RAM Racing: Pointless
The RAM Racing Team had many guises in its' Grand Prix existence - privateer, partner and finally constructor. The one thing it never had was success, with the team's on-off ten year association with the series failing to yield a single points finish.
The team was formed by John MacDonald (a club racer, beginning in 1970 running a BRM-powered Ford Anglia, before moving up to F3 with little success) and Mick Ralph. The pair got together in 1975 to run MacDonald in the British Formula 3 series, driving a GRD chassis. There was little success to be found there, and after GRD folded they switched their efforts to running Alan Jones in Formula 5000, again with few results despite Jones' pace. With the British Formula 5000 series ending in 1976 and Jones setting off for the lucrative American series, they instead brought a pair of 1975 Brabham BT44B Grand Prix cars with help from the driver Loris Kessel, selling the other seat to whoever could afford them for selected races of the 1976 championship. This attracted luminaries such as Emilio de Villota, Patrick Neve, Jac Nelleman and Bob Evans, with the cars only making the grid six times in 12 attempts. The only time they raised much interest was at the Nurburgring, where MacDonald unsuccessfully tried to replace Kessel with Rolf Stommelen, only for the incumbent driver to get the jump on the team and have the cars impounded. Afer a court ordered them to retain Kessel, RAM fled back to England with their cars where the German law couldn't get them.
Despite these shenanigans, the operation had been profitable if not productive, and so for 1977 RAM replaced the Brabhams with March 761 cars. Boy Hayje, Mikko Kozarowitzky, Andy Sutcliffe and Michael Bleekmolen were the takers, and only Hayje ever qualified the thing - and then only twice. RAM were arguably more interested in reliable payments than breaking young talent - not that a year-old March that was uncompetitive the previous season was much of a platform anyway. At the time such outfits were common due to the abundance of obsolescent machinery works teams were reluctant to scrap, and a surfeit of honest tryers from lower categories who would scrape together backing for a shot at the big-time.
Against this background, someone realised the obvious successor to the British F5000 series - a British Formula 1 series. With the British circuits happy to help in the face of declining demand for non-championship Grand Prix from the real Grand Prix teams, it all slid into place for 1978. For organisations like RAM it was just what they wanted. In the inaugural series, they ran ex-Hesketh and Hill driver Guy Edwards in a March 751, and he won two rounds to take 3rd overall. 1979 saw the arrival of Aurora as named sponsors of the series, with RAM and Edwards switching to a Fittipaldi F5A, a move which yielded only one more victory.
Deciding on a change of tack for the 1980 series, RAM struck a deal with the well-backed Chilean driver Eliseo Salazar and welcomed back the Banco Occidental funding of Emilio de Villota. The drivers' healthy sponsorship packages were invested in a pair of 1979 Williams FW07 cars (of the type that had won races in the hands of Alan Jones and Clay Regazzoni). The machines promptly swept all before them, winning eight of the twelve rounds with de Villota and Salazar placing first and second in the title standings respectively.
When not in use in the AFX series, the cars had been entered for Rupert Keegan in the second half of the world championship, though results were unimpressive - not that this stopped RAM renting out the second car to Geoff Lees and then Kevan Cogan in the North American races. Nevertheless, RAM were convinced they had the organisational ability to be successful in Grand Prix racing - they just needed an up-to-date car, especially as the Concorde Agreement ruled out privateers. At this point, they became embroiled in March's half-hearted comeback in Formula 1.
The Bicester company had withdrawn their works team at the end of 1977, no longer willing to invest in keeping up with the technical pace of Formula 1 when there was so much to be made mass-producing chassis for junior categories, and they wanted to break into the lucrative Indycar market as well. However, the organisation remained pragmatic and were happy enough to produce a customer chassis for money, and without the fuss of actually running the team. It was little surprise that the Cosworth-powered March 811, therefore, strongly resembled the FW07s RAM had been running in 1980.
Salazar remained on the driving strength, partnered by Derek Daly (dropped by Tyrrell after an accident-strewn season), with sponsorship coming from Rizzla and - via Salazar - Copec. The specialist press largely took it as a full return from March, with RAM rarely being mentioned in magazine articles and TV coverage, but that was probably a blessing for MacDonald and Ralph as the car was a dog. In the first six events, Salazar qualified on only one occasion - this was one more than Daly - and promptly took his funding to Ensign. He wasn't replaced, and at least focusing all the efforts on one car meant Daly qualified for most of the remaining races, his best result being 7th of 8 finishers at Silverstone - a lap behind Slim Borgudd's ATS.
Despite this terrible season, the partnership continued into 1982. Rizzla stayed onboard, with March junior designer Adrian Reynard penning the 821 chassis, despite some friction between MacDonald and March's Robin Herd after the RAM owner openly criticised the Bicester company in the press. Daly had seen enough, though, and defected to Theodore. Instead, RAM signed another moneyed South American, Raul Boesel. They decided to step back up to two cars, with the other to be taken by guest drivers. Jochen Mass, semi-retired from Formula 1, was the first to take up the offer to drive one of these. After the design made a mediocre debut in South Africa (where Mass was the only one to stay out of the drivers' strike), RAM pulled off something of a coup by securing backing from Rothmans International, looking to use motorsport to raise world-wide awareness of their cigarettes - at the same time they signed what was to become a famous deal with the works Porsche endurance team. As Mass drove for Porsche in the WEC, and the team now had money, it made sense that they signed him for the full season.
It all looked rosy, apart from one problem - the March still wasn't any good. At best Mass and Boesel ran in lower midfield. The Brazilian was too inexperienced, while Mass was becoming more and more troubled by the unsafe nature of ground effects cars, especially when he was struck by Gilles Villeneuve in practice for the Belgian Grand Prix, the impact catapulting the Canadian's Ferrari into the air and killing him. RAM, for their part, then made the baffling decision to buy all the withdrawing Avon company's stock of tyres, saddling them with rubber that wouldn't be developed as the season went on.
The team further complicated matters by having a third entry for some races. Emilio de Villota had raised sponsorship once more, and RAM were as ever were loathe to turn down money - however, with Mass and Boesel already filling the regular cars, they simply added a third car. This ran in a black Banco Occidental livery, and was looked after at races by Mike Earle and his Onyx F2 mechanics, but was still nominally part of the same team to satisfy FOCA rules. Despite the team-within-a-team set-up, de Villota's car was still a drain on resources, and never looked like making the grid before his sponsors pulled out mid-season.
Mass collided with Mauro Baldi's Arrows at the French Grand Prix and was sent flying into a spectator enclosure. That no-one was killed was nothing short of a miracle, and the canny Mass knew a warning where he saw one. He wouldn't drive in Formula 1 again, instead being replaced by Rupert Keegan for the remaining rounds. The Englishman was another fading talent, however, and with an uninspired driver pairing, a dog of a car and the dead-end tyres the cars became permanent backmarkers, even missing qualification at some events.
It was enough for Rothmans, who pulled out of sponsoring the team and cut short a projected three-year contract. MacDonald decided to scale back for 1983, planning initially to run a single car on a reduced budget of $425,000 for the season. He also downscaled the involvement of the uncommitted March Group, and hired Dave Kelly to design the 1983 car. This was designated the RAM March 01, though the Bicester company's involvement was non-existent, mainly being present to satisfy the regulations of the Concorde Agreement. One thing stayed the same, though - the chassis was shocking. Kelly's boxy design was not only deeply ugly, but also struggled for grip. Having abandoned the remnants of the Avon tyres and re-signed with Pirelli, RAM were faced with the same problem a number of teams still using the Cosworth DFV/Y engine - the tyres were now being tailored towards the big turbocharged cars, and the sticky qualifiers were especially difficult to get up to temperature. The RAM March 01's aerodynamic failings only magnified this problem.
The first unfortunate to try the thing was Eliseo Salazar, back after mediocre seasons with Ensign and ATS. He qualified for the first two rounds, more benefiting from Osella's problems than the car. For the French Grand Prix, a second entry was added for French pay driver Jean-Louis Schlesser (who had driven the thing in the preceding non-championship Race of Champions, coming 6th out of 7 finishers, a lap behind 5th-placed Boesel's Ligier and ahead of Roberto Guerrero's delayed Theodore). Neither qualified, and Schlesser's sponsorship money hadn't arrived anyway. Initially this was a fairly cordial matter, with the Frenchman attending the San Marino Grand Prix with the team but not driving (Salazar failing to qualify the sole entry), but when it became clear he wasn't going to pay for the two drives he'd had so far, let alone for further races, Schlesser was given the boot. In various interviews MacDonald, who had allegedly threatened drivers in the old days when their payments were late, brought this up with little provocation, and even threatened legal action when Schlesser was reportedly raising funds to race for Spirit in 1984.
Salazar failed to qualify for the next two races, and Copec - who had a performance-based deal with the Chilean - promptly withdrew their backing. The team skipped the Detroit Grand Prix, instead testing at Mosport with their next victim, Jacques Villeneuve. Despite the Canadian's best efforts, he failed to qualify for his home race at the circuit named after his late brother, and was replaced by Kenny Acheson. The Ulsterman reeled off six failures to qualify before getting in at the season-closing South African Grand Prix - partly helped by the disappearance of Theodore, though he was ahead of both Osellas on the grid. He finished too, albeit in 12th and six laps behind winner Riccardo Patrese; it was only the team's third start of 1983.
Few expected RAM to be back for 1984, but back they were. Kelly drew the RAM 02, and MacDonald arranged a deal for Hart turbocharged engines - albeit older specification units than those used by Toleman. MacDonald even managed to attract sponsorship from the Skoal Bandit smokeless tobacco company. Initially the team had intended to continue as a single entry, and attempted to sell the seat to Formula 2 champion Jonathan Palmer. While the Englishman was raising funds, the relatively unknown Philippe Alliot came forward with the $250,000 required. However, when Palmer also came up with the sum shortly afterwards, the team simply decided to take the money and move up to running two cars a matter of weeks before the season opener in Brazil.
The RAM 02 was another bulky device, and the opening race at Jacarepagua revealed a serious shortcoming - the engine cover disrupted the airflow over the rear of the car in such a dramatic fashion it induced serious handling problems. The cover was then simply removed, and in took until the Canadian Grand Prix for a new one to be fitted. While the RAMs got into the race more often (Alliot missed the grid at Zolder, while neither driver made the smaller grid at Monaco), they rarely finished it, and the car's inadequacy turned both drivers into mobile chicanes. Struggling with the overweight beast and lacking experience, Palmer and Alliot both had numerous crashes, the cream of which came at Brands Hatch. First Alliot was taken out in a chain reaction triggered by Riccardo Patrese on the first lap, and then Palmer topped this by dropping his RAM in race-stopping fashion ten laps later.
Through all of this, the team's best results were a trio of 9th places - this in a season where all but two teams (the impoverished Spirit team, whose sole car usually ran ahead of the RAMs, were the other) achieved top six placings. Nevertheless, they pressed on into 1985, with a couple of reasons to be optimistic for 1985. Firstly, Gustav Brunner had joined from Alfa Romeo, and had a reputation for building neat, fast chassis. Secondly, the tenacious Manfred Winkelhock signed as team leader alongside the retained Alliot, finally giving the team an experienced, capable driver.
Brunner's RAM 03 was impressive enough, even if there were reliability problems at first. Winkelhock's bravery and persistence lifted the team to the heady heights of midfield, while Alliot edged away from the back of the grid. However, after some promise in the early races, the team began to slide back without scoring any decent results. Mechanical failures and both drivers' habit of crashing prevented the car from being developed, while they struggled with Pirelli's difficult tyres. The other problem was the Hart engines - RAM had only a 'customer' deal with the British firm, and with lead team Toleman joining the series late, engine development also ground to a halt.
Worse was to come when Winkelhock was killed at the Mosport 1000kms WEC race, and the team quickly became rudderless. Acheson was recalled to take his place, but didn't get very far in a car that was standing still compared to most of its' rivals. As money became tight towards the end of the season (Skoal Bandit having announced they would not be renewing their sponsorship for 1986) the team dropped down to a single entry for Alliot, and then skipped the last two flyaway rounds in South Africa and Australia to regroup.
Plans for 1986 involved running Mike Thackwell (who had subbed for Palmer at the 1984 Canadian Grand Prix) in an updated RAM 03, but backing couldn't be found despite the team attending some tests at Jacarepagua. Instead, MacDonald decided to try to sell the design as a Formula 3000 chassis with a DFY engine (old F1 cars with Cosworths being eligible in the series at the time as the FIA tried to make the numbers up in the series), but the various Arrows and Tyrrell cars campaigned in 1985 had been unsuccessful compared to the customer F3000 chassis, and he found no takers. The team folded soon afterwards, with very little to show for its' time in Grand Prix racing and very few even noticing they had gone.