“It’s not near anywhere you’ve heard of. There are no motorways that go anywhere near it, and God help you if you run out of petrol. Moving about the place, however, can be fun. I’m used to people point as I go by. Most shout, ‘Hey, look, it’s a Cosworth!’ but out here they shout, ‘Hey, look, it’s a car!’”
That’s Norfolk, the place where Mike Gascoyne grew up, as described by Jeremy Clarkson. How did such a remote place produce someone like Mike? Maybe the nearby Team Lotus factory had something to do with it!
Mike was a brilliant academic. So much so that he earned himself a place at the prestigious Cambridge University, where he studied fluid dynamics. Beginning 1982, he lived the life of a geek for 6 years, lapping up degree after degree. He then opted for a doctorate, but somehow, he never managed to write his thesis.
After leaving university in the summer of 1988 he worked briefly with the Westland Helicopter before his desire to be involved in motor racing led him to McLaren. He joined Steve Nichols’s design team at the start of 1989, working in the wind tunnel at Britain’s National Physical Laboratory in Teddington. At the end of the year Nichols joined Ferrari and Gascoyne moved to Tyrrell where he began to work with Dr. Harvey Postlethwaite.
Tyrrell is where Mike developed his now legendary technical skills. His initial projects involved working on chassis dynamics, computer simulations and aerodynamic mapping on the revolutionary 019 chassis. Postlethwaite was so impressed with Mike that he took him along to Sauber in 1991, where they together worked on the team’s first F1 car for the 1993 season. However, within 6 months, Ferrari took away Postlethwaite. But the man who first hired Mike at McLaren came in to replace him. And Mike remained under contract with Sauber, working as aerodynamics engineer. Soon however, even Nichols left. Mike stayed on for Sauber’s first season where the C13 scored points right in its debut race at the South African Grand Prix. To Mike’s credit, his creation went on to finish 6th in the Constructors’ Championship with Karl Wendlinger and JJ Lehto.
In October 1993 Postlethwaite asked Gascoyne to return to Tyrrell. He obliged and joined as Chief Designer, and went on to create 022, 023, 024 and 025 from 1994 through 1997 with not much success. At the start of 1998, British American Racing bought Tyrrell and in June that year Gascoyne departed to become Chief Designer at Jordan under Technical Director Gary Anderson.
The Jordan 198, in the hands of Damon Hill and Ralf Schumacher, finished a commendable 4th in the Constructors’ Championship (notable was a 1-2 at Spa). At the end of the year, Anderson departed to join Stewart Grand Prix leaving Gascoyne in charge of Jordan Grand Prix. Mike wasted no time and worked diligently on chassis 199, which produced Jordan’s first pole position and also 2 wins by Heinz-Harald Frentzen. Jordan ended the 1999 season at an all time high – 3rd – behind Ferrari and McLaren.
Whether it was lack of resources, or Mike’s impending move to Benetton-Renault, the EJ10 and EJ10B were clearly disappointing. Jordan slipped back to 6th, one place behind Mike’s former team Tyrrell (now christened BAR).
After enjoying his gardening leave for a full season (2001), Mike joined Renault as Technical Director and began building a new engineering team. His impact on the team was apparent as the R202 finished 4th (23 points) in the 2002 Constructors’ Championship behind top teams – Ferrari, McLaren and Williams. The very next season, Mike’s R23 & R23B repeated the feat, but with a whopping 88 points (2 poles, 5 podiums) to its tally. The promise of Mike Gascoyne’s chassis come to the fore at Hungary, when Alonso not only qualified on pole, but also managed to lap eighth-placed Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari on his way to winning the grand prix.
By this time, Mike had become one of the most wanted engineering brains in Formula One racing. His ability to turn startups into grand prix winning teams was just what Toyota needed to fulfill its rather glorious F1 ambitions.
Mike joined the Cologne-based Japanese team at the end of 2004 – a bit too late to really influence the new car’s development. But his Toyota TF105 began the 2005 season with a bang – 2 front row starts, 3 podiums and 40 points in just 5 rounds.
Dr. Harvey Postlethwaite once said, “any idiot can design a Formula One car, the trick is to design a quick one.”
His words surely haven’t been wasted upon his disciple.