Archive: HRT F1 Team

In just one week’s time, the Formula 1 bandwagon will be making its way towards Australia for the first grand prix of the 2012 season. Two teams will be feeling particularly unprepared.

With the test sessions finished, Marussia and HRT will head to Melbourne having done no proper running. The two teams failed to pass all of the required crash tests.

Both teams are about to embark on their third season, and you would have thought that the fundamental task of passing a crash test would be within their capabilities by now. But perhaps the fact that these two teams have struggled really only underlines just how difficult it is to start a new F1 team and become competitive.

Genuinely new teams — excluding those that just took over an existing team — are as rare as hens’ teeth. Three new teams joined in 2010. Before that, the last new team was Super Aguri — a vanity project of Honda. Even then, Super Aguri used an old Arrows chassis as the basis of its car.

Toyota was the previous most recent new team. Starting in 2002 and after enduring years of midfield mediocrity — despite apparently having one of the largest budgets in F1 — they slunk off after 2009.

Stewart Grand Prix started its first race in 1997.

Lola tried that year as well, but their car was rushed out and was so disastrously off the pace that they failed to qualify for the first race and went bust straight afterwards.

Then we come to the glut of tail-end charlies that came along in the mid-1990s: Forti, Pacific, Simtek, Larrousse, Andrea Moda. Each of these teams lasted a maximum of two years.

Of the teams that have formed in the past 20 years, only one stands out as having achieved a modicum of success: Stewart Grand Prix.

Stewart’s success

Johnny Herbert 1999 Canada

Starting in 1997, Stewart had an astonishingly successful season for a new team. Poor reliability masked the fact that the car had decent midfield pace, able to challenge for points. A 2nd place finish in Monaco — only the team’s fifth race — was the reward.

1998 was more difficult. Nevertheless, Stewart finished one place higher in the Constructors’ Championship, clinching 8th place.

But the real achievements came in 1999. The Stewart car was genuinely competitive. It finished on the podium four times. It took a pole position. But most of all, it took victory in the European Grand Prix.

Luck played a part there — the 1999 European Grand Prix was a manic race. But regular points finishes ensured that the team secured 4th place in the Constructors’ Championship. For a new team to achieve this level of success so quickly is more or less unheard of.

After 1999, the team was sold to Ford, who badged the team as Jaguar Racing. Those were consolidation years, as management problems helped ensure the team couldn’t rise above the midfield again.

Then Red Bull bought it and turned the team into the incredible success it is today. Since its earliest beginnings in 1997, the team now has four championships to its name.

Apart from Red Bull, the newest team to have won a championship is Benetton / Renault, which began life as Toleman in 1981.

Putting the new teams’ struggles in perspective

In the grand scheme of things, the troubles facing Marussia and HRT are not too surprising. If you compare them to the likes of Lola, Forti, Pacific and Simtek, just surviving the first two seasons is a major achievement.

But the success of Red Bull, which in just 15 years has become the best constructor in Formula 1, is a reminder of what could be achieved. That Red Bull would have achieved this without the solid foundations built by Stewart Grand Prix is doubtful.

This is part 1 of 2 in the series 2011 Formula 1 constructor rankings

See also my driver rankings.

11. Virgin Racing

Conventional wisdom suggests that HRT have the slowest car, and perhaps they do. But HRT have always had their back against the wall, and perform regardless. Virgin Racing have, for the second year in succession, finished in last place in the Constructors’ Championship. Often they are slower than the HRTs.

The much-fanfared CFD-only design is now consigned to the dustbin. This is at least a sign that this team is willing to change in order to make progress.

10. HRT F1 Team

Almost didn’t make it to the start of the season. As with 2010, it has been a hairy year for HRT, but under the leadership of Colin Kolles they somehow managed to get through with their dignity somewhat still in tact.

Their driver choices leave a lot to be desired, particularly with the unexpected comeback of Narain Karthikeyan. HRT certainly is a team with the capacity to surprise. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Given how much the odds are always stacked against them, you have to admire HRT for getting through the season, and not being comprehensively the worst team on the grid.

9. Williams

This year was nothing short of a disaster for one of the proudest and most successful teams in F1. From a distance, it looks like a team in turmoil, and it’s difficult to imagine that they’ll ever be running at the front again.

In 1997, when Williams last won a Championship, they were equal with Ferrari as the most successful constructor of all time. This year, they have suffered their worst season in history, scoring a mere five points.

The downfall has been going on for a long time. But even in the context of this decline, 2011 was a shockingly poor year. Even last year Williams scored 69 points. What a disaster.

8. Team Lotus

Team Lotus continue to make steady progress, taking the plaudits for being the best of the ‘new teams’. They may not quite have made the strides they were hoping for. The first points finish still looks a long way away. And the team’s reliability record remains relatively poor.

But Team Lotus can take heart from the fact that they have been able to, on occasion, beat the established teams on merit. 2012 will be an important year for them. They need to progress through the field, but they certainly seem like the most likely of the ‘new teams’ to become genuine contenders.

7. Renault GP

A serious case of what might have been for Renault GP. The season began badly with Robert Kubica’s injury. Given that the car was said to have been designed around Kubica, this was a major enough disaster.

But the car, with its radical exhaust system, started of the season remarkably well. It looked like it was comfortably capable of regularly finishing in a podium position, with both drivers finishing third within the first two races.

Then it all started to go wrong. The radical car proved difficult to develop, and the car tumbled through the order until it was virtually the worst of the established teams. The controversial exhaust system also appeared to be a bit of a safety hazard, with the car catching fire twice during the season.

Their cause wasn’t helped by the unnecessary and heavy-handed dumping of the solid and consistent Nick Heidfeld. They ended the season with Dave Ryan monitoring the team to pinpoint where it’s all going wrong for them. I hope, for their sake, the report is useful.

6. Scuderia Toro Rosso

Toro Rosso is one team that punches above its weight. It exists as an appendage of the Red Bull empire, so it can’t approach F1 in the same way that other teams do. They don’t go out to win (although if it happens almost by accident, as it did at Monza in 2008, then they won’t complain). Rather, they are a means for Red Bull to assess its young drivers.

But they have to design and build their own cars. They are unable to rely totally on Red Bull’s expertise in this area. In this sense, Toro Rosso have done an excellent job. At times it seemed as though they had the fastest car, setting chart-topping speeds through the speed trap on occasion.

Red Bull’s driver development programme may be harsh, as we can see with the disposal of Sébastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari, not to mention the countless other former Red Bull drivers that have been dumped in years gone past. But if you can prove that you have what it takes, as Sebastian Vettel did, then there are many worse teams you could be a rookie at.

This is part 1 of 4 in the series 2011 Formula 1 driver rankings

28. Karun Chandhok

A very likeable personality and a brilliant commentator, but on the few occasions he has been in the car has demonstrated why he struggles to get a full-time drive. Chandhok started the season inauspiciously by crashing straight away in practice for the Australian Grand Prix. A full race weekend in Germany was only a little less embarrassing.

27. Jarno Trulli

Trulli has done little to demonstrate that he deserves to be in F1 in 2012. Trulli may be 27th in my driver rankings, but he does go straight to the top for most pathetic excuse, as he constantly blamed his poor performances on a power steering issue that appears from the outside to be imagined.

26. Vitantonio Liuzzi

This season has been one chance too many for Liuzzi. What might have been a promising career has ended in virtual disgrace. His season has been typified by clumsy errors and a general lack of pace. His rookie team mate Daniel Ricciardo often had the upper hand.

25. Jérôme d’Ambrosio

I found d’Ambrosio to be disturbingly anonymous throughout this season. It is mighty difficult to tell when a driver is in such a poor car as the Virgin Racing car. On the one hand, d’Ambrosio has not made any bad mistakes, which must be a good sign. But I would have liked to see him achieve a bit more.

24. Narain Karthikeyan

Karthikeyan almost certainly should not have been racing in F1 this year on merit. His first clutch of races were nothing to write home about and he was replaced by Daniel Ricciardo. But he gains 24th in my rankings on account of his solid one-off appearance at the Indian Grand Prix.

23. Pastor Maldonado

It has not been a happy season for Maldonado, who has had to answer accusations that he is only in F1 because of Venezuelan oil money that is handy for the Williams coffers. The 2010 GP2 Series Champion has largely been unable to answer.

There were one or two stand-out performances — particularly at Monaco (a circuit he has excelled at in lower formulae), where he was in line to finish 6th before being punted out by Lewis Hamilton. But this has been marred by a deliberate crash during qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix, and some lacklustre driving at Abu Dhabi.

22. Timo Glock

I feel really sorry for Timo Glock. He deserves so much better than this. But in a car as poor as the Virgin, it is difficult to place him any higher. He did not outperform Jérôme d’Ambrosio often enough to justify a higher position.

21. Rubens Barrichello

I feel bad for placing Rubens Barrichello this far down the list, but he has not had a good season. Two 9th place finishes in a row were impressive, but most of the season was typified by uncharacteristic errors. Sadly, I think Barrichello’s career has run its course.

20. Daniel Ricciardo

Has the Red Bull driver development programme found its next Sebastian Vettel? It’s tough to impress in an HRT, but Ricciardo has done just that. His qualifying performances need a bit of work, but his race results have been nothing short of spectacular in comparison with his much more experienced team mate, Vitantonio Liuzzi.

But Ricciardio will have to ensure that he keeps up the good work, or Liuzzi — a former Red Bull protege — is what he might become. Jean-Éric Vergne breathes down his neck in the Red Bull sausage factory.

It does not seem to have been a good year for the Formula One Teams’ Association.

One of Fota’s mantras has been about improving the show. The biggest Fota initiative to this effect has been the drag reduction system, originally suggested to the FIA by Fota. I feel quite strongly, along with most other F1 fans I speak to, that the DRS has ruined the racing.

Moreover, it has been clear for some time that there have been significant tensions surrounding Fota’s other major initiative, the resource restriction agreement. There have been constant innuendos that this team and that have been breaking the agreement, which have never conclusively been put to bed one way or the other.

Important meetings have been called, with team bosses even missing one of the practice sessions for the Brazilian Grand Prix to try to hammer out an agreement. But the silence after these meetings was deafening.

It seems as though today the rift has finally caused Fota to split, with Red Bull Racing and Ferrari having resigned from the organisation. They join fellow Fota outsider HRT, which was thrown out for not paying membership fees.

Decreasing relevance?

It has seemed as though 2011 has been a significantly less successful year for Fota. In 2010 it was almost impossible to deny the organisation’s influence. It was even at the point where it was virtually dictating the Formula 1 rules to the FIA, when DRS was introduced. But this year has been very quiet in comparison.

Perhaps this is in part because the FIA is a much less controversial organisation these days. Its provocative former President, Max Mosley, effectively necessitated the existence of Fota. In Mr Mosley, the teams had a common enemy. Fota gave them a collective voice, enabling them to express their point of view against him.

But the current FIA President, Jean Todt, has been disarmingly low key, against everyone’s expectations. He seems to have little to no influence on the day-to-day running of Formula 1, in direct contrast to Max Mosley’s meddling mentality. Fota’s enemy has gone, and it’s almost as if the organisation no longer needs to exist.

So is the apparent departure of two of Formula 1’s biggest teams the beginning of the end for Fota?