance into qualifying for the second time, though the result wasn't quite as satisfying as it had been in Mexico. With a best time of 1:18.210, he started 21st, 3.651 seconds behind Patrese's pole time. Unfortunately, Fondmetal's second ever race start ended in tears once again, as Grouilliard slowed with an oil leak on lap 47.
Silverstone saw the team slip back down into oblivion.
After two promising but ultimately futile breakthroughs, Olivier Grouilliard was forced to toil away in the desolate depths of Pre-Qualifying once more. A slump to fifth in the session meant he was denied the chance to qualify again, as he was .368 of a second short on fourth place.
The German Grand Prix at Hockenheim saw the Pre-Qualifying prison receive a new set of inmates, as Jordan, BMS Scuderia Italia and Team Modena had tunneled their way out with points finishes.
In their stead, Brabham, AGS and Footwork were condemned to singing the Friday morning blues. Fondmetal didn't have an answer for the new arrivals either however, as Grouilliard was once again stuck at 5th place.
Olivier Grouilliard in the more colorful Fomet-1, Hungary 1991.
At the Hungaroring, the Fomet-1 gained bright yellow endplates owing to sponsor Nostalgie. The otherwise still very naked looking car pushed through PQ for the third time, as Olivier Grouilliard managed to drag it to 3rd place behind the Brabham BT60Y's of Mark Blundell and Martin Brundle. However, proper qualifying was less kind to the Frenchman, as he was stuck in 27th place. For the first time, the team had to add Did Not Qualify to their record.
Miracles were worked at Spa.
Performance in PQ-hell was becoming more and more consistent for Fondmetal, as the car once again made qualifying with a third place from Grouilliard. The competitive showing continued in qualifying itself, netting a 23rd spot on the grid.
Even more amazing for the team was the course of the race, as the Fomet-1 crossed the finish line for the first time in its short history. Though he was a lap down on Ayrton Senna's McLaren, Olivier Grouilliard brought the car home in 10th place. The finish undoubtedly felt like a victory for the team, but it was still four places short of a points finish, meaning they would still have to wheel the car out on Friday mornings.
At Monza, Grouilliard once again made it through both sessions, starting 26th and last on the grid. His strong form in the preliminary sessions wasn't rewarded however, as the Fomet-1's Cosworth engine once again decided to be in multiple places at one time. A retirement on lap 46 was the result.
Brazilian motorcycle Grand Prix and F3000 racer Marco Greco tested the Fomet-1 at Monza, he never raced in F1.
The Portuguese Grand Prix at Estorial was another low point for the team, as they inexplicably dropped back down the order in Pre-Qualifying. Olivier Grouilliard could only muster a 6th best time ahead of Alex Caffi (Footwork) and Pedro Chaves, 1.761 seconds behind Martin Brundle at the top of the standings.
Gabriele Tarquini made his debut for Fondmetal in Barcelona.
It would be the last appearance of Olivier Grouilliard at Fondmetal, as he was dropped in favor of former Osella, Colini and AGS driver Gabriele Tarquini for the Spanish Grand Prix at Circuito de Catalunya.
The Italian immediately passed both Pre-Qualifying and general qualifying, securing a 22nd place on the grid 4.086 seconds behind Gerhard Berger's pole-sitting McLaren MP4/6. Tarquini managed to stay out of trouble on race day, as he finished a distant 12th two laps down on race winner Nigel Mansell.
Suzuka saw Tarquini deliver a similar driver, as scraped the car beyond Pre-Qualifying in 4th place. Qualifying netted a 24th spot on the grid, making him almost as successful as Grouilliard had been after just two attempts. The race was largely uneventful once again, as he finished 11th and last, three laps behind race winner Gerhard Berger.
Gabriele Tarquini on the streets of Adelaide.
After a long and arduous debut season, it was finally time for the last race of 1991. Sadly Fondmetal would end the year on a low note, as Gabriele Tarquini slipped to 5th place in the 5 car Pre-Qualifying session held on the streets of Adelaide. The feared DNPQ acronym put a nasty bow on their season as a result.
Fondmetal was to expand to a two-car team for 1992.
The tumultuous inception of Team Fondmetal would reverberate through to the second season, as Gabriele Rumi pressed his team to expand to a two-car effort despite any worthwhile results. Meanwhile, the lack of competitiveness also created an increasingly large rift between Rumi and his Fomet design bureau, which was operating largely independently from the F1 operation. With tensions rising, the writing was on the wall for an explosive 1992.