DAMS attempt to enter the Formula One

Unraced 1990 - 1999

Its 1994 when DAMS announced their plans for their own Formula One Project. In Collaboration with Reynard DAMS would start working on their car. The plan was to debut in the Formula One in 1996 with their own team. From the beginning on the French team struggled with the financial picture, as well the renewed regulations due to the deadly accident of Ratzenberger and Senna at Imola in 1994 didn’t help. Nevertheless the GD-01 saw the light in the summer of 1995 and was tested by Lammers, Comas and Collard. Only to abandon their plan in November 1995.  

DAMS was established in 1988 by  Jean-Paul Driot and former F1 driver René Arnoux. In 1989 the team entered the Formula 3000 series and was from the beginning quick. Until their plans to enter the Formula One the team won four times the Formula 3000 title with drivers like Érik Comas, Éric Bernard, Allan McNish, Éric Hélay, Olibier Panis and France Jean-Christophe Boullion. While the team continued racing in the F3000 in 1995, they were already on going with their plans to enter the Formula One.

As pointed out, the team started a collaboration with Reynard to enter the Formula One. Reynard has a successful history in lower Formulae series. They also helped developing the Benetton B192 and Ligier JS37. They eventually had their own plans to enter the Formula One in 1992 / 1993. However, the team never appeared on the grid. Their design however appeared in 1994 on the grid as the Benetton B194 and the Pacific PR01.  

During the 1995 season the team and chassis started to get it’s form. The only problem was the financial situation for the team. Like Lola had experienced, the deadly accident in 1994 made the FIA made instant chances in the regulations. Therefore, the start of the design was based on the original 1994 regulations and had to be reshuffled. Anyway, the DAMS GD-01 was ready in October 1995. The car was designed by Rob Arnott and Claude Galopin. Interesting is the fact that Gérard Larrousse was looking to find a way to keep his team on the grid for 1995. Due to the switch in regulations the team had not enough money to build their LH95, and upgrading the LH94 would not work either.

Knowing DAMS was struggling as well, though having a new design ready, he tried his luck to negotiate with Driot. Because why not using the chassis that’s ready? There were some talks in January 1995 between the two team owners. Though, it became clear that Driot would only agree on the plan if DAMS had more involvement in the development of the car. Eventually in January as well Larrousse disappeared from the grid.

Already in February 1995 Driot canned the plans to enter the Formula One in 1995. Due to the financial package the team was in. He found it hard, as there were several French teams already on the grid, to find proper sponsors. He had good hopes to appear on the grid in 1996 and used the time until then to professionalise the team and focus on the drivers. In the meantime the team kept on competitive in the Formula 3000.

Around May the team was in in talks with Mugen-Honda to supply them with their engines. In 1993 the Mugen-Honda engine was tested, together with the Bridgestone tyres, by Heinz-Harald Frentzen in a Tyrrell 020 at Suzuka. Found their way in 1995 in the back of the Ligier, while it would have been Minardi. The engine was super and for DAMS it would be a serious move for their Formula One plans. However, the deal did not happen and in July 1995 there was a deal signed with Ford to use their ED3 engine. A basic engine which was easily to adapt. The team was looking at a couple of drivers to be signed. Olivier Panis and Érik Comas were named as drivers. While Tarso Marques, as that point a hotshoe in the F3000, as their test driver.

It is Friday the 6th of October 1995 when the DAMS GD-01 appeared on the Bugatti (Le Mans) track. Only one chassis ready. Though, it was ready to be tested and to be improved. In the early morning the first shakedown was completed by Érik Comas. Later that day he would test again with the DAMS GD-01.  The next session would happen the 1st of November  1995 also at Le Mans. DAMS challenger was a bulky looking car, seemed out of date with its low front wing. The car had a blue white yellow striped livery. Interesting is that the ELF logo was prominent on the car, while no deal was struck with them.

No one else than veteran Jan Lammers was attracted to complete the test with the DAMS. Thanks due the financial backing Lammers brought with him as well his knowledge as all-round driver could help the team to give a steady base to improve their challenger. Jan Lammers his last season in the Formula One was in 1992, after an absence of 10 years, with the ill-fated March F1 Team.  For 1993 he would race also for March, traveling towards South Africa, probably knowing better, the cars were not fitted with tyres or engine. Lammers even paid with his own money some of the bills so he could race. Sadly, it didn’t help and the team would disappear after the South African Grand Prix.

However, it seems another Formula One adventure lured in 1995 for Lammers. In 1995 Lammers was still competitive in other race series and would be a good fit for the new team as experienced driver. Probably the type of driver you want to give your team a stable base. It’s the 1st of November when Jan Lammers takes place behind the wheel of the DAMS GD-01. He did around 14 laps with the car before he returned to the pits. It seems there was another test session a week later for DAMS with Lammers behind the wheel.

While there were plans for more testing with the car it was clear that the bulky looking DAMS GD-01, also called by some a truck, was  underperforming and wouldn’t even stand a chance against teams like Forti. What would the team do know? That news can only weeks after the last test session with the DAMS. When Driot told the media the 11th of December that his team would continue in the F3000 in 1996 and would can, once more, their Formula One plans.

Obviously, they were looking to enter the Formula One in 1997, the GD-01 would be used to test other systems for their GD-02 car. Though, DAMS never returned to their Formula One Project and kept on continuing in the lower Formulae series. Where they would shown they were competitive and easy to adapt the series to win races and championship’s as well.

There is only one question left, what if DAMS did find the needed financial backing and made it on the grid in 1996 or 1997? If the team would have debuted in 1996 with the DAMS GD-01 I don’t believe the team would able to qualify the car. It was just too bulky, and if I have to believe some comments the car was underperforming badly. This bad it wouldn’t make sense to invest in the car.

However, if the team would appear on the grid in 1997 with a new DAMS like the GD-02, with or without Reynard, I think the team could be somewhat competitive. The base for the team was good, while the team was still young, it had a good infrastructure so why not? It would be a hard nut to crack though. Look at the Lola team that eventually appeared on the grid in 1997. After an qualify attempt for the Australian Grand Prix, they appeared at Brazil only to keep the garage doors closed.

Maybe if they would secured the deal with Mugen-Honda and with some competitive drivers such as Olivier Panis it would be a good deal. How about Lammers? I think, for Lammers, it would be too late for him to adapt the Formula One once again. While he shown he still had it it would be too late for him.

In the end only one chassis of the GD-01 was build by Reynard as they also saw that this was not the car to become the world champion with. As of today the DAMS F1 car is still parked at the teams headquarters. If you ask me it would be amazing to see the car, eventually, on the track. Together with the surviving Dome F105 and some other Unraced F1 cars from the 1990s.