One of F1's most abysmal efforts
- Mattijs Diepraam
- 8W Autumn 2001 issue
- Arturo Merzario - From Ferrari driver to self-made shambles, by Mattijs Diepraam
Tecno, Martini, Osella, Minardi - what do they have in common? Well, they were (or are) certainly no miracle F1 constructors but at least they could boast a smack of solid results in the lower categories before trying their hand at Grand Prix racing. But what is the rationale behind buying a set of championship-winning F2 cars, turn them into non-points scorers within a single season, and then deciding to step up the ladder? To sum up, former sportscar driver Willibald Kauhsen's F1 adventure was misconceived from the start.
Of course the fortune badly spent on the fleet of Elf-Renault 2Js should have been a signal. These were the cars that with BMW power promised much in 1975 and by and large had dominated the 1976 European F2 season at the hands of Jean-Pierre Jabouille and Michel Leclère. The season, as the one before, was a French affair almost in its entirity, as Elf's main opposition comprised of the Martinis of René Arnoux and Patrick Tambay. A smashing double blow by the Elf duo in the season-closing slipstreamer at Hockenheim saw Jabouille snatch the title from Arnoux by a point, with Salzburg race winner Leclère keeping the little Frenchman at bay and away from the championship in third.
For 1977 F2 veteran Leclère was back in the 2J but now they were rechristened Kauhsen-Renault and entered by the Willi Kauhsen Renault Elf Racing Team. The season started sensationally with Michel sticking the car on pole at Silverstone but from there the Kauhsen effort went decisively pear-shaped. They changed this, they changed that, they changed that again - and all they gained by their modifications was a performance that was even worse than that of the week before. Disillusioned, Klaus Ludwig abandoned the team mid-season, not even bothering to show at Mugello, with an 8th at the Nordschleife and a 7th at Pau his best results. Meanwhile, Leclère retired races at a worrying rate - and with worrying causes - or did not even start them. At Rouen, José Dolhem filled Klaus' seat but crashed out in the second 2J while Michel had stooped as low as failing to qualify.
For Nogaro, Kauhsen miraculously managed to attract French boy wonder Alain Prost to the No.9 car, and while Alain destroyed Leclère in qualifying and in the race - Michel finishing dead last, 9 laps down - Prost still could not manage better than 10th, 2 laps down on winner Arnoux, René living his season of seasons in the Martini MK22. The team skipped Enna to reappear at Misano, with the second Kauhsen now occupied by… the Monza Gorilla! Brambilla certainly had some wrestling to do to get the car into an unclassified 11th, due to a broken throttle cable in the first heat, but Vittorio did manage to claim an unexpected third in the second heat, by far the team's best result of the season. In contrast, Leclère notched up another DNQ. Prost was back for Estoril but retired, with Leclère a reasonable 10th. It was not enough to justify a trip to the final round at Donington Park.
Having conceded that the Kauhsen-Renault did not work Willi decided to create his own kit car for 1979. He engaged designer Klaus Kapitza and having had almost the entire 1978 season to acquaint himself with the fact that wing cars were the cars for the future, Kapitza designed a Lotus 79 lookalike. The only thing was, it suffered from some fundamental design errors, especially with regard to the "duck and lift" phenomenon of a racing car under braking and acceleration. Thus the all-important aerodynamics on a wing car were disturbed and the cars got nowhere once they were entered for Grand Prix racing at the start of the European leg of the 1979 F1 World Tour.
In the black-and-white pictures taken of Gianfranco Brancatelli testing the prototype at Ricard at the end of 1978, the car looks deceivingly good - but what (or who) doesn't in black and white? The shape, although weird in a spaceship-like way, looks purposeful and there is nothing of the bulky look that the second prototype had - here tested by Patrick Neve - while the eventual race cars 004 and 005 went even further downhill from those standards. When the team finally appeared with 004 at the April 1 Aurora round at Zolder and roughly a month later at the Spanish GP at Jarama the car was sorrily prepared and in bad shape and, worst of all, didn't even look like a Lotus.
After the Belgian GP, Brancatelli predictably having failed to qualify 005, Kauhsen wisely gave up and sold the cars and the equipment to a man who forgot to put the word "quit" in his vocabulary: Arturo Merzario. Renamed Merzario A4, one of the Kauhsens later reappeared at the British GP as the follow-up of the abysmal A2. But at Monaco another part of the Kauhsen inventory had already been put to work, 'Branca' replacing Little Art in the sole A2 after Merzario had hurt his arm in a worrying accident at Zolder. The A4-née-WK was a non-qualifier at all remaining World Championship rounds but had its one and only race at the Gran Premio Dino Ferrari at Imola, finishing 11th.
And so, ironically, the team that bought cars to rebrand them Kauhsen had its only original Kauhsen cars bought up and renamed Merzario. Needless to say that neither Brancatelli nor Merzario managed to recover from this dreadful episode in their careers.