Sidepodcast - All for F1 and F1 for all

On This Day: 4th January 2002 - Jaguar launch the R3 - Whatever happened to that green team from Milton Keynes?

Published by Christine

The early days of a new year should be put aside for easing yourself gently back into business after either a festive season of too much relaxation or, perhaps, too much fun. Either way, it's still too soon to get serious about the new F1 season, but in 2002 things were different. Jaguar were the first team to launch their car ahead of the 2002 season, and they did it on the fourth day of the year.

The launch took place at their headquarters in Milton Keynes, with team principal Niki Lauda on hand to oversee the unveiling of the new chassis. Painted in its usual green livery, with HSBC branding plastered up the sides, the R3 was revealed to the world. It was slightly different to its predecessor, boasting what they called then a "droop nose" as seen on the Ferrari. If only they knew how the noses would turn out a decade later!

Eddie Irvine's Jaguar R3
Eddie Irvine's Jaguar R3Credit: Sidepodcast

Drivers Eddie Irvine and Pedro de la Rosa were on hand to discuss the new car and, of course, their hopes and dreams for the season ahead. Irvine was entering his third year with the team, after a high-profile move from Ferrari ahead of the 2000 season. His best finish had been a podium position, with third at the Monaco Grand Prix in 2001 but the results weren't a patch on what he had been used to at the Scuderia.

Pedro de la Rosa was moving into his second year with the Jaguar team after just a couple of seasons with the Arrows squad. In 2001, he had moved into the race seat from the fifth round of the year in Spain onwards, but for 2002 he was signed up for the full season.

Irvine was to become the oldest man on the grid, after the retirement of Jean Alesi. At 36, he is a spring chicken compared to some of the more recent older racers, but it still was something at the top of Irvine's mind.

I'm getting fitter as I get older. I took the FIA's fitness exam a couple of weeks ago and it was one of the highest scores ever measured by a Formula One driver, which is shocking. It surprises me, but there we go. It's just the Irish blood and red wine, you know.

- Eddie Irvine

Meanwhile, De la Rosa was less focused on himself, and paid more attention to the state the team was in, questioning their organisational skills in the past. However, he seemed contented with the forward progress, saying: "I have no doubt Niki is the man. He will take Jaguar racing and he will do everything to achieve results. We will get there - the only question is when."

Of course, we now know that "when" was not the only question. In fact, "when" wasn't the question for very long. Niki Lauda was removed from the position at the end of the year after continued poor results. Parent company Ford gave the outfit a two year timetable to start seeing some progress, but it was not to be. With just two podium finishes under their belts, Jaguar was sold to Red Bull in 2004, becoming the team we know and sometimes love today.

The struggling results Jaguar had seen were attributed to the fact that until this launch in 2002, they had been using a wind tunnel based in California. The design team were split across two different continents, and by a rather vast ocean, so it was a relief when a wind tunnel in Bicester was sourced and purchased.

There were also some concerns about the pace and performance coming from the Cosworth engines, and the bosses at the power plant manufacturers were hoping they had things moving in the right direction. It's an eerily similar story to Cosworth's current stint in F1 - where they have promised much, but not seen massive returns. Williams' recent switch to Renault and their subsequent step forward is not a huge morale booster for those left with Cosworth branded goods.

In the first few days of the 2002 year, though, hopes were high. There was a rather embarrassing moment when Lauda took the opportunity to test out the new R3 car in Valencia later in January. He managed to spin twice in the opening few minutes of his test, and subsequently blamed trying to mimic De la Rosa's braking patterns. Lauda's time with Jaguar was coming to an end, and Irvine's involvement with the team - and with Formula One as a whole - would also cease at the end of the 2002 season.

With Jaguar bought and Irvine retired, it was left to a new breed to continue their way. Mark Webber was signed to the team, and eventually Sebastian Vettel would make his way to Milton Keynes as well. Pedro de la Rosa clung on to Formula One, reviving his racing career with HRT up until the end of 2012. Lauda remains involved, often the go-to-guy for a quote or an opinion. He signed to advise the Mercedes team in September of last year, and was quite involved with bringing Lewis Hamilton into the fold. Cosworth made a comeback as an F1 engine supplier but find themselves with only one customer in 2013.

It's fair to say that what little impact Jaguar had on the sport has been brushed under the carpet by the subsequent success of the Red Bull team, but as we welcome in the new year, relaxed and/or recuperating, I raise a glass to the Jaguar team. I only saw them in Formula One for about eighteen months but they left a big impression on me - perhaps for the green livery, perhaps for the baby-faced Mark Webber or perhaps because it's always fun to cheer for the underdog.