Easy Lover - 2010 Stefan S-01

I'm just trying to make you see

16w ago

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Over the course of 2008, the global economy spiraled out of control due to several separate levels of banking chicanery. The resulting meltdown affected all walks of life, including even the largest corporations.

Soberness and cost reduction became the mantra for the coming decade, and as a a result the extremely expensive and frivolous venture that is running Formula One team became decidedly less attractive.

The 2008 season saw the height of manufacturer involvement in Formula One.

The 2008 season saw the height of manufacturer involvement in Formula One.

After a relative lull in the first half of the decade, F1 had reached new highs in terms of manufacturer investment. BMW, Ferrari, Honda, Renault and Toyota all fielded works teams, while McLaren worked closely with Mercedes-Benz.

With independent engine firm Cosworth calling it quits following a disappointing 2006 season, the large manufacturers had taken up engine supply duties to the few privateers as well, resulting in the entire grid being dependent on them in some way or another.

Teams had no choice but to sign with a works supplier for their engines.

Teams had no choice but to sign with a works supplier for their engines.

When the financial crisis hit, this model spelled disaster for the sport. With their parent companies starting to take on heavy losses, the teams were largely unable to argue the business case for continuing to spend millions on racing. Cutting their losses, the board rooms at Honda, BMW and Toyota elected to cut ties to the pinnacle of motorsport.

Honda's departure at the end of the season followed the collapse of their satellite team Super Aguri mid-way through 2008, while BMW sold their team back to Peter Sauber in 2009. Finally, Toyota dissolved their outfit in November that same year after taking the first financial loss in the company's history.

Toyota's final car became on of the team's most successful.

Toyota's final car became on of the team's most successful.

To outside observers, the decision came as something as a surprise. Along with Brawn GP and Williams, Toyota had been one of the few teams to recognize and exploit the loophole around the use of the double diffuser.

The TF109 chassis had shown flashes of extreme speed as a result, challenging Brawn and Red Bull at the start the season. Though their form dropped during the European rounds mid-season, the team came back strong for the final few races. Five podiums, a front row lockout at Bahrain, two fastest laps and fifth in the constructor's championship was the result.

The TF110 was abandoned to save costs.

The TF110 was abandoned to save costs.

Despite working on their dream of winning a World Championship since 2001, Toyota decided not to build on the TF109's potential for 2010. After eight seasons in the sport, the proud marque left Formula One without scoring any Grand Prix wins.

However, with the decision to end the program coming so late in the year, Toyota Motorsport Gmbh had already built a successor. Two examples of the TF110 had been completed before the hammer fell in Toyota's boardroom, but the chassis had been rendered completely useless.

Rumored to possess an innovative F-duct-like system on the rear wing, an extreme rear diffuser and even a type of reactive ride height system, the TF110 looked like a real contender. At least on paper.

No official testing had actually been conducted, which made assessing the car's relative performance difficult. The only real outing consisted of a series of costly donuts in Toyota Motorsport GmbH's parking lot. Attempting to say a final goodbye with a plume of tire smoke, team principal John Howett smashed the chassis up quite badly.

Even though only a single chassis was up for grabs and there was no data to indicate its competitiveness, Toyota was soon inundated with requests to buy the car. In an effort to remedy the ongoing manufacturer exodus, the FIA had opened up the grid to smaller independent teams.

The TF110 was full of juicy tech irresistible to small teams.

The TF110 was full of juicy tech irresistible to small teams.

Operating under the promise of a coming budget cap ensuring a degree of parity, these hopefuls would be used to fill any gaps in the grid left by Honda, BMW, Super Aguri and Toyota.

Naturally, the disused TF110 chassis presented an easy way into F1 for these outfits, as they would be able to reverse engineer a design created by a far larger, better budgeted and more experienced operation.

Zoran Stefanovic (right) successfully secured the TF110.

Zoran Stefanovic (right) successfully secured the TF110.

One of these new entries was Stefan Grand Prix. Founded by Serbian industrialist and entrepreneur Zoran Stefanovic, the team had actually been around in one form or another for 23 years at that stage.

Stefanovic first applied for entry in 1996, but with little evidence backing the legitimacy of his team, then Formula One Constructors Association president Bernie Ecclestone refused to meet with him.

The following year, he attempted to capitalize on the horrific failure of the MasterCard-Lola team, using the team and its dreadful T97/30 chassis as a springboard for a 1998 campaign. Again his apparent lack of infrastructure to support such a venture prevented the takeover, with Lola's assets instead being sold to Irish businessman Martin Birrane.

Following a 12-year hiatus, Zoran was back. The announcement of a more open 2010 entry list was music to his ears, and he couldn't believe his luck when Toyota decided to throw in the towel. Wasting no time at all, he engaged in a series of meetings with Toyota staff to try to secure the TF110, and reanimate Stefan GP.

The meetings ultimately proved fruitful, as Stefanovic was able to negotiate the use of the two chassis in complete running order, including the 2010 evolution of the 2.4L RVX V8-engine. Even though Stefan Grand Prix was supposedly based in Belgrade, Serbia, Stefanovic also rented office space in Toyota's former F1 base in Cologne, Germany.

The sole undamaged chassis was promptly painted bright red to symbolize Stefan GP's Serbian origins, and renamed Stefan S-01. What would have been the RVX-10 engine was in turn rebranded Stefan RG-01. As part of the transaction, a contingent of former Toyota F1 employees also joined the team, as they had been made redundant at Toyota.

Controversial former McLaren-designer Mike Coughlan (second from left) was brought on as technical director.

Controversial former McLaren-designer Mike Coughlan (second from left) was brought on as technical director.

Heading the former Toyota technical staff was designer Mike Coughlan. Coughlan had worked at McLaren from 2002 to 2007, but was disgraced by his involvement with the infamous spy scandal involving Ferrari. To Zoran Stefanovic, this was of little concern, as he desperately needed a skilled and experienced technical director to prop up his fledgling team.

In a similar move, he secured the services of Kazuki Nakajima. The Toyota-protege had come into F1 in 2007 as part of a package deal when Toyota agreed to supply Williams with engines. With his best results being 7th at the 2008 Spanish and Monaco Grands Prix, and Toyota leaving the sport completely, he was promptly dropped for 2010.

Other names linked to the team were Ralf Schumacher, Christian Klien, Romain Grosjean, Bruno Senna and even 1997 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve. However, no contracts were signed and the team was left with just a single driver.

With Nakajima on board, Stefan GP could finally get to testing their new chassis. A date was subsequently set for an extensive shakedown at Portugal's Portimao circuit. However, there was a slight issue.

As their entry had yet to be recognized by the FIA, they were unable to secure a supply of tires from sole supplier Bridgestone. Stefanovic tried acquiring GP2 tires instead, but hit the same wall twice as GP2 teams were also required to hold a special license in order to purchase tires.

"We could get tires from other manufacturers similar to those used in the formula one circuit but these are not approved for formula one and we're not going to take any chances because we could have an accident in testing.”

Zoran Stefanovic
Kazuki Nakajima testing the S-01 around SGP's Cologne parking lot.

Kazuki Nakajima testing the S-01 around SGP's Cologne parking lot.

With everything apart from the rubber ready to go, a frustrated Zoran Stefanovic ordered the team to prepare the car anyway. However, the venue for the S-01's first shakedown test was decidedly less glamorous than planned.

Instead of braving the quick bends of Portimao, Kazuki Nakajima was relegated to puttering around SGP's parking lot on old rain tires. Naturally, very little useful data was gleamed from this adventure.

Mike Coughlan left the team shortly after, and was promptly Photoshopped out of Stefan GP's promotional material. Despite the testing debacle, Stefanovic pressed on in his quest to secure entry to the 2010 grid.

Two weeks before the start of the season the FIA announced USF1 would be unable to compete, but there would be no replacement for their entry due to the short notice. In response Zoran Stefanovic attempted to merge his outfit with the remains of USF1, but founders Peter Windsor and Ken Anderson objected to this idea.

Additional talks with rivals Campos Meta, headed by former Minardi-driver Adrian Campos and the Meta advertisement bureau, also degraded. Campos wanted a cool 40 million for the rights to his team and its entry slot, a sum Stefanovic was unwilling or unable to provide. Eventually Campos would join forces with Jose Ramon Carabante’s Hispania Group instead, forming Hispania Racing Team.

With his desperate attempts to buy his way into other team's entry tickets failing miserably, Zoran Stefanovic decided to change tactics. Using the FIA-suspicion of his company's legitimacy against them, he filed an official complaint through the European Commission's Directorate-General for Competition, citing unfair treatment.

Stefanovic accused the FIA of favoritism toward Cosworth teams.

Stefanovic accused the FIA of favoritism toward Cosworth teams.

In his complaint, Stefanovic argued Stefan Grand Prix had been the victim of a pre-arranged deal between the FIA and engine supplier Cosworth. The British firm was set to make their return, fielding the CA2010 V8 as a low-cost alternative for incoming teams.

He felt the FIA was giving Cosworth-powered teams preferential treatment, conspiring with Cosworth to establish a closed customer-engine business model. His team and its rebranded Toyota-engines obviously would not fit in that picture, which he argued motivated the FIA to block SGP's entry.

Regarding the growing accusations claiming his team was nothing but a mirage, Stefanovic pointed to the support he had from AMCO. This was an apparently large operation specializing in all things high-tech.

“[we are involved in] research, design, development and manufacture of advanced technological products; in a nutshell, hi-tech cars, aircraft and individual parts thereof.”

AMCO statement

The company was headed by Zoran himself, and claimed to have been involved in projects for the German Bundeswehr (military) and Arianespace, the manufacturer of space vehicles and launch systems for the European Space Agency.

Furthermore, Stefanovic claimed AMCO had bid on a tender to provide and run spec-chassis for the 2009 revival of the FIA Formula Two Championship.

In direct competition with former F1-driver Jonathan Palmer's MotorSport Vision, AMCO had allegedly been able to provide an identical spec of car for 10.000 less per vehicle, but still lost the tender for reasons not explained by Stefanovic.

Undeterred, Zoran Stefanovic sent men and equipment to the first Grands Prix in the vain hope one of the other new teams would collapse during the season. As he waited, further digging by suspicious journalists into his claims revealed his financial backing to be shady at best.

It was revealed AMCO had only been set up in December of 2008, and only listed one employee, Stefanovic himself. During the year, his business income was 310,000, with expenses of 356,000 and a net profit of 4000. None of these numbers were big enough to support a Formula One team, especially when it was made clear the amounts were expressed in Serbian dinar.

Converted to pound sterling, the company had an income of 2800, expenses of 3200, and a net profit of a grand total of 40. Clearly then, AMCO was nothing but a shell. But Stefanovic had still been able to convince a respectable organization such as Toyota to work with him, so the presence of other funds was only logical.

Bernie Ecclestone had come forward to claim Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic had expressed his support for Stefan Grand Prix in a meeting, suggesting it was in fact a state-sponsored venture.

The Serbia Investment and Export Promotion Agency was subsequently linked to the project. SIEPA had been established in 2001 to help rebuild the country from the horrors of the 1990s Balkan Wars through foreign investment. In any case, it hadn't helped Stefan Grand Prix in the slightest.

Zoran Stefanovic strolling through the paddock at the 2017 Austrian Grand Prix.

Zoran Stefanovic strolling through the paddock at the 2017 Austrian Grand Prix.

After announcing the construction of "Stefan Technology Park" complete with a Grand Prix-level track next to Stefan GP's headquarters 25 kilometers from Belgrade in 2011, things finally went quiet around SGP. After failing to secure further investment, the chassis and facilities were returned to Toyota, and the team effectively disbanded.

However, Zoran wasn't quite gone just yet. As the 2010 freshman teams started to drop out one by one, F1 re-opened the entry process in 2014, and Stefanovic was right at the front of the line again.

After being denied, he resurfaced again following Manor Grand Prix' closure in 2017. Stefanovic met Ross Brawn to discuss a potential 2019 entry at the 2017 Austrian Grand Prix, joined by former Williams, Ferrari, Lotus and Peugeot designer Enrique Scalabroni. Naturally, nothing came of the meeting.

Following their tumultuous tenure with Stefan Grand Prix, the orphaned Toyota TF110 chassis were returned to their maker. However, they weren't quite safe yet.

Hispania Racing Team's Jose Ramon Carabante regularly visited the Cologne facilities in an attempt to whisk away the black beauties, having suffered an unceremonious split with chassis partner Dallara after 2010. His efforts were less than successful.

Not much later, a second suitor arrived, as the Durango GP2 team made another pass at the TF110s, intended to field them for 2011. Despite a link to Jacques Villeneuve, they too were unable to secure use of the cars.

Nick Heidfeld testing Pirelli tires in the TF109.

Nick Heidfeld testing Pirelli tires in the TF109.

Finally, new for 2011 tire supplier Pirelli were rumored to be interested in the car as a test chassis for their upcoming tire compounds. The reasoning behind this was the unraced car would be a neutral platform not linked to any currently active team, therefore avoiding any favoritism in the tires' development.

Once again though, the TF110 wouldn't get its chance to reach the racetrack. Pirelli realized the same standards applied to the older TF109, which was a race-proven chassis which didn't need any costly and time-consuming development to work.

And with that, the TF110 was finally laid to rest, confided to storage and museum facilities, never once having had the chance to scream around in anger.

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Comments (5)

  • I still think there must've been more to Toyota leaving F1. Honda leaving makes sense, they had had a terrible time in F1 and probably decided this was the time to go and cut their losses. However, Toyota had been fairly consistent in f1 and it was at that time the most profitable car company in the world. The recession can't be the only reason why they quit because Mercedes JOINED F1 just after the recession. It really is something to think about

      3 months ago
    • Well, BMW had flashes of potential as well in their short run, and they still quit anyway.

      But Toyota's exit might have had something to do with freeing up budget for the return to Le Mans. The TS030 appeared ready to race in 2012, just three...

      Read more
        3 months ago
    • You might be right. However, BMW probably left because they had a three-year plan: Podium, Win, Champiohsip (in 2009). Since their plan failed, they left.

        3 months ago
  • Very fantastic article as always!

    It's a shame that the TF110 never raced in 2010. We can only imagine how the car performs on the track had Toyota not quit F1... Also, your article made me know more about Zoran Stefanovic and his team.

      3 months ago

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