This post is the first of two in which I will assess the constructors. Or is that teams? Toro Rosso and Super Aguri barely deserve to be called constructors. Nevertheless, this post will rank the teams on all aspects of their performance — on the track, in the pitlane and beyond. So don’t expect this list to mirror the Constructors’ Championship!
11 — Spyker–Ferrari
This is becoming a familiar story. Once again Spyker struggled all season to lift itself from the back of the grid. And once again it changed owners. Spyker Cars ran into major financial difficulties this year meaning that it been sold yet again. The team that was once called Midland and was once called Jordan is now called Team Force India. This makes it four name changes in as many years.
They seem to be in competition with Super Aguri to see who can have the most ridiculous sounding name. Super Augri and Team Force India both sound like bad super hero characters from a Japanese comic.
Anyway, back to this year’s performance. There is not much you can say really. They came up with an under-performing car, and hired largely under-performing drivers. Some people rate Adrian Sutil, but Christijan Albers, Sakon Yamamoto and Markus Winkelhock were never going to set the world alight.
The team worked hard to bring out a new chassis for mid-season. Embarrassingly, however, it failed its crash test so had to be delayed still further. Even so, when the car was eventually brought to the race track, it wasn’t much more competitive.
There were a few flashes of promise for the car. A particular stand-out was the Belgian Grand Prix, where Adrian Sutil spent a considerable amount of time in 12th position before eventually finishing 14th. However, even here the only other cars running behind Sutil at the end of the race were Super Aguris, and Sakon Yamamoto still managed to finish last of the classified runners.
At least at the following race, the rain-soaked Japanese Grand Prix, Adrian Sutil managed to score a point. Even this was a bit of a fluke though, as it was awarded in the stewards room after it was judged that Vitantonio Liuzzi passed him under yellow flags. In the following two races, Spyker were back to their usual positions on the back row.
Still, a point is a point and this was enough to save Spyker’s blushes. They didn’t finish at the bottom of the table. Even this is a pyrrhic victory though. The only team that finished behind them was McLaren, who built arguably the best car this year and had their points taken away by an over-zealous FIA.
They have taken Minardi’s place as Formula 1’s perennial under-achievers. But thanks to their status as a temporary home for naive businessmen, they completely lack the romance that made Minardi a fans’ favourite.
10 — Honda
Oh dear. What an embarrassingly bad season Honda have had. Even Nick Fry sounded pretty pessimistic at times. I thought I’d sooner see the apocalypse.
It started off with a cheesy PR stunt to paint the Earth on the car in a supposed bid to highlight environmental concerns. While this is a laudable enough idea, it came off badly. Those in the know observed that Honda probably only did this because they couldn’t find any sponsors. Meanwhile, the reaction from non-F1 fans that I saw invariably pointed out the hypocrisy of a energy-greedy F1 team trying to boast about its environmental credentials.
Then there was the car itself, which was about as disastrous as it could get. Early in the season the drivers reported that the car had a tendency to behave unpredictably under breaking, which is hardly going to give the driver the confidence to push to the limit.
While this problem was seemingly ironed out, the car had a more fundamental issue: a lack of speed caused by fundamentally flawed aerodynamics. Undoubtedly part of the reason for this must be the inexperience of the car’s designer, Shuhei Nakamoto. Nakamoto’s experience is in motorcycles, and apparently he had never designed a car in his life. It also seems that there is a serious flaw with Honda’s wind tunnel.
The result was an embarrassingly awful car. Good reliability, but precious little speed. Honda’s RA107 chassis was regularly outpaced by the Super Aguri SA07, which was essentially last year’s Honda car. It really is something to think that Honda would have been better off with last year’s car. Every time the drivers were interviewed they sounded utterly demoralised. And who could blame them?
Thanks to some heroic performances from Jenson Button, Honda managed to score 6 points, and it could have been more at Japan. Given how bad it all looked at the start of the season, that is pretty good going. But it is a far cry from the 86 points scored in 2006 or the 119 points they scored when they finished second in the Constructors’ Championship just three years ago.
At least Honda are now doing the right thing to rectify the problem. Hiring Ross Brawn — one of Formula 1’s greatest talents — was a master-stroke. Results might not come as early as next year, but undoubtedly Honda will be on their way up again (not that they could possibly go much further down).
9 — Scuderia Toro Rosso–Ferrari
If you are a naive businessman looking to buy Team Force India in around ten months’ time, look at Toro Rosso for an example of how not to run your team.
The first thing to point out is probably the disgraceful treatment of the drivers. They refused to confirm Scott Speed as one of their drivers until about 5 minutes before the flight for Melbourne was about to leave. This is hardly the way to get your drivers in the right frame of mind.
Things went from bad to worse as it became clear that team bosses Franz Tost and Gerhard Berger were none too pleased with their drivers. Barbed comments were constantly being made about driver performances through the press and even in the team’s own press releases.
Things came to a head at the European Grand Prix where it was rumoured that Franz Tost had physically attacked Scott Speed during an altercation. Tost had blamed Speed for spinning in the rain, even though several other drivers — including the much-lauded Lewis Hamilton — had done exactly the same thing. The row was the end of Scott Speed’s relationship with Toro Rosso, and Formula 1.
It seemed as though Vitantonio Liuzzi was not in favour with his bosses either. It was obvious by mid-season that they didn’t want him there. How Berger and Tost expected Liuzzi to get better under these circumstances is still unknown.
On the track, Toro Rosso’s performance leaves a lot to be desired as well. With this year’s Adrian Newey-designed Red Bull chassis and this year’s Ferrari engine, you would expect them to be running a lot higher than they were.
Despite those woes, the team showed considerable improvement towards the end of the season. The Toro Rosso car seemed particularly strong in the wet, and Sebastian Vettel in particular put in some great performances towards the end of the season. They came close to scoring in Japan, and scored a massive 8 points in China.
8 — Toyota
Ugh, who cares any more? Really. It is the same old story. Gigantic budget, precious little to show for it. The team is run by committee. The management has its head in the sand. We all know the story. It shows no sign of changing.
How long will it take before the Toyota big wigs start properly taking notice? My hunch is that they would sooner pull out of the sport altogether rather than make any real changes.
For once, Ralf Schumacher is right. The fact that Toyota refused to speak to Ross Brawn says it all.
7 — Super Aguri–Honda
They might sound like the title of a discount NES game, but Super Aguri are in fact a wonder of Formula 1. They might have their chassis made by Honda. But let’s not forget that it’s last year’s Honda. And beyond that they seem to get very little help from Honda at all.
The odds are against them, yet they still manage to put in highly respectable performances. Regularly outpacing the Honda ‘A’ team, Super Aguri have been hard done by in the Constructors’ Championship. In the end they only scored 4 points to Honda’s 6. But the reality was so different.
The highlight of the season came in Canada where Takuma Sato pulled off a brilliant pass on Fernando Alonso to net Super Aguri 3 points. Delightful.
Apart from the odd sponsorship difficulty, they are fairly anonymous off the track. Especially given the events of this year, that is how it should be. In this era of big budget manufacturers and drinks companies crushing the privateers, Super Aguri have become the small team that everybody loves.
I just hope they don’t have to put up with that dire Honda car next year.
6 — Renault
I don’t like to see Renault doing badly, but 2007 was a bit of a stinker for them. The team has looked exceptionally strong since 2004, and it has taken two Drivers’ and two Constructors’ Championships in the process. But this year’s car was obviously not up to those standards. Pat Symonds said that in Australia the car was almost as bad as the Honda.
I don’t things were quite that bad. But for a Championship-winning team, it is shocking that they were never in a position to win a race all season (except, arguably, in Japan). They were comprehensively outpaced by BMW all season long.
The departure of Fernando Alonso clearly hit them hard. Indecision left them lumbered with the increasingly sluggish Giancarlo Fisichella and the wet-behind-the-ears Heikki Kovalainen. Kovalainen had a disappointing start to the season and later on in the year Fisichella was becoming badly covered in cobwebs.
Now Renault once again can’t seem to make their mind up about drivers. Despite impressing, Heikki Kovalainen seems to be left without a drive as the team seems set on promoting Nelsinho Piquet and wooing back Fernando Alonso.
Worst of all, events since the end of the season have been highly damaging. With McLaren having been put through the wringer for so-called “spying” allegations, Renault now face allegations which are every bit as serious as (if not more so than) what McLaren faced. Moreover, Renault have already confessed that more engineers knew about the drawings than McLaren.
It’s difficult to see how it could be worse for Renault. They won’t succeed in wooing Alonso under these circumstances, especially since Alonso has just escaped a similar mess at McLaren. And if the FIA is consistent (I know, but bear with me), Renault are headed for a huge penalty. And if that happens, chances are that Carlos Ghosn will pull the plug.
Those are my thoughts on the not-so-good six constructors. Check back next Sunday to see my top five ranking.