Posted by Carrot on December 9, 2010 | No Comments
It’s now been just over three weeks since one of the closest Formula 1 season that I can remember. Everyone gotten used to the fact that Sebastian Vettel is now the World Champion? Following Euan’s excellent season review, it’s time for mine. I’ve broken mine into three distinct categories, the new entrants, the mid-field and the front runners. Today we start with the three new teams to the sport with the other two instalments of my review appearing later this week. So without further ado…
12. Virgin Racing – 0 pts
Although all the new teams ended the season pointless (on basis of score rather than usefulness) it is the Sheffield concern Virgin Racing, a re-branded Manor Racing that finished last in the standings. Crippled by wishful thinking from the start by their adherence to the mythical budget cap proposed by Max Mosley as a political ploy, the team were unable to mount an effective challenge to fellow newcomers Lotus Racing. Given the extra time they had to prepare for the season over Lotus, as the Malaysian team were only granted entry after BMW sparked the manufacturer exodus from the sport, the Virgin team should have been leagues ahead in development. From the first race it was obvious that they weren’t. It ended up being the exception, rather than the rule, that they were leading the new teams.
The team’s management didn’t seem to realise how F1 is a global sport and that growing the team meant more than doing their jobs and courting new sponsors. The lack of media appearances and interviews from higher-ups in the team was tragically incompetent. I think I saw Tony Fernandes and Mike Gascoyne giving more interviews in a single race weekend than I saw from the Virgin Racing team staff, excluding the drivers of course. Fans and future sponsors need to know that the team has a media presence and Virgin just doesn’t, as a sponsor your logo will be seen more by audiences if team personnel are engaging to the media, Felipe Massa’s engineer Rob Smedley is also from Yorkshire and he manages to give interviews to the press so Virgin’s management has no excuse.
Team morale also seemed low throughout the year. The performance didn’t help, but having your lead driver openly saying to the media that he didn’t want to stay and that he was looking for a new drive is going to kill the spirit of any team. Timo Glock was simply unprofessional in this regard. He might have a point if he was in Schumacher’s cockpit, and the seven time champion was still more supportive of Mercedes GP this season, but Glock knew precisely what he was getting into and shouldn’t have conducted himself in the way he did. Lucas di Grassi, while an engaging young talent, was just out of his depth in the car, spinning on the way to grid pretty much ended his hope of getting anything other than a test drive next year. In a new team you need a driver that knows how difficult it will be, something Lotus had over them by using Jarno Trulli’s experience at Toyota. Given the process that happened over the summer it was yet another error from the team management not to trip over themselves getting Jacques Villeneuve into the team. Villeneuve has experience as a champion, experience building up a new team from his time at BAR and was desperate for a drive in the top flight again. Coupled with the fact he would have opened up all of North America as potential sponsors, he’d have brought enough money to the team to not only off-set his salary but also to give the basis of a competitive budget for 2011.
Things aren’t looking good for the future of the team, they’ve gone into partnership with a small sports car company, Marussia. That’s a very bad idea, the last small sports car company to try its hand at F1 was Spyker. At least Vijay Mallya, someone who actually wanted to be in F1, got a cheap entry out of that attempt.
11. Hispania Racing Team – 0 pts
Everyone loves an underdog, we loved Minardi, we loved Super Aguri, for all their lack of pace the teams showed spirit and determination. With Virgin being downright disappointing and Lotus being superb, this underdog mantle has fallen to Hispania. A change of owner before the car had even been completed meant the Campos Meta entry morphed into the team we now know. Unable to build their own car it was outsourced to Dallara, although successful in other racing series, Dallara’s record in F1 is unimpressed and the team soon severed relations. Money was another big issue for the team all season, having to take pay driver Sakon Yamamoto in place of Bruno Senna for a race and then Karun Chandhok’s car for the rest of his season meant money was being spent hand-to-mouth at the new team whilst angering current and potential sponsors that Senna and Chandhok had brought on board. Despite all of this, and remember teams have folded having had only a single one of the many problems that Hispania have endured, the team still didn’t come last.
The determination of everyone at the team paid off at the end of the season with the finishing results meaning they end up higher in the rankings than Virgin and gain more money for next year’s budget. Things don’t look completely rosy for the team though, even with the Williams’ transmissions and new sponsors on-board, the team need to produce a competitive chassis, something that looks unlikely since it was revealed they’d been pursuing the rights to use the aborted 2010 Toyota chassis. With the Toyota deal abandoned it will be hard going in 2011, the return of the 107% rule meaning that the cars won’t be starting the race if they’re not up to scratch. No sponsor’s going to pay money to only see the cars for practice sessions and the first twenty minutes of qualifying. They’ve been fun this year, but they’ll need a miracle to complete next season.
10. Lotus Racing – 0 pts
Of all the new teams, Lotus got it right. A car that was superior to the other two teams, race-winning drivers that knew what they were getting into and worked for the benefit of the team, and a plan for the future. It was rare this season that the Virgin cars would out-qualify them, rarer still that the race pace would be such that they ended the race behind them. The team have been presence in F1, while there’d be speculation on whether HRT was going to be there in a few races and plain silence from Virgin, Lotus were always communicating with the fans, sometimes when the races were taking place from the pitwall. Yes, Gascoyne is an old hand at F1 and Fernandes knows all about the media image of his companies, but the results they’ve achieved coupled with openness with the fans is outstanding for a team in its first year.
The uncertainty about money with Virgin and HRT has never hung over Lotus, like Force India they have a multi-millionaire patron in the form of Tony Fernandes, and this has enabled them to look beyond the next race and into future seasons when it comes to their planning. With the Renault engine for next year as well as the gearbox from Red Bull the team looks like a contender for points next year, certainly with more regularity than Toro Rosso was this year.
The only future problem that’s going to have an immediate effect on Lotus is Lotus. Group Lotus that is, who have just announced a partnership with the now privately owned former Renault team for 2011. The ongoing legal battle over the rights to the Team Lotus intellectual property could cause Fernandes’ team problems if it doesn’t go their way. The case will go to the UK High Court, but not until the season is under way. Given that car companies normally spend years researching and testing the possibility of bringing their brand to F1 it seems sudden for Group Lotus to dive into this partnership, so might suspect it’s out of spite that they’re doing it, but big car companies don’t do that, do they? They do, and it’s where we got the Ford FT40 from. Given Fernandes’ standing in Malaysia, the high-ups at Group Lotus could have personal problems with him and this entry with Renault could be their response.
In all honesty, Fernandes would be better retiring all interest in calling his team any version of Lotus and bringing an entirely new team brand into the sport on the back of his success this year. A few choice press releases will paint the team as the underdog to the ‘big bad’ corporation and have fans supporting they unquestionably. Of course if he does this and then wins the court case, he’ll be able to issue press releases and cease-and-desist notices every time Lotus Renault try and invoke the heritage of Team Lotus. The irony would be fitting.