Walter Wolf, the new owner on the block who has had astonishing success so far in his first year of Formula One racing, was in the pits Saturday afternoon, shortly before the start of the final practice session for the Grand Prix of Monaco.
A man came up and handed him an envelope. "Four tickets for the prize-giving from the organizers - two for you, two for Jody."
"Is that all we can get?" asked Wolf.
It was as if he already envisioned what he was to see Sunday: Princess Grace placing the winner's laurel wreath around the neck of Jody Scheckter, who won the 35th race through the streets of Monaco for Walter Wolf Racing, a Bermuda-based company that really embodies one man who has assembled an instantly competitive them.
Scheckter, driving the new Wolf Ford, astounded the Formula One world by winning the year's first Grand Prix in Argentina. He was second in South Africa, third at Long Beach, Calif., and Madrid. Now first at Monte Carlo.
Scheckter already has 32 points toward the world championship. Niki Lauda and Carlos Reutemann, both driving for Ferrari, are second and third in the standings, with 25 and 23 points respectively, after their two-three finish here.
Wolf has already exceeded the goal he set for his first year and is in good position after six of the 17 races that count toward the word championship to win it. He calls that "the impossible dream" and says it requires "a very heavy foot, a brave heart, and lots of brains." Not to mention lots of money.
Who is Walter Wolf, and why is he doing these things to the established teams of Formula One, McLaren, Ferari Lotus, Tyrrell, etc.?
Wolf is a 37-year-old Austrian-born Canadian citizen who now lives in Switzerland, though he also has homes in Nice, London, Lygano and Montreal.
"I have been interested in cars my whole life, but by the time I could afford it, I was too old to drive myself," he said. "The next best thing is to own the car that wins."
Wolf emigrated to the United States, then Canada, at age 15. He had $7 to his name when he arrived in Montreal. "Now, he said with an expansive grin, "I am going back to the U.S. with a Can-Am car to beat all my friends south of the border."
Wolf has a reputation as a brilliant businessman and organizer, as nimble with numbers as he is with his hands, as agile in the board room as on the ski slopes. Shrewd, decisive, industrious, energetic.
"I was always willing to work," he said. "I worked at all jobs. I collected garbage to be able to buy a sandwich.
"In Canada, I worked 10 different jobs. For 10 cents an hour more, I changed. I worked construction. I was a laborer, a carpenter, an elevator operator, a mechanic, a pilot. I flew small aircraft. I fly my own plane now."
His Lear Jet was in for repairs, but his helicopter was here. He drives a Lamborghini but was unsuccessful in long negotiations to buy the factory.
"The deal was not good, the political climate in Italy is not right," he said a trifle wistfully. "If only this company was in the U.S. - a fantastic factory."
An accomplished driver, the story goes, Wolf invented a bell for underwater repair crews and adapted it for cleaning sewers. He formed a company, but it went belly-up.
He borrowed more money from a former employer to start again, and the man's generosity imbued young Wolf with an abiding faith in people and the capitalist system, the North American Dream.
He is bullish on America. "I am proud to be a Canadian citizen," he said pointing to the red and white maple leaf that is part of his team insignia. The Canadian flag is even more prominent on his Can Am car.
Wolf describes himself as an "oil broker," and has made most of his vast fortune in offshore rigs. He also has a team of divers employed in the lucrative business of serving offshore drilling equipment.
He is amiable and cooperative, though, says one Canadian journalist, "some things he does not talk about. I don't think he'll tell you who he deals with in Saudi Arabia."
Wolf is a handsome man in an austere sort of way. His hands, skillful with all sorts of tools, are not the flabby, do-nothing hands of the idle rich. His brown hair falls just fashionably over his collar. His powder blue suede flares and navy cashmere sweater, bearing a Walter Wolf Racing patch, reveal a trim, fit body.
As with everything else he does, Wolf went full-throttle into Formula One. He sought to hire the best designer. driver, mechanics, and crew, that money could buy, and give them the best equipment.
His is the only team now in Formula One without commercial sponsorship. He does not have a budget as such. Word is that he will not tolerate extravagance or inefficiency, but will spends as much as is necessary in the opinion of the experts he hired and trusts.
"The amount of money is unbelievable," he said. "It is crazy for an individual. This is a business for Ford, Ferrari, big corporated sponsors." He avoids specifics on what he has spent, but it is said to be millions.
"Owing anything that is well done is an enjoyment - a beautiful house, lovely painting, wonderful car," he said. "Because the great things are very few in life. It is a privilege."
Others have tried to buy the world championship and failed. Did he expect to win it when he entered Formula One racing.
"If you do too much expecting, you only achieve disappointment," he philisophized. "So can you set a goal?
My goal this year was to put together a new team and win 30 points.In Formula One, with the competition, that is a big achievement.
"To win the world championship the first year is the impossible dream. At the start we must have been 1000 to 1. Now," he allowed himself a little joke, "maybe less."
How had he done it?"
Maybe this sounds very conceited, arrogant, but perphaps the best get the best" he said. "In life the winners stay with winners, the losers with losers. We'll see. We haven't won it yet."
He insists it is not, as his critics suggest, merely a matter of money, of free spending.It is motivation, organization, a success ethic.
"Lots of people inherit lots of money and they are not a success. They are big losers," he said.
"Money is not the point. You must have a goal. I was happy even when I was poor. When you are in competition, the object, the satisfaction, is to win."