The mystery of Mike Gascoyne

Well now that Mike Gascoyne seems to have properly left Toyota as technical director (chassis), some people are asking if he actually deserves to get another job in Formula 1. The people in the Pitpass Forums certainly seem sceptical! It is a comment that comes up every time Mike Gascoyne moves on to another team in a blaze of hype: he’s never been responsible for a World Championship-winning car.

But is it really feasible that Gascoyne made a name for himself purely through chance and bluffing as some in the Pitpass Forums seem to be suggesting? Well, looking at the career profile that the BBC provided in their article, it is hardly anything to set the pulse racing.

  • 1989-1991: McLaren (aerodynamicist)
  • 1991-94: Sauber (head of aerodynamics)
  • 1994-98: Tyrrell (deputy technical director)
  • 1998-2000: Jordan (technical director)
  • 2001-03: Renault (technical director)
  • 2003-06: Toyota (technical director chassis)

The only seriously impressive car there is the 1989 McLaren (Wikipedia says Gascoyne worked for Tyrrell in 1990 and 1991), and he probably didn’t have an awful lot of influence on that. Those years at Tyrrell in the mid-1990s are probably ones he would rather leave out of his CV — although at the time he apparently impressed Harvey Postlethwaite who was no dummy.

Gascoyne’s spells at Jordan, Renault and Toyota have all produced noticeable upswings. I don’t know how much input Gascoyne would have had, but when he joined Jordan in 1998 they hadn’t scored a single point. By the end of the season they had won a race and finished 4th in the Constructors’ Championship. 1999 was even more successful. But it also marked the high point, and Jordan’s descent also began under Gascoyne.

When he moved to Benetton / Renault it also marked the start of an upswing. 2001 was an absolutely horrendous season (they scored just 10 points and finished a disgusting 7th place in the Championship, compared with 20 points in 4th in 2000). But by 2003 they were showing real improvement — enough for them to win a race. But by the time that win came, Gascoyne had been sent on gardening leave. Some would say that the upswing in form was more to do with Renault’s impressive launch control system and the engine’s good accelleration than anything Gascoyne did. After all, the win did come at Hungaroring where a good start and accelleration is key.

Rumour has it that Gascoyne wasn’t really keen on joining Toyota in the first place. He apparently went up to Flavio Briatore and waggled Toyota’s high offer in front of him. Gascoyne was looking for a wage rise, but instead he was told to go away and join Toyota. Briatore can’t have been much convinced about Gascoyne’s talent!

Let’s not underestimate the task that Gascoyne faced at Toyota. He had to turn a team that had always trundled around near the back of the grid into potential Championship winners. In 2002 they scored two points, the same amount as Minardi and Arrows (who went bust mid-season and didn’t even compete in all of the races). 2003 and 2004 saw only minor improvements.

But 2005 was truly a successful year for Toyota. Okay, their performance may have tailed off towards the end of the season, but at the start they were securing podium finishes at will, and they were still gabbing the odd one at the end of the season. They finished 4th, ahead of Williams and Honda. I would say that’s pretty good going.

At the start of the 2006 season, it is true that Toyota were a bit of a shambles. But that could easily be explained away as a tyre problem. And they’ve already turned it around by scoring a podium in round 3. And let’s also remember that if you forget the results of the 2005 season, those performances at the start of 2006 would not have been abnormally slow for Toyota.

Maybe you would still say “no excuses” — if Gascoyne is such a great technical director he shouldn’t be making cars that are finishing 14th and 16th in a field of 18 finishers, ahead of only a Midland and a Super Aguri. That only makes it all the more confusing, though, that Toyota and Gascoyne should decide to part company when they score a podium result again.

I think it is really difficult to judge just how good Gascoyne is. He’s had a hand in some teams’ greatest moments (Jordan and Toyota), but also some of their worst moments (Jordan and Renault). One thing I would say, though, is that I find it unlikely that any big team would want to hire Gascoyne. I am sure that Ferrari, McLaren, Williams, Honda, Red Bull and particularly Renault are all very happy with their current setup. If he gets another job as technical director for a Formula 1 team, it would probably be for Toro Rosso or somebody like that. It’s probably just as well he wants to “spend more time with his family”.

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