McLaren. Williams. Ferrari. Porsche. All of them, great racing teams. But none of them were like Life. Not at all. Because just as your parents told you, Life was nothing but a great disappointment.
Life, the racing team, began like all great failures – as a money-making scheme. At the end of the 1980s, turbocharged engines were banned in Formula One. When one technology is banned, it opens the door to a lot of crazy new ideas. One of those ideas was the W12 engine.
Now known for finding its way into many of the higher-end cars made by Volkswagen, like the Bentley Flying Spur and the Bugatti Veyron, the "W" cylinder configuration has some advantages over a traditional "V" configuration. Namely, that it's a lot shorter, which is useful for fitting into engine bays that aren't very long.
On the other hand, it's got a few drawbacks, like added weight and height, that can usually only be surmounted by massive amounts of money and R&D, like VAG has. Its designer, Franco Rocchi, had neither.
But the fact that the Rocchi W12 engine was ridiculously tall, ridiculously heavy, and also ridiculously underpowered for F1 didn't stop Italian businessman Ernesto Vita from snapping up the rights to the engine in 1989.
Vita's plan was basically:
1) Acquire plans for F1 engine
2) Sell random engine to incredibly well-funded teams
If you're not seeing the problem with this idea, it's somewhere around the point of "selling a heavy, complicated, tall, and slow engine to people with much more money than you do who are already developing their own engines, and are doing just fine, thankyouverymuch."
When nobody bit on Vita's bait, he just said "screw you guys, I'll start my own F1 team. Then we'll see who's got the ridiculously heavy, tall, complicated, and slow engine!"
(Spoiler alert: he did. Also, not an actual quote.)
Vita named the team "Life," after himself, because that's what "Vita" means in English, because of course he did. The Life team set up shop, and set to work.
Unnnnnnfortunately for Life, getting "set to work" didn't actually mean much, because there wasn't a lot of money to go around, and money is what makes the world run in F1. So instead of designing and building a whole F1 chassis from the ground up, they just went out and bought one.
Unnnnnnfortunately for Life, going out and "buying one" didn't mean much, either, because having no money also means you can't afford to buy an F1 car. So, in true Life fashion, the team just said "screw it," and bought a reject chassis from the already-rejected FIRST F1 team.
And if you haven't heard of the FIRST F1 team, there's good reason for that, because they never actually ran a race. They attempted to design a car, but when they actually tried to run it, they actually found it to be really poorly built and even a bit of a monstrosity.
From F1 Rejects:
When [chassis designer Richard] Divila had a look at the finished product, he was alarmed by the gearbox castings, some serious flaws on the suspension pick-up points, a chassis mould that had clearly been overcooked, and a steering column that was downright unsafe. In his own words, the car was good for nothing other than as an "interesting flowerpot". He told the FIRST team management that the car was a time-bomb, warned prospective drivers against stepping into it, and took legal action to stop his name from being mentioned in connection with the deathtrap.
So yeah, the Life team took one look at that thing and basically said yes, this is a good idea. Let's buy it, throw our silly W12 engine into that, that'll work really well.
And when I say that Life bought the chassis, I really mean Life bought The chassis. There was only one.
So to recap: an F1 team founded as a money-making scheme, a hilariously complicated engine that was just wrong in every way, and a chassis that was likely to kill someone. Already, this is going well.
When the W12 (not a true W12, it had three banks of four cylinders) was finally put into the newly-christened Life L190, popular estimates had it making around 375 horsepower. And sure, that sounds a bit low, but remember, in the early 1990s, F1 engines weren't producing that much power.
Oh, what's that? They were actually producing around 600-700 horsepower?
This thing was basically a mobile chicane. If it ever actually made it into a race, that is. Which it didn't.
Sir Jack Brabham's son, Gary, attempted to qualify in the first two races of the 1990 season. Neither time he managed to finish his qualifying lap. In the qualifying session for his second race, the car ran for about 400 yards before it came to a stop.
The mechanics hadn't put any oil in it.
Gary, fittingly, said "screw this," probably, and quit.
But that didn't stop Life, for Life Finds A Way. They brought in Italian driver Bruno Giacomelli, who must've been just happy to have a ride. But sadly for Giacomelli, he never managed to enter an actual race.
The most he ever got in was eight laps in a pre-qualifying session, before the engine exploded.
It's not like he would've gone very far, anyways. The Life L190 was about 40 MPH slower than anything else down the straightaways, and was usually about 20 seconds behind the pace of the rest of the pack.
(If you want to know how insane that is, the slowest driver in 2014, Max Chilton, on the slowest team, Marussia, was only 2.5 seconds behind polesitter Nico Rosberg at Bahrain. The Life was excruciatingly slow.)
And yet, not even the death of the W12 engine could kill Life. The team finally managed to scrounge together the capital to buy a Judd V8 before the race in Portugal, and surely that would've been better.
Except it wasn't, because this is the Life F1 team we're talking about. The Judd V8 didn't really fit quite properly in the car, but the engineers didn't care. They sent it out on track anyways from some pre-racing testing.
It didn't finish a single lap, because the engine cover flew off.
Mercifully, Life killed itself before the final two races and pulled out of championship contention.
Though it's not like it was ever a contender to begin with.
Photos credit: Getty Images