Home' V8X Supercar Magazine : Apr May 2018 Issue 104 Contents 78 SUPERCAR XTRA
time with Larko was up, and the university degree was
stuffed in the back pocket (second-class honours and
a high distinction for his thesis on simulation in race
cars, developed on a program for Larkham’s Reynard
90D), an introduction to Team Lotus changed his life.
Formula 1, even for a small team, was more advanced
than anything he had seen and this was what he wanted.
At the Adelaide Grand Prix he had glimpsed it when
he was working with Larko – “I remember walking up
and down the pitlane and walking past Larrousse and
Minardi and even the teams right at the bottom were
something else; you just looked at their cars and the
cleanliness and the perfection of everything... you’ve
got to remember even the worst Formula 1 teams are
bloody good, especially now” – but nothing prepared
him for what he was entering.
Larkham’s team was pretty well funded but it was
barely running on lunch money compared with Formula
1, where a small budget may be 100 million pounds a
year. Team Lotus was about 60 people at that stage
(about the size of the biggest teams in Australia now).
“Lotus were small but they were obviously struggling,
however for a young guy coming into Formula 1 it was
fantastic,” says Michael.
“Throughout the 12 months that I was with them I
got to work in wind tunnels, work in the R&D labs, go to
ABOVE & LEFT: A young
Michael worked with
Mark Larkham’s Formula
Holden entry. Being
part of the Australian
Grand Prix in Adelaide
(above) introduced him
to Formula 1, where he
would spend two decades
with Team Lotus, Jordan
Grand Prix, Williams F1
the races and go to the tests to help run the cars.
“I was actually employed as a design and R&D engi-
neer working on vehicle simulation because they didn’t
have one. So we built the first vehicle simulation for
them during that year, but because of the state of the
company you basically had to become a jack of all trades.
I remember – and I’m not a mechanic – but we were in a
situation where I was mechanic-ing sometimes at tests.
“It was fantastic but even I knew that there was some-
thing not completely right and six months later they
pulled out of Formula 1. But it was very good for me, it
was just a fantastic year. I got paid £12,000 a year and
I didn’t care, I couldn’t care less. I would have done it
At the end of the season, which was Adelaide, he
stayed around for a couple of weeks and the rumours
started to swirl. He called headquarters before getting
on the plane to Detroit for a conference to be told every-
thing was okay. And when he finally made it to Norwich
a few days later, there was nothing. No team. No job.
‘Hey Peewee?’ was the next call and that pointed him
to Jordan for seven years. He started in the back room as
a vehicle-dynamics engineer and then after six months
he was in the race team as a data engineer. A couple of
years later he was bored, so he convinced the bosses,
including Eddie Jordan, to create a R&D department.
“We set up the team’s first seven-post rig and then
worked on a lot of active programmes, like power steer-
ing, active differentials, active gearboxes... I definitely
got involved in a lot of different things. F1 was still
at a point where you could spread yourself across the
business. It’s not like that at all anymore, it’s extremely
From 1994 to 1998 it was all about the development,
then he stepped in to engineer the car for Ralf Schu-
macher and it all changed. The following year he looked
after Heinz-Harald Frentzen as the team reached its
peak: third in the constructors’ championship, two wins
for Frentzen and third in the drivers’ championship. But
then the team started a downward slide on its way out
of the sport. Michael wasn’t into that, so he joined Wil-
liams. His wage had gone up, but that was never a factor.
Australians have had a soft spot for Williams since
Alan Jones won the world drivers’ championship in
1980. Michael came on board as the chief engineer and
then, when Patrick Head stepped back a bit, became
technical director. He spent there 11 years there.
“Formula 1’s a 24/7 sport,” explains Michael.
“I’d start in the wind tunnel and get to the aero guys
and understand what they did in the last 12 hours over-
night. You’ve got to remember, in Formula 1 things
change so fast that what you thought was fact at 7am
is fiction by 7pm. It’s so fast changing, it’s such an agile
sport and you have to get used to change or you won’t
survive in Formula 1. It’s a change-management indus-
try, everything’s changing all the time.
“Relative to the real world, budget wasn’t an issue I
had to manage; you know if you’re working for a team
with people like Frank Williams and Patrick, or Ron
Dennis when I was at McLaren, they’ll spend whatever
it takes to make a car go faster.
SCX104 p76-79 Sam Michael.indd 78
15/3/18 12:30 am
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