On the 31st of January the news broke that Lawrence Stroll had purchased a 16.7% stake in Aston Martin, throwing a lifeline to the struggling luxury car manufacturer. As part of the deal, Stroll’s Formula 1 team currently operating under the name ‘Racing Point’ will become the Aston Martin Formula 1 team from the start of the 2021 season.
The outfit, currently known for their striking pink liveries, is the second oldest privateer team in the sport behind McLaren. Unlike McLaren, the ‘pink panthers’ have undergone a series of re-brandings. The Silverstone team first entered Formula 1 in 1991 as ‘Jordan Grand Prix’, named for its founder Eddie Jordan. In the Belgian Grand Prix of that year, Jordan gave 7-time world champion Michael Schumacher his debut. Schumacher was called up to stand in for the team’s regular driver Bertrand Gachot, who had been imprisoned on charges of actual bodily harm after an (off track) road rage incident. Their opening season in F1 also saw the first of a number of attention-grabbing and iconic liveries, with their green and blue ‘7Up’ sponsored cars occupying a respectable position in the sport’s midfield throughout the season.
Unfortunately, the team failed to maintain their initial momentum, with the following two seasons being largely disappointing. From 1994 onwards, though, the team regained its mojo. The first iteration of the Silverstone outfit’s peaks came in 1998, when Damon Hill clinched the first of the team’s 4 wins to date, and in 1999, when they managed to place third in the constructor’s championship.
By this time, the second of the team’s head-turnings paint-jobs had graced the cars for two whole seasons. The yellow and black design was created at the behest of tobacco company ‘Benson & Hedges’. During Grands Prix at which tobacco advertising was banned, the team displayed its flair by replacing the text with ‘Bitten & Hisses’ to match the snake’s head motif on the car’s nose. When the snake’s head was replaced with that of a hornet, the stickers became ‘Buzzin’ Hornets’. On other occasions, the team simply removed some of the letters, so that the message read ‘Be on edge’.
The early 2000s was a period of decline and ultimately collapse for Jordan. The team maintained its light-hearted atmosphere and cheeky approach to marketing, but the money was running out and the cars were slowly but surely dropping towards the back of the pack. A much-needed morale boost was provided by the team’s fourth and final victory at the 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix after an excellent drive in changeable conditions from Giancarlo Fisichella, but it was not enough to turn the fortunes of the team around.
The Jordan name would feature for the final time in Formula 1 during 2005. The team then proceeded to be sold three times in as many years. By 2008, the team had ended up in the hands of Vijay Mallya, an Indian businessman, and the team was renamed to ‘Force India’.
From 2004-2008, the team frequently occupied the last two places on the grid and acted more as mobile chicanes for the leading cars than genuine competitors. However, at the 2008 Monaco Grand Prix, German driver Adrian Sutil was running in 4th place and on track to score the team’s first world championship points since 2005. The fairy-tale story of a team which had struggled for years clinching a massive result at F1’s ‘jewel in the crown’ proved too good to be true. Kimi Räikkönen lost control of his car through under braking and careened into the back of Sutil’s car, knocking him out of the race.
From 2009 the team’s colour scheme matched its name. The Indian flag’s colours of orange, green and white adorned the cars which slowly but surely made their way back towards the front of the midfield. In 2016 they achieved their goal of finishing 4th in the constructor’s championship, leading the mid-pack. Force India reiterated its credentials in 2017, with a distinct improvement to finish well clear of 5th placed Williams. The year also saw the arrival of the team’s final notable livery to date, as a sponsorship deal with Austrian company ‘BWT’ resulted in the arrival of F1’s ‘Pink Panthers’.
Force India had always been on thin ice financially speaking and the personal dramas of its owner Mallya expedited their downfall. In 2018 the team entered administration, opening the door for Lawrence Stroll to acquire the team at the head of the ‘Racing Point’ consortium.
Fans of the team will be delighted at the news of Aston Martin’s arrival. The deal promises a degree of financial security for an outfit which has always operated on the very edge of financial viability. Will Formula 1’s perennial plucky underdogs be able to challenge for their first win in 17 years in 2021?