When i published the story of Ekström Grand Prix and the somewhat unbelievable owners Cecilia and George, I received a message from Paul Cherry. Paul worked a couple of months for the team as their Chief Mechanic before Cecilia sacked him. The testimony he told me is marvellous and fits perfectly in the somewhat weird story of an long forgotten attempt to appear on the grid in the mid 1980s.
When I started with my research, I found a couple of names of former employees, which I reached out too. It seemed none of them was willing to share their experiences with Cecilia and Paul, was it this shady, were they ashamed? I understood what was going on when Paul Cherry told me: Dark memories but all part of my education. When you read the rest of a chat with Paul Cherry, you will understand his comment.
Paul was surprised that someone was digging into the Ekström story. It is over 32 years when he walked through the door outside the last time at the “factory”, it was just a small garage. In those 32 years only a few leads and a couple small talks occurred that kept the team alive… alive in the forgotten corners of Formula One.
The hardest part of the investigation was the backgrounds of both Cecilia Ekström and George Paulin. There is not much to find nor in old magazines nor on the internet. Paul Cherry remembered himself that Cecilia and her husband lived in the small town of Flims just four kilometres from the “Factory”, while Cecilia worked for a Swiss Bank and an Italian ceramics company, both had a small presence in the Formula One at that time. George was as well a very strange individual and did some racing before probably under a pseudonym for family reasons. It makes it only more mysterious isn’t it?
Mentioning the F3000 team and their lack of success and the financial dispute, they had with Eric Lang back in 1985. Paul Cherry told me that the team was set up to run George in 1985 in the F3000. It was impossible because George lacked the international license to race. This led the couple to choose for a “funded” driver. His friend Mike Collier, he continued, briefly rand the team. It lasted no more than three months before Cecilia sacked him as team manager. He then went onto own and run GA Motorsports successfully if you look at the team’s results.
In today’s auto and motorsport, it is impossible to enter two races in a lower series as preparatory to move the team to Formula One. However, as Paul mentioned in those days the Formula One was much cheaper. Cecilia thought for just a little more she could enter the Formula One with their team, big time, so why stay in the F3000?
In the beginning of 1986 I signed a contract with the team. At that point, Tim Feast was designing the GP-8601. Not unsurprisingly, the car was similar to the RAM 03. Tim Feasts previous car. The design studio which we were stationed was just a small apparent in the town, nothing more! During the early stage of my contract, I recruited eight more people for the team. Together we started to fit out the workshop and offices for the team, as you can see in the interview.
At that time, Time Feast was in need of help for his design and Wiet Huidekoper was bring in from Reynard. For me it was clear that we would not be able to have the car ready for the start of the season, hence the reschedule to the start of the European season. While no real design was accomplished in this time. During this period it was known that Carl Haas was looking for a buyer for his Beatrice Haas LHT1 cars powered by the Hart Turbo engine. Carl Haas was focusing on his cars powered by the new Ford V6 Turbo engines.
Asking Paul Cherry more about the period of Ekström Grand Prix far from a real car, and Cars Haas willing to sell his cars, Paul came with an amazing story. I was actually the instigator of the purchase of the Haas LHT1 cars. Don’t forget, it is a long time ago, but back then to buy three rolling chassis, a lot of spares for the cars, and the IP with jigs and tools for £200.000 was amazing. Teddy Mayer was so pleased. The engine deal with Hart was easy to put together as I knew Brian (owner of Hart engines) well from my rallying days. However, as always in spite of promises and signed contract no money was forthcoming for the deal. At this time I knew that, Mauro Baldi’s sponsors had paid some money but that appears to of disappeared.
Without question, the deal with Carl Haas and Brian Hart would have been a very easy and credible way into the paddock. And believe me, for that amount of money it was such a gift as Haas wanted it all gone. They eventually started to use the Ford V6 engine. After this failure, I realized the project was going nowhere. Sadly, like the others we were holding on for our salary but by then the Swiss immigration were onto the company.
Paul Cherry continued the story about the controversy of their work permits that were no work permits at all. At the time that Dave Kelly arrived at the company I had departed, well was forcibly removed! At the early stage, Cecilia had taken all our passports to get us the work permits we needed. At the time, we received them back there was an official stamp and signature in it, all in German. She explained that this was the approval to work in that part of Switzerland, did we know it wasn’t at all!
Actually, it was an official notice that we could “NOT” work in Switzerland at all! I only found this out when at one night at 11pm two Swiss police officers arrived at my apartment and told me that I had to leave with my wife and all my belongings within 24 hours or I would be imprisoned. When I showed him my “Permit” all he could was laughing…. This happened as well with the other employees.
I have been in motorsport for 40 years and have seen it all, big budgets, small budgets and almost no budget… But Ekström was indeed my worst experience. George and Cecilia were without a doubt living a lie, but sadly, they believed it… Strange but true! Dark memories but all part of my education.