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The Onyx F1 story - interview with Jean-Pierre van an Rossem

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#1 Louis Mr. F1

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Posted 20 August 2002 - 00:52

Hi all,

I've always been interested in the background info of those small, now extincted F1 teams. Over the weekend, I've found several articles on the Onyx F1 team and I've put them together to give you a more 'complete' story. For a more detail record of the team's performance, please also refer to the www.f1rejects.com site, it'll compliment what i have here.

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Jean-Pierre van Rossem, self confessed anarchist, collector of Ferraris, extraordinary and highly successful businessman and 44 year old (in 1989) father, cuts an unlikely but highly recognisable figure in the formula one paddocks around the world. He is of average height, has long grey hair, a long grey beard, a penchant for wearing racing drivers' shoes, is vastly, indeed grossly, overweight and wears tinted spectacles. He owns the Moneytron-Onyx Grand Prix racing team.

In his first year in F1, van Rossem has helped to guide Onyx from obscurity to fame, to establish them among the coming forces in the future of the world's most spectacular sport and to raise the team's profile far higher than the level usually sought by those unsung outfits making up the numbers at the back of the grid.

And yet he remains an enigma. A man surrounded by rumour and counterrumour whose wealth has required him to attend certain races on teh F1 calendar attended by a trio of well trained bodyguards. The sort who carry ironmongery under their jackets. For van Rossem, his chosen sport is a passport to a strange sort of satisfaction, an opportunity to relive and improve on past personal excursions into motor racing and a way of publicising himself and his compnay while at the same time continuing to make a healthy profit. Born in 1945, he left home when he was only 17 with very little money of his own to try and make his own way in the world. He gained a place at the Ghent University to study Economics and Math and after graduating, went to postgraduate studies in North America, finally obtaining a PhD and settling into a new role as awriter of books on economics.

In 1967, he began work on an econometric system, designed to predict economic trends. this was the Moneytron model which , after 1.6 million man hours of work involving a team of mathematicians and economists, was created to predict currency rateds, commodity prices and share values. It uses 248 economics and politic variables, but has proved to be hugely successful.
The success was almost unbelievable and helped in the creation of the current Moneytron-Onyx team, a logical intereset for van Rossem to follow as he had raced in Belgian F3 in the 60s. The link between van Rossem, adn the ambitious but financially stretched Onyx team-then owned by Paul Shakespeare - came about via Belgian driver Bertrand Gachot, since dispensed with by the team. Van Rossem recalled: "I heard Gachot was looking for abudget for F1. He said he was bound to a team an dhis contract stipulated that he had to bring sponsors for a total of 100 million Belgian Francs to the team to get the drive. That was an impossible thing to do. So, I wanted to meet the team's directors. They were desperate. The English owner was Paul Shakespeare. He was inproperty and everything in the team was financed. The team had no money. It only had a little over 2 million dollars and appeared to be bankrupt before the season started. "So I made them a proposal. People who have nothing to lose are more likely to take chances. I proposed they invest their money in my system, but warned them it was not used to small fortunes. But they were very lucky because within 3 weeks, they had 9,5 million dollars. They re-invested 5 into the system and we discussed the future of the team. I made a new offer: I would invest 2.5million pounds and would take all teh shares in my name. "Our goal was to make the team one of the biggest in F1 - the equivalent of McLaren and Ferrari. Now the team is growing and we have our plans - to have our wind tunnel near the factory, to make our own chassis, to expand and to have our own test track probably in the South of France,. As for engines, it will probably be Porsche....I have to repeat our aim is to be big in F1. when I do something, I do it 100 percent. We will succeed, believe me."

How that success is to be measured, in cash or GP wins, remains to be seen, but any betting man facying a wager would be wise to conclude that Onyx are likely winners within 3 years and chmapionship contenders within five or six. It is in the nature of van Rossem's character that this is so.

"I wish to have a car that can win , say in 2 years. that would be okay. I have always been a winner in business and I wish to be a winner here too. It will not be easy of course and it will cost a lot of moeny, probably $50 millions for engines with Porsche alone. Much is going to depend on the backing I can get from my Belgian sponsors. I am not optimistic about it or the future or anything. I am not like that. I am realistic. And if it all falls through and we cannot get the motors we want - Porsche - then I am ready to sell my shares immediately. That is for sure. It is my plan to be a winnin owner. Not just an owner. We have a car here at Onyx with a really great chasssis and a lot fo potential. We have good drivers. What we need is the motor. "

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"People say things about me, but its only becasue I do not look like other people . It is not a matter of judgement, but a matter of appearance. I have been very annoyed by a lot of things written about me. People say I was ajunkie and did time in prison. Thsi was scandalous and really a disgrace. "

"They said this guy looks strange so he is not a good guy. So of course I am different from other team owners....I don't know them. None of them at all, I have never spoken to any one of them. To me that is not strange. This is business and I try to do my job as well as possible and for me it is quite diffiuclt because I have not always been in this sort of work."

van Rossem clearly regards the Porsche deal as the key to his future in F1 an dhis team's "only four teams could afford the deal, and they are already gone. Mclaren has Honda, Williams has Renault, Ferrari have their onw motor and Benetton ahve Ford. So if we fail to land Porsche, it will mean that Porsche do not want to come back to F1 and that will be a big shame. F1 is a big business ow, especially if you want ot make publicity in it. Of course, if your are a team owner, they publicity will cost you nothing at all. But you hope you are earning money from it. For me, there have been no benefits in the first year. I have invested personally more than 5 million dollars. So the benefits have to come in the 2nd years...if we have a successful deal with Porsche, it will be easy to find other sponsors.... My motives? Prosfit is my first motive. the next is winning. REally it shold be only profit, becuase the profit is relatively small compared to moneyon the stock money. So I should not spend much of my time in F1 racing if it was only for profits"


The following are from different sources:

In Mexico (89), for the first time, one of the Onyx cars made it through the pre-qualifying hour. The joke in the pitlane was that Stefan Johansson, who for the first itme this season had to drive for an entire weekend rather than just the one hour pre-qualifying session Friday morning, was demanding overtime pay. It must have got even more expensive in France: both Johansson and Bertrand Gachot prequalified together for the first time.


Bertrand Gachot, speaking in 1990, after being fired in the last quarter of 1989.

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I learned with Onxy. We had a very comnpetitive car, but it was new, so it took a bit of time to develop. But eventually it was quite a good car. Johansson emphaxized the point by scoring a third place in Portugal. by that time, however, Gachot was no longer with the team - several days earlier Onyx had fired him, saying that he had issued a press release that had criticised the team. " I was sacked, Onyx was in a difficult situation because they didn't have any money left. I had a very small salary, which is really no problem to pay. They consistently delayed payment, saying that they didn't have money but all the directors of the team had paid themselves. So I said "Now I just want my money. " van Rossem said to me "Look, I will give you a million dollars next year if you don't take your salary this year."
"I said "No, I want the money this year, I need this to live" The next week I heard that I had done a press conference in Belgium criticising the team. In fact, I was in Portugal with my girlfriend> I didn't go to Belgium that week. There was a press release, but it said nothing bad at all, but they just used that to put me out"
Gachot threaten to put an injunction against the team. van rossem then gave him a letter promising severance pay, but the money never arrived.
When he was at Onyx, Gachot drove a FerrariTestarossa....compliments of van rossem.


Finally, here is an interview with Johansson done in early 1990, just 3 days before van Rossem sold his team:

Onyx is, the best team he has been involved with because he is more than just a driver. "I was there from the beginning when we started talking about it. We really worked our heads off to make it work. It was such a great thing to be able to get int the top 10 in the first year and get out of pre-qualifying. All the odds were against us because we were so late. Rio was an absolute nightmare! "
"I think everyone involved with Onyx has done a tremendous job, particularly Alan Jenkins who has put in more htna he probably should have done. From that point of view I think my Onyx experience is the best I have ever had. "
"We have been set back a little bit this winter with tthe problems we have had with the changes in the team. That has meant we have to concentrate a lot more on politics than on the technical side. So we are a little bit late in getting on with the program. And then losing the Porsche engine certainly didn't help the situation. we had sort of committed our technical program for that until the last moment and they made a U turn and went somewhere else. So I think we have to look at the first part of the 1990 season as trying to get back in the swing of things again."
"I think in the end, everyone involved was quite relieved in a way becuase at least we know where we are at. But we were waiting and waiting and we never got any real indication of what went wrong. So therefore at least now we know where we are adn can go ahead with a different program.

During the winter of early 1990, team founders Mike Earle adn Joe Chamberlain left teh team, did this hurt the running of the team? "Ahhh, from running the team, absolutely not. But it has hurt from sorting out the mess that was left behind. Maybe those are harsh words, but that is the truth. I don't really want to go too deep into it, but all I can say is that their participation in actually producing any values towards the running of the team was very small."

Three days after this interview was taped, storm clouds gathered over Onyx as team owner van Rossem announced his intention of selling his holding. Days before teh team was due to leave for Phoenix, the remaining directors were left working round the clock to salvage the F1 future of 60 employees - including Stefan and his teammate, JJ Lehto.
"It's a very difficult, virtually impossible situation" admitted Alan Jenkins "We are trying to sell and I am sure we can find the right buyer - the problem is we don't have any tiem to do it. The team have been fantastic, very loyal. there has been no real feeling of job security for anyone in the last 10 months and yet we have lost only one person"

A press conference allowed van Rossem to launch a series of vitriolic attacks on F1 in general, on FISA, journalists and personned involved in the sport. He hopes to find a buyer for his 99% stakes" IT is not in my interest to let debts accumulate after we missed the Porsche contract and lost 2 major sponsors as a result" (anyone knows what were the sponsors they were in discussion with?)

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Jenkins added "If we could get through Phoenix and Brazil, it would give us a bit more time to set something up before Imola, But we cannot count on it. You have to think seriuosly about it all, suppliers, sponsors, contracts... On the other hand, we don't want to let down a lot of other people. Lehto is the hottest prospect after Alesi and Stefan has turned down other opportunities to stay with us" (anyone know which team Stefan could've joined?)


#2 Kuwashima

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Posted 20 August 2002 - 04:21

Wow! :eek:

Sensational stuff, Louis Mr. F1! Many thanks. An excellent read, with some interesting info. Certainly makes a better fist of Onyx than the (sadly in need of an update) article on our site. Cheers!


#3 Pikachu Racing

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Posted 20 August 2002 - 05:44


Great stuff! How did you do it?

#4 dmj

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Posted 20 August 2002 - 09:50

Sad story. One team that could make it...

#5 silver

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Posted 20 August 2002 - 10:11

JJ Lehto told once that mechanics had to change the gearbox between partices but he could not go out since they had put it wrong way in the car.... :eek:

#6 ensign14

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Posted 20 August 2002 - 11:12

I understand the reverse gearbox also happened to Gregor Foitek, when the team was Monteverdi, and Foitek Sr pulled his son out of the team.

I remember there was some reference to painting the cars red and white after Peter Monteverdi bought the team - does anyone have a pic of this?

I do regret the passing of Onyx, I thought they could have gone somewhere - they were good enough to get a podium in their first season and had some decent drivers.

#7 Vitesse2

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Posted 20 August 2002 - 12:29

Originally posted by ensign14
I remember there was some reference to painting the cars red and white after Peter Monteverdi bought the team - does anyone have a pic of this?


The car was later identified as a by-product of a thread on Monteverdi and MBM cars, but the links which showed it in the Monteverdi Museum no longer work.

#8 Don Capps

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Posted 20 August 2002 - 12:31

To use a paraphrase: The Onyx team coulda been a contenda....

#9 Louis Mr. F1

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Posted 20 August 2002 - 12:50

I also have a picture of the Onyx launch, (kind of rare in those days) however, i can't post it since i don't have a website. Has anyone seen it?

Bob, thanks for the link, I was never awared of this red/white livery, and it's great to actually see a picture of it. I always love to see "one of a kind" livery. We learn everyday.
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Anyone with more info on the Onyx team, please feel free to add.

I remember in 90 when the team was in very bad situation, Foitek was running in 6th at Monaco, but was pressured by a Larrousse (Bernard?). Foitek was weaving all over the track to protect his point paying position but eventually 'collided' with Bernard and retired. That could be the last nail in the coffin.

#10 f1bash

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Posted 31 August 2009 - 23:41

I have two race suits from Team Moneytron J.J Lehto's all badged up with his name on the belt & Gachot suit but i took the name of the Gachot suit to go karting with. I got them direct from the team , but will admit the pink was a funny colour for a team to pick

I also have items from another not well known team USF&G two nose cones and drivers signed large press photos the drivers for this team was D.Warwick & E.Cheveer one of the nose cones is from the show car number 10 & the other is damaged and was on the test car number 9 . I would post photo's but dont know how to . Cheers f1bash

Edited by f1bash, 01 September 2009 - 00:19.

#11 Bjorn Kjer

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Posted 01 September 2009 - 06:18

Any chance of a picture of Onyx transporter or part of it ?