Life L190 ?ǣ the worst F1 car ever ?ǣ to run at Goodwood Festival of Speed

Goodwood Festival of Speed

The Life L190* ?ǣ in all probability the worst F1 car ever ?ǣ will be demonstrated by Derek Bell at this year?s Goodwood Festival of Speed.

The W12-engined car failed to progress beyond pre-qualifying in 14 attempts in 1990, and was typically around 20 seconds off the pace at most tracks.

It will take a place alongside some of the greatest Formula 1 cars ever, including the McLaren-Honda MP4/4, which won 15 out of 16 races in 1988.

The Life L190

Life?s Grand Prix effort in 1990 came about following the failed attempt of F3000 outfit FIRST to make the F1 grid in 1989.

Having failed to raise the money to compete FIRST sold its cars to Life Racing Engines, run by Italian Ernesto Vita. He was developing an engine created by Franco Rocchi, a former Ferrari engineer who had built a power unit around the unconventional W12 layout.

In fact, Rocchi?s engine was not a ??true? W-configuration, which has four banks of cylinders, as in the modern Bugatti Veyron. Life’s faux-W12 had three banks of four cylinders, two in V-formation and a third horizontal bank nestled in between.

In theory it would offer the power of a twelve-cylinder engine while using no more space than a conventional V8. But even in the days following the banning of turbo-chargers, when the field switched to normally-aspirated engines en masse, no team was interested in running Life?s radical power plants.

So the team bolted it into the old FIRST chassis ?ǣ not the work of a moment, the car had to undergo considerable modifications to shoehorn the W12 in – and showed up at the first round of 1990 in Phoenix, America.

40mph slower than anything

Reigning British F3000 champion Gary Brabham was picked as a driver, though he would not get to do much driving. The ignition box failed on car number 39 after three laps of pre-qualifying, barely enough time to get heat in the tyres. Not that the team had brought any tyre temperature gauges anyway, or, for that matter, spare ignition boxes, so their weekend was over.

At Brazil the car threw a connecting rod shortly after leaving the pits. Brabham failed to complete a lap, and wisely chose not to waste any more time with the team. Italian veteran Bruno Giacomelli took his place.

On the few occasions Giacomelli managed to coax a time out of the L190, it showed lamentable performance. At Silverstone it failed to pre-qualify by 19 seconds. The Formula Three cars which were also competing that weekend were only three seconds slower. That was the car’s strongest showing.

The long straights of the Hockenheimring brutally exposed the car’s power deficit. It was around 64kph (40mph) slower through the speed traps than any other car. Estimates placed the Life W12′s power output at around 375bhp, around half of that enjoyed by the McLaren-Hondas.

They later abandoned the W12 for a more conventional Judd V8. Efforts to remould the bodywork around this new engine were not entirely successful – the new engine cover flew off the car on its first lap of Estoril.

After the Spanish Grand Prix the team decided not to take on the Japanese and Australian rounds, and hasn’t been heard of since. The car eventually fell into the hands of a collector, which is how it has come to be demonstrated at Goodwood this year.

Pictures of the Life L190

A Goodwood spokesperson confirmed the car will run with its original W12 engine, which in 1990 proved incapable of powering the car for more than a few laps at the time. ??The car might actually be in rather better condition now than it was 19 years ago?? he added.

Ex-F1 driver and five times Le Mans winner Derek Bell jumped at the chance to drive the car because of its peculiar history.

There’s no denying the cult appeal of F1′s famously hopeless F1 teams, and Life’s effort was surely first among them all. I did ask Goodwood if they were considering a special category for F1′s worst cars, but unfortunately it seems this is a one-off.

I am genuinely looking forward to seeing this obscure and, yes, disastrously uncompetitive F1 car turn a wheel. Given its track record I will be sure to nab a spot as close to the start line as possible, certainly before it encounters any gradient.

Life’s F1 record

Here’s a summary of Life’s brief F1 record showing their best lap time in pre-qualifying and the gap to the fastest pre-qualifier:

Track Rank Time (gap) Notes
Phoenix 8/9 2’07.147 (+34.855) Gachot (Coloni) last with a 5’15.010
Interlagos 9/9 No time
Imola 7/8 7’16.312 (+5’49.737) Giacomelli took over; Tarquini (AGS) set no time
Monte-Carlo 9/9 1’41.187 (+14.053) 16s slower than back row of grid
Montreal 9/9 1’50.293 (+21.985) 25s slower than back row of grid
Mexico City 9/9 4’07.475 (+2’42.194)
Magny-Cours 9/9 No time
Silverstone 9/9 1’25.947 (+15.693) Best performance
Hockenheimring 9/9 2’10.786 (+25.273) 40mph slower than any car in speed traps
Hungaroring 9/9 1’41.131 (+19.913)
Spa-Francorchamps 7/7 2’19.445 (+21.504) Onyx cars withdrawn
Monza 7/7 1’55.224 (+28.297)
Estoril 7/7 No time Switched to Judd V8 engine
Jerez 7/7 1’42.699 (+20.229)

*I have seen conflicting accounts of the model designation, including L190, F190, W190 and 190. I’ve gone with L190, which seemed to appear the most often, but if you can offer a good reason for an alternative designation, please let me know.

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36 comments on Life L190 ?ǣ the worst F1 car ever ?ǣ to run at Goodwood Festival of Speed

  1. Oliver said on 29th June 2009, 20:53

    This is so funny.

  2. KingHamilton&co said on 29th June 2009, 20:58

    good article keith, i love all these rubbish cars from the late 80s/early 90s-when F1 was open to all who could through together some bits of metal and a steering wheel and when we ended up with hopeless teams like Life, Coloni, Andrea Moda etc-teams that are sadly long gone now, but will always remain as ‘the lighter side of F1′

    well, the mechanics etc must have hated being the big running joke, but they were good times. oh if the days of pre qualifying only returned! (if F1 had enough teams and the FIA would allow it ofcourse)

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 29th June 2009, 21:04

      Thanks! I would like to see a return to the days of big Grand Prix field but to be honest pre-qualifying was probably a bit cruel. These guys turned up on a Thursday and were on their way home by lunch time on Friday. Bit of a waste, really…

    • LewisC said on 30th June 2009, 1:20

      I remember when the qualifying requirement was reduced from 110% to 107% of the pole sitter’s time…

      Just checked the British GP times from this year, and Buemi (20th) was just 100.9% of Vettel’s pole… that’s how close racing is now!

      • CoolGav said on 30th June 2009, 10:03

        Don’t forget that Vettel’s pole was with fuel, where as Buemi was as light as possible.

        Comparing the fastest Q2 time gives a 102.7% time

  3. F1 Outsider said on 29th June 2009, 21:08

    Wow!!! 40mph slower… How dangerous that must’ve been when the rest of the pack were coming up to pass it every other lap. Luckily it never started a race, I suppose.

    I guess if you can’t succeed, you may as well fail so greatly that you’ll become known for being the worst ever and, hence, not forgotten.

  4. Babur said on 29th June 2009, 21:11

    or otherwise known as – 2009 Saubers BMW.

  5. ajokay said on 29th June 2009, 21:16

    Sometimes the sob stories are far more entertaining the the automotive acts of heroism. Life’s is particularly tragic.

    http://www.f1rejects.com is one of my favourite websites, and finding out about these train-wreck teams (and drivers) always makes for a good read, even if it is at their expense.

    I think this is one of the things that modern F1 lacks. Yes it’s a silly-money business now, where professionalism and peak technology is paramount, but there was nothing like the stories of these teams turning up on the grid, numbers on the rear wings the wrong side of 30, and falling by the wayside almost as quickly.

    I think that all the teams on the standby list should be let in next year, if only so we have some backmarker stories to tell the next generation of F1 fans, rather than re-hashing our own of Forti, Simtek, Pacific and Lola.

    I hope you get some good photos of this piece of kit. I wonder what the W12 engine sounds like?

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 29th June 2009, 21:22

      F1 Rejects is great stuff, I’m really glad it’s back up again after their earlier problems.

      I hope you get some good photos of this piece of kit.

      I’ll do my best :-)

      • ajokay said on 1st July 2009, 9:55

        I’m loving the new photos you’ve found and put up. So interesting to see these little-know cars in detail. Take the middle bank of that W12 away, and you’ve got a pretty low-profile V8, just like Renault were always striving to develop.

  6. Brawn said on 29th June 2009, 21:32

    make sure to take your girlfriends camera again then Keith :D

  7. Wesley said on 29th June 2009, 23:29

    Thanks for the link ajokay…..fun stuff.

    The layout of that “w”12 engine,with “a bank of cylinders wedged between the other two banks” in the L190 seems like it would have a high center of gravity than a standard W12,I would think that affected it’s weight distribution greatly.

  8. F1Fan said on 30th June 2009, 0:27

    Keith,

    can we find out how many engines each of the top 5 drivers has used so far this season ?

    I am hearing Vettel has one or perhaps even two fewer engines left in comparison to Button. Do you have any such data ?

  9. Leaf said on 30th June 2009, 1:01

    aaah hahahahahahahahaha….
    Sooo funny. I remember the Life car.
    Just for the funny record you can’t leave out the ’72 March 721X. It was intended to set new standards but passed into history as a flop. It’s low polar moment design concentrated mass within the wheelbase. For sure though, Life has the record for trying the most times to qualify that piece of junk!

  10. SoLiD said on 30th June 2009, 1:23

    to be a little positive, it’s only 64km slower with half the HP, that sounds ok… but hell what a bad car :)

  11. David said on 30th June 2009, 9:05

    http://www.f1rejects.com/teams/eifelland/large/72-preseason-rs-2.jpg

    What about this kind of…I don’t know what?!?!?
    If this were as slow as ugly I think they are really in the worse ever seen.

  12. Victor said on 30th June 2009, 12:37

    I REALLY hope that someone manages to film this thing so that we can all listen to how it sounds like. Someone on Autosport’s Nostalgia Forum said it sounded like “a bag of spanners in a tumbledryer”.

  13. Last team in this spirit was Forti Corse – as recently as 1996. Those were the days..Diniz, Moreno et al!

  14. IqbalM said on 30th June 2009, 15:44

    Hi Keith

    Could you explain what the rank coloum means on that table?

    • That’s the position they achieved in pre-qualifying, out of the number of cars that took part. As you see, most of the time they came last, and on the occasions they didn’t it was because some misfortune had befallen another car.

  15. Dominic said on 1st July 2009, 12:15

    Reminds me of another infamous car to which im a ‘fan’ of…

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