“I’m an artist, the track is my canvas, and the car is my brush”

And Now for Something Completely Different: Andrea Moda

By Scott Russell

Contemporary Grand Prix racing does not provide very much scope for underfunded half-arsed teams to tool around ten seconds off the pace. The advent of the superlicense, the $48 million entry bond and the 12-team limit mean that only the best are allowed in Formula One. When the ludicrous Phoenix/DART “team” turned up at the Malaysian Grand Prix a few years ago armed with some old Prosts, ancient Hart motors, and Gaston Mazzacane, the FIA did not want to hear about it and basically told them not to bother.

It has not always been as difficult to make it into Formula One. In the simpler times of the late ’80s and early ’90s, little teams like EuroBrun, AGS or Life appeared for a few seasons, battled around several seconds off the pace (or worse …), and then quietly disappeared.

However, don’t let the lack of success deceive you into thinking these efforts were useless or without merit. Coloni, for example, were quite successful in lower formula but simply did not have the dollars to compete in Formula 1. Rial had a decent car that picked up a couple of fourth places, and may have done even better if the team boss was not crazy. Onyx even picked up a podium with Stefan Johansson driving, but bad organisation proved that team’s downfall. Even the hapless Life team showed that innovation was alive and well at the slow end of the field with their revolutionary W12. It was a terrible engine but that is not the point.

Photo: Roberto Moreno in the Andrea Moda S921 (Image source: unknown - photo reproduced in the spirit of ‘fair use’).

But there was one team that had nothing going for them: Andrea Moda Formula (AMF). The cars were very slow and very fragile. Money and resources were non-existent. The team principal was crazy. The engines were powerless. This was a team so inept they managed to turn up to one race with no engines, and at another with no complete cars. A team that got stuck in a truck blockade on the way to Magny-Cours. A team whose owner was arrested by police, just weeks after he had been shot at while escaping a fire. A team that was eventually kicked out of Formula One for being so bad. A team that was more Fawlty Towers than Formula One.

Like a phoenix rising …

Andrea Moda Formula was formed from the ruins of Enzo Coloni’s failed Formula One effort. The Coloni team had won Italian and European Formula 3 championships with Ivan Capelli and Alessandro Santin, and progressed to Formula 3000 in 1986. Success was not quite so forthcoming there, but after hearing that turbos would be phased out from Grand Prix racing, Coloni decided to move his team up to Formula One.

Coloni debuted in Formula One with a couple of appearances late in the 1987 season, with Nicola Larini driving a single entry. The team’s first complete season was 1988, with Gabriele Tarquini driving. The car was not too bad, and Tarquini managed to qualify more often than not. 1989 was a different story though, and the team’s lack of resources made things extremely difficult. A factory deal with Subaru for 1990 promised so much but delivered so little. The Subaru motor was one of the worst motors in the sport’s history, and Coloni failed to qualify for a single race ever again.

The Coloni Formula One experiment had without reward. 81 entries between 1987 and 1991 yielded just four Chequered Flags, and an incredible 67 failures to qualify. Yet somehow Coloni managed to sell the assets of the team to Andrea Sassetti, the wealthy owner of an Italian shoe label called Andrea Moda. The wealthy playboy, usually resplendent in pointy shoes, slicked back hair, and a black jacket, bought Coloni’s assets for ₤8 million. Andrea Moda Formula was born!

Photo: Naoki Hattori makes a futile effort to scrape onto the 1991 Australian GP grid in his Coloni C4. In 1992, these cars would turn up at the first race decked out in the colours of Andrea Moda (Image source: unknown - photo reproduced in the spirit of ‘fair use’).

Of course, why Sassetti thought it would be a good idea to buy one of the most consistently under-performing teams ever is a mystery. In his 1991 season review, racing journalist Joe Saward lamented the pointlessness of the purchase: “Coloni […] managed to sell the team to Italian shoemaker Andrea Sassetti, who shows no signs of making any improvements. One wonders why they all bother. There must be easier ways of getting F1 paddock passes”.

Perhaps Sassetti dreamed that Andrea Moda would emulate the success of fellow Italian fashion label, Benetton? Maybe he simply thought owning a racing team would add to his playboy lifestyle and impress the ladies? Either way, it would seem, he certainly did not buy the team out of a pure love for motorsport.

Sassetti sought about getting ready for the 1992 season, and decided to start the season with revised Coloni C4s. Power would be provided by a customer Judd V10 coupled to a Dallara gearbox and Goodyear tyres. Frederic Dhainhaut (Coloni, AGS, Larrousse) was hired to manage the team, and Michel Costa (Coloni, AGS) was hired to oversee technical development.

The services of Enrico Bertaggia and Alex Caffi were secured to drive the cars. Caffi had scored some impressive results over the years, notably 4th at the 1989 Monaco GP in a Dallara, but a spate of injuries had left him past his best. Bertaggia was a Coloni refugee, who suffered the inglorious fate of qualifying slowest in every event he participated.

And so Andrea Moda was ready for 1992. With a car that had never qualified for a race, two mediocre drivers, a weak engine and minimal resources, it was never going to be particularly easy. This fact was not lost on former Formula One driver, John Watson. In his 1992 season preview for the BBC, he commented: “Andrea Moda Judd was formerly Coloni and both cars will have to pre-qualify. I regret to say that this is as far as they will get”.

The season begins …

The 1992 F1 season began with a return to Kyalami in South Africa, for the first time since 1985. On account of it being the first race at the track in seven years, an acclimitisation session was held on Thursday, and the C4s, resplendent in the black hues of Andrea Moda, hit the track. That was as far as they got all weekend.

FISA declared that the team was liable to pay the $100,000 entry fee for new teams. They ruled that Sassetti had not bought the Coloni team but rather the Coloni team’s assets and was therefore a new team required to pay the entry fee. The team were excluded, and that was that. In some ways it was probably a blessing in disguise, as it meant Caffi and Bertaggia avoided the embarrassment of not qualifying.

Photo: Strangely, painting the Coloni C4 black made little difference to its pace! (Image source: unknown - photo reproduced in the spirit of ‘fair use’)

After their aborted debut, the C4s were retired. Aided by Bernie Ecclestone, Sassetti had got in touch with Nick Wirth of Simtek, and bought the designs for a car that had been earmarked for a possible BMW assault on the World Championship a couple of years earlier.

In just a couple of weeks, aided by mechanics from other teams, AMF bolted together two of the cars, to be known as S921s. Construction was rushed, and rumour has it that when the car failed its mandatory crash test, the mechanics just patched up the weak area with more carbon-fibre and tested it again, this time passing. Nonetheless, when the cars were unveiled to the Formula One fraternity, they at least looked the part.

The cars were flown to Mexico for Round 2 of the championship, but Caffi and Bertaggia were again met with disappointment. Having had the cars excluded three weeks earlier, this time round Sassetti withdrew the cars himself. Apparently they were simply not ready to race.

And so, Caffi and Bertaggia watched the second race of the year from the sidelines. Not surprisingly, neither was too impressed with the situation. In a moment that characterised Sassetti’s amazing human resource skills, he decided the best way to improve the team would be by sacking both drivers. So now as well as actually finishing their two cars, they had to find two new drivers.

In a 2006 interview with Richard Jenkins, Caffi recalled his brief time with Andrea Moda: “At first, the testing was fine, the guys were good, but then … I don’t know … a lot of things happened. Andrea Sassetti, he was a crazy man and ended up ruining everything”.

Unlike other teams of the era who resorted to hiring the worst drivers imaginable—so long as they had a fat wallet—Sassetti showed that perhaps there was a serious effort hidden behind the ridiculous facade by hiring two talented drivers. Roberto ‘Pupo’ Moreno and Perry ‘Pel’ McCarthy.

Moreno was a talented Brazilian who had won the non-championship Australian Grand Prix 3-times, tested for Ferrari, won the 1988 F3000 World Championship, and finished 2nd to Nelson Piquet in a Benetton at Suzuka in 1991. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, Moreno had spent most of his Formula One career driving terrible cars. By the time he joined Andrea Moda he had already driven for AGS, EuroBrun, and Coloni.

Photo: Roberto Moreno really deserved better than drives with AGS, Coloni, EuroBrun (above) and Andrea Moda (Image source: unknown - photo reproduced in the spirit of ‘fair use’).

McCarthy was a popular British hope who had struggled with finances as he battled his way through junior categories. He had earned a reputation as being a handy driver and was rewarded with a test drive for Footwork in 1991. Finally, after years working his way up the ladder, McCarthy had a race seat for a Formula One team.

The Season Begins … Take Two

Despite a ridiculous start to the season, the hiring of Moreno and McCarthy represented quite a robust driver lineup, and with the Nick Wirth designed cars now complete, one could have been forgiven for a moment for thinking Andrea Moda was well-placed to make the grid at Interlagos, Round 3 of the 1992 championship.

Any notion that a rewarding weekend lay ahead was dismissed from the moment the team arrived at the track. McCarthy had his superlicense revoked on the Thursday before the race, and was excluded. McCarthy was deeply disappointed: “There is not much I can say. I am obviously very upset, but I don’t want to make things worse”. In all honesty, it hardly made any difference, for the team barely had enough parts for one chassis let alone two. Even spanners were in short supply.

Moreno did get track time infront of his home crowd, but the S921 was extremely slow, and his best time in pre-qualifying was a 1:38.569—23 seconds behind Nigel Mansell’s eventual pole-lap. Needless to say, the hapless Moreno’s weekend was over at the end of pre-qualifying. After just one serious attempt at qualifying, it was obvious it would take a miracle for an S921 to grace a Formula One grid.

Aided by a sympathetic Bernie Ecclestone, McCarthy’s superlicense was restored in time for the Spanish Grand Prix. However, Sassetti had decided he did not want McCarthy anymore. He wanted to bring Bertaggia back into the lineup, the Italian having secured a generous wad of sponsorship money. FISA stood firm however, and told Sassetti he had already made too many driver changes and would have to stick with McCarthy.

Sassetti was disappointed at missing out on Bertaggia’s dollars, and with barely the resources or skills to run two cars, McCarthy’s chassis would act as little more than a parts donor for Moreno throughout the remainder of the season.

The team turned up in Barcelona for another dismal attempt at making it past pre-qualifying. Moreno’s car broke down before he had even completed a single lap. McCarthy’s efforts were similarly rewarded, when his engine cut out barely twenty metres down the pitlane. After years of trying to crack into the big-league, and the misery of having to sit out at Interlagos, Pel’s Formula One debut had lasted about ten seconds.

Photo: McCarthy looks at his stricken machine in the Barcelona pitlane. It was probably not the debut the Brit had dreamed of (Image source: unknown - photo reproduced in the spirit of ‘fair use’).

Sassetti’s disregard for McCarthy meant that when his car was repaired, it was handed over to Moreno, who went out for a second attempt at pre-qualifying. This time he was able to string together a couple of laps before the car broke down again. In those laps he managed to set a time about 17 seconds off the eventual pole lap.

The next race in Imola offered some marginally better reliability. Moreno’s car held together for about eight laps in pre-qualifying before the inevitable breakdown. His best time was a 1:28.943, which was not too bad when you consider Ayrton Senna lined up third on the grid with a 1:23.701.

McCarthy was again given the worst chassis, and was barely able to get within eight seconds of his team-mate. Frighteningly, it would be about the closest all season he would get to qualifying, and the most laps he would ever complete over a weekend.

Monte Carlo Miracle

The Monaco Grand Prix of 1992 is often remembered as a classic, for the titanic struggle between Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell in the closing laps. The pair raced wheel to wheel in the closing laps, with Senna just hanging on to win against the much faster Williams.

Senna and Mansell grabbed all the headlines, but there was a big story at the other end of the pitlane. Roberto Moreno had done the impossible and qualified the AMF S921 for the race! It was a God-like effort in a chassis that handled like a semi-trailer. Not only was his lap good enough to make the grid, it was faster than the best efforts by Eric van de Poele, Damon Hill, Andrea Chisea, Paul Belmondo and UkyoKatayama. To say it was a minor miracle is an under-statement.

Incredibly the car held together for nearly a dozen laps in the race, and by profiting from the retirements of others, Moreno made it up for 19th before the inevitable happened and the car broke, this time with an engine failure. Pupo’s lap times had been fairly slow, but his best lap time was still better than Gabriele Tarquini’s best in the Fondmetal.

While Moreno had enjoyed somewhat of a breakthrough, McCarthy may as well not have bothered to turn up, for again he did not get a serious run in the car. Three laps was all he got in pre-qualifying, and there was never any hope of making it any further. That McCarthy kept turning up to races is testament to his character and optimism.

After the “highlight” of actually qualifying one car at Monte Carlo, AMF came crashing back to earth in the subsequent weeks. For starters, a discotheque in Italy owned by Sassetti was destroyed by arsonists. Bizarrely, Sassetti was shot at by an unidentified gunmen as he fled the flames.

If that was not bad enough for Sassetti, he was greeted at the Montreal circuit by the news that his team had no engines. What exactly happened to them is unclear. The official word was that it was a mistake by the cargo company, but the more cynical suggested AMF had not come up with enough money to pay Judd for the engines, and that they had consequently been impounded.

Roberto Moreno somehow managed some track time with a borrowed engine from Brabham (who were also using the Judd V10), but it was futile, and it was another early shower. Yet again McCarthy may as well have stayed at home, for he did not even make it out on to the track this time.

From bad to worse

In Canada the engines had not turned up to the track. In France, the cars did not get there either. French truck drivers had gone on a blockade, and the Andrea Moda transporter got caught up on the way to the circuit. Every other team made it to the race through back roads, and cynics again suggested they purposely got “lost on the way” to save cash.

Silverstone was unsurprisingly another waste of time. Once again McCarthy did not even have a complete car, and had to have his machine fitted with parts from Moreno’s before he could hit the track. McCarthy’s best time of 1:46.719 was 28-seconds slower than Nigel Mansell’s pole-time, and even worse, 12 seconds slower than Rubens Barrichello’s pole lap in the F3000 race at Silverstone earlier that year. At one stage McCarthy was driving on a dry track with wet weather tyres. Moreno got to within a couple of seconds of the Brabhams, but it did not matter as he did not get past pre-qualifying.

To exacerbate AMF’s struggles, by this stage personnel and sponsors could not abandon the sinking ship fast enough. The team had started the year with a relatively healthy brace of sponsors, but by now the cars were practically sponsor-less. The team manager, Frederic Dhainhaut, had decided it was obvious Sassetti was not interested in what he was saying, and had resigned.

Photo: McCarthy in the pitlane at Silverstone, his home Grand Prix. Yet again, a few laps was all he managed. Note the wet tyres despite the blue sky (Image source: unknown - photo reproduced in the spirit of ‘fair use’).

The German Grand Prix was the same familiar story. No pace, no reliability, no grid-spot. By Hungary, the second Brabham car had disappeared, meaning at least one Andrea Moda was guaranteed of making it past pre-qualifying. Given Sassetti’s attitude towards McCarthy it was always going to be Moreno. In truth, all this really meant was that Moreno’s weekend would last a few hours longer before the inevitable failure to make the grid.

The end is nigh

McCarthy’s car broke down after less than a minute out on track in Hungary, and the FISA was becoming increasingly annoyed that Andrea Moda kept turning up with two cars, yet making basically no effort to adequately prepare McCarthy’s car. FISA demanded that the team make a serious attempt to qualify both cars at Spa-Francochamps or face reprimands.

By now Brabham had disappeared completely, pre-qualifying was a thing of the past, and for the first time ever, both AMFs proceeded to qualifying for real. Forced to make a serious attempt to qualifying both cars, but with a chronic shortage of parts, the AMF mechanics fitted McCarthy’s car with used parts from Moreno’s car. It was a moment of sheer stupidity, and on his first flying lap, McCarthy’s steering nearly failed through the fearsome Eau Rouge.

“I went into Eau Rouge, desperately trying to take it flat, and the steering seized. I still don’t know how I made it through the corner”, McCarthy recalled. He told his mechanics what had happened, but they did not really seem fazed: “Oh yeah, we know. That’s the duff one we took off Roberto’s car at the last race”. How he survived a lap of Eau Rouge in his S921 without being killed no one will ever know.

Somehow both drivers managed to record times lap-times, but they were so slow they would have been lucky to have made the grid of a Formula 3000 race. It goes without saying neither driver would have to get out of bed on Sunday.

If the on-track action was not ridiculous enough, events off-track made up for it. Fresh from being shot at a few weeks earlier, Sassetti’s extraordinary life took another exciting turn when he was arrested by Belgian police for allegedly forging invoices.

Finally enough was enough for FISA. After the events of Spa, the team was suspended indefinitely for bringing the sport into disrepute. Sassetti refused to take the news lying down, and sent the AMF transporter to Monza for the Italian Grand Prix. But there was no reprieve and it was turned away. Enough was enough and the team disappeared forever. Effectively they had been excluded for being … too crap.

Photo: Moreno pulls out of the Hungarian pitlane, ready for another lap ten seconds off the pace (Image source: unknown - photo reproduced in the spirit of ‘fair use’).

The team was so obviously pathetic McCarthy did not seem the least bit surprised or disappointed by the decision: “Given the problems I’ve endured with the team, it makes very little difference to me. I fully understand FISA’s position”.

What made Andrea Moda so pathetic? Was it the drivers? Definitely not. Moreno and McCarthy were both decent drivers. Was it the car? Well, not really. We saw later in the mid-1990s that Nick Wirth was capable of producing a credible car on a minuscule budget, and truth be told, when the car worked for enough laps in succession for him to post a lap, Moreno was usually able to get fairly close to the other back markers. And we all know what happened at Monaco. Indeed, had the car not been bolted together in a couple of weeks, and had the team focused on a single-car entry, rather than persisting on ‘pretending’ to be running two cars, they may well have performed well enough to escape the title of ‘worst team ever’.

Ultimately though, Andrea Sassetti was the problem. He had no idea what it took to run a successful Grand Prix team. To be honest, he makes David Brent or Basil Fawlty look like competent managers. Clearly all that mattered to Sassetti was that two cars turned up each weekend with Andrea Moda logos on the side to sell more shoes.

So, what happened after?

According to some reports, Andrea Moda tried to re-apply for the 1993 season, but wisely they were not allowed in, and the Andrea Moda name disappeared from Formula One for good.

In late 1992 there was talk that a team called Bravo Grand Prix would race an evolution of the S921 in 1993. The cars would have been known as S931s with Jordi Gene and Nicola Larini driving. But the teams financial backer died in December and the project was slowly forgotten, probably for the best.

Photo: Andrea Moda logos adorned Euro Motorsport’s 1993 CART cars. Inset: pair of shoes designed by Andrea Moda. They were probably faster than the racing cars (Image source: unknown - photo reproduced in the spirit of ‘fair use’).

Although AMF was gone from Formula One, it was not the end of Andrea Moda’s involvement in motorsport. The shoe company’s logos appeared on the sidepods of the Euro Motorsport IndyCars in 1993.

A quick search on Google or eBay reveals the Andrea Moda shoe label is still around. The company even has a website (http://andreamoda.vediamo.it/), however in the true spirit of AMF would-be visitors to the site are meant with a 404 error.

And what of the man himself, Mr. Sassetti? Italian magazine AutoSprint tracked him down for an interview in early 2007, and found him running nightclubs and restaurants. He also revealed in the interview that he still has the two original AMF S291 cars! What a sight that would be at the Goodwood Festival of Speed one year …

Unfortunately for McCarthy, his 1992 flirtation with Andrea Moda would be the only time he would ever take part in a Formula One weekend, although he was lucky enough to get a few sporadic tests with Williams, Arrows and Benetton in the next few years. Thereafter he turned to sportscar racing, as well as playing Top Gear’s The Stig for a few years. In 2002 he released a book Flat Out, Flat Broke: Formula 1 the Hard Way which chronicled his experiences in motorsport.

Moreno fared a little better than McCarthy, and had another final fling with Formula One in 1995, but it was with another dreadful team—Forti. From 1996-2003 he raced for various teams in ChampCar, often filling in for injured drivers. His best season was 2000, where he finished third in the title after a rare full season driving, for Patrick Racing. At the end of 2003 he effectively retired from motor sport, but has since made the odd appearance in Brazilian stock cars and drove an IRL race in 2006. He was also the official test driver for the new for 2007 Panoz ChampCar chassis.

Photo: Two years after Andrea Moda turned his designs into one of the worst cars ever, Nick Wirth saw another of his creations out on track - the Simtek S941 (Image source: unknown - photo reproduced in the spirit of ‘fair use’).

The teams original drivers, Alex Caffi and Enrico Bertaggia also came away with damaged reputations on account of their involvement. Neither ever raced an F1 car ever again.

Frederic Dhainhaut, the original team manager of AMF, left Formula One for a while after the fiasco, before returning to the sport with a management role with Minardi in 1995. Michel Costa went on to work for Gerard Larrouse.

Nick Wirth, the designer of the S921, tried his hand at running his own team in 1994-1995, with Simtek. He penned the pretty little Simtek S941 chassis, a car which visually shared some similarities with the S921.

With some big names and taeltns involved in the project, including David Brabham and his father Jack, the team avoided the embarrassment that befell AMF. But unfortunately luck was not on the team’s side, and several massive accidents, one of which claimed the life of young Roland Ratzenberger, meant the team disappeared in the middle of 1995. What Simtek did do was demonstrate that it was possible to run a Grand Prix team on a minuscule budget, have everything go wrong, and still build a car capable of lasting more than a couple of laps …

Andrea Moda were a shambles, but there is one thing that can said for them. At least they had character and soul, more than be said for the soulless “corporate” teams of 21st century Formula One.

Forza Andrea Moda!

The Statistics

Round 1, South African Grand Prix:
Alex Caffi: DNP (Team not registered)
Enrico Barteggia: DNP (Team not registered)

Round 2, Mexican Grand Prix:
Alex Caffi: DNP (Cars incomplete, withdrawn)
Enrico Barteggia: DNP (Cars incompete, withdrawn)

Round 3, Brazilian Grand Prix:
Robert Moreno: DNPQ
Perry McCarthy: DNP (Superlicense revoked)

Round 4, Spanish Grand Prix
Robert Moreno: DNPQ
Perry McCarthy: DNPQ

Round 5, San Marino Grand Prix
Robert Moreno: DNPQ
Perry McCarthy: DNPQ

Round 6, Monaco Grand Prix
Robert Moreno: DNF (Driveshaft, 11 laps, Started 26th)
Perry McCarthy: DNPQ

Round 7, Canadian Grand Prix
Robert Moreno: DNPQ
Perry McCarthy: DNP (No engine)

Round 8, French Grand Prix
Robert Moreno: DNP (Car did not arrive)
Perry McCarthy: DNP (Car did not arrive)

Round 9, British Grand Prix
Robert Moreno: DNPQ
Perry McCarthy: DNPQ

Round 10, German Grand Prix
Robert Moreno: DNPQ
Perry McCarthy: DNP (Missd weight-check)

Round 11, Hungarian Grand Prix
Robert Moreno: DNPQ
Perry McCarthy: DNPQ

Round 11, Belgian Grand Prix
Robert Moreno: DNQ
Perry McCarthy: DNQ

The Team - Summary

Team Principal: Andrea Sassetti
Team Manager: Frederic Dhainhaut
Technical Director: Michel Costa
Drivers: Alex Caffi, Enrico Bertaggia, Roberto Moreno, Perry McCarthy
Best Result: DNF (Roberto Moreno, Monaco 1992)
Best Qualifying: 26th (Roberto Moreno, Monaco 1992)
First Grand Prix: South African Grand Prix 1992
Last Grand Prix: Belgian Grand Prix 1992
Sponsors: Andrea Moda, Ellesse, iGuzzini, ELD, Teuco, Urbis, Region March, others

The Car:

Chassis: Andrea Moda Formula S921
Engine: 3.5 L Judd V10
Gearbox: Dallara
Oil: Agip
Tyres: Goodyear
Designer: Nick Wirth

Further Reading

Andrea Moda Profile at F1 Rejects
Perry McCarthy Profile at F1 Rejects
Enrico Bertaggia Profile at F1 Rejects
AutoSprint Interview with Andrea Sassetti (Italian)
Andrea Moda at Formula 1 Database
Andrea Moda Official Website
Perry McCarthy - Flat Out, Flat Broke: Formula 1 the Hard Way
Richard Jenkins Interview Alex Caffi

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