Rightly Forgotten History: Life Racing Engines

This time last week I shared a tale of the worst team in Formula 1 history in the form of Andrea Moda, but it is a miracle that the worst team did not somehow make the worst car. This is the story of the team that did have the worst car, Life Team.

When Andrea Moda competed, it had occasions where it broke out of the ‘pre-qualifying’ part of the race weekend, even with one appearance of an actual race participation in Monaco despite the car failing to finish before the first quarter even finished. The Life Team did not even come close, in fact they didn’t qualify for any races during its one and only season in 1990, why? Because their engine was so horrifically under-powered it didn’t ever pass pre-qualifying, not once.

So why was the engine to blame? Allow me to explain. In Formula 1 the engines in this time period would be varied from V8’s, V10’s and V12’s. Here and there you’d find a Flat-12 and other various layouts, however Life Racing Engines decided to make a W12 engine, in short this had the theoretical power produced from a V12 engine all while being the size of a V8, this engine was also turbocharged with a planned introduction for 1989 which funnily enough came just in time for the FIA’s ban on turbocharged engines which required a bit of a redesign.

Despite the minor set-back the team had produced a working W12 was ready for its customers… Or so they thought, despite Williams lacking pace with their engine in 1988, Lotus losing their engine supplier as well as a few other teams, none of the teams even showed interest in this experimental engine. Put into context it’s not exactly hard to see why, however the money spent on the W12 was already substantial enough to make anyone with a sense of spending wince at the thought, so Life Racing Engines had two options, look elsewhere to put forward their venture in engine production or spend more money and make their own privateer team, the latter of course being the chosen option.

Ernesto Vita, the company founder, named his new team “Life Team” and set out its plan to begin its life in Formula One, no pun intended. Vita purchased the chassis from an abandoned project from a previous Formula 1 venture, however he did just purchase 1 chassis, meaning the team would only ever run just one car, with one engine and very limited parts, how limited? In one race the engine cover flew off 100 yards away from the pits which ended up breaking, since they didn’t have a spare they had to retire from the weekend event.

So why am I still blaming the engine? Simple. The W12 produced 480bhp whereas the McLaren-Honda produced around 700bhp. The 220bhp deficit as well as the fact it was also one of the heaviest cars on the field lead to the pace being anything between 20 seconds and (I’m not even joking on this one) 6 minutes slower than the fastest car. In 1990 Ayrton Senna set a pole lap at Imola with a time 1:23.220, Life Team’s driver Bruno Giacomelli completed a time of 7:16.212, yes there’s a high chance there was a technical difficulty but the driver still completed the lap, clocking the record for the biggest official time difference in Formula One history.

Unlike Andrea Moda, this team actually had a good ambition. The W12 engine is a great design and it clearly works as Bentley uses the W12 in the Continental GT’s of today, but ultimately this particular W12 was terrible. With a car that was actually slower than the Formula 3000 cars of the time, little to no sponsorship and ultimately being an Italian team in all red which actually made it look like a Ferrari, this car is part of Formula One’s rightly forgotten history.