The bad and ugly sides of the new F1 teams

Yesterday, I began looking at this year’s new F1 teams. This was following Ferrari’s controversial blog post and the news surrounding some of the new teams that has dominated the F1 news websites.

Yesterday I looked at the good aspect of the process — the relative success of Lotus and Virgin. Today, I turn my attention to the bad and ugly sides.

The bad side of the process

Campos’s fall from grace

It is unfortunate for Campos. At first they were regarded as among the most credible of the new teams. But unfortunately the money seems not to have been coming in. It looks as though the team has been saved. This week, as part of the process, its name was changed to Hispania. And today the car was finally launched.

But the car won’t get any proper running until it arrives in Bahrain for the first race, which doesn’t bode well. The last time a Formula 1 team turned up to a race without having tested was Lola in 1997. Running up to six seconds off the pace, the Lola remains one of the worst F1 cars of recent years.

Campos had previously run a successful GP2 team, and had signed a big name driver in the shape of Bruno Senna. For whatever reason, though, the prospect hasn’t brought in the sponsors.

Up until very recently, the driver line-up was still uncertain. For a period, it seemed as though Bruno Senna wasn’t safe. I do wonder if, counter-intuitively, Bruno Senna has been hindered by his name.

I have an immense amount of admiration for Bruno Senna. For my money, he was the class of the GP2 field in 2008. Yet, look at the other GP2 drivers from that season who have made the transition to F1 on more solid foundations: Lucas di Grassi, Romain Grosjean, Sébastien Buemi, Vitaly Petrov. Now you can add Karun Chandhok to that list.

I guess teams avoided hiring Bruno Senna for fear of being accused of only signing him up because of his name. So instead, shaky drivers like Jaime Alguersuari get parachuted in.

Hopefully Bruno Senna will be able to make something out of this mess. Considering he was unable to race for ten years in his youth due to his family’s wishes, he has done an amazing job to become as good as he is.

The situation at Campos / Hispania has been messy, and it’s clear that the team almost failed to make it. But it looks as though things are coming together. The new team principal Colin Kolles has experience in running a lean team from his Midland / Spyker / Force India days. Meanwhile, former Red Bull and BAR / Honda technical director Geoff Willis is also linked to the team.

We’ll have to wait and see if the Dallara chassis is any good. But while Campos were unable to pay the bills, there can’t have been too much work being done on it.

USF1: Another kick in the teeth for American F1 fans

The situation is even worse for USF1. Regarded very early on as a clown-like team, things have gone from bad to worse. It has to be said that Peter Windsor often comes across as someone with a rather child-like over-enthusiasm. Apparently we can add child-like naivety to his list of qualities too.

It seems as though Peter Windsor was genuinely the last person in the world to twig that USF1 wouldn’t arrive in Bahrain with a car. Stories from disgruntled USF1 employees have been leaking out for weeks now. The verdict on his management of the team, along with that of his business partner Ken Anderson, is damning.

With just weeks to go until the first race in Bahrain, USF1 was left with no car, and having done no testing. Peter Windsor was allegedly in tears when he broke the news to its sole announced driver, José María López (a driver who, incidentally, has not raced an open-wheel single-seater in anger for four years). He has apparently been lying low, having not been seen at the factory recently.

This week, when USF1’s employees were finally put out of their misery and told that the game was up, neither Peter Windsor nor Ken Anderson were present. When considering also the news that USF1 apparently had offers to save the team, but the shareholders rebuffed all of these efforts, I begin to assume that this entire exercise was all about ego, and nothing to do with any of the patriotic clap-trap they came out with.

Yesterday, the FIA finally kicked them out of the championship, too late for a more credible team such as Lola or Prodrive to be brought in. That didn’t stop one shady outfit from sniffing around though…

The ugly side of the process

Second hand car business Stefan GP

Serbian outfit Stefan, led by Zoran Stefanović, originally attempted to enter F1 along with the other teams last summer. It was not viewed as credible by anyone. It was noted that the way Stefan went about securing an entry was rather unconventional. For instance, they did their best to upset the FIA by complaining about the entry process itself — which won’t exactly get you in the FIA’s good books.

However, fast forward to this winter. Quietly, Stefan has secured the intellectual property to Toyota’s car, with the manufacturer having recently pulled out. Clearly, actually having a car is a fairly good weapon in an F1 team’s arsenal, particularly considering that certain teams (not naming any names, but I’m talking about USF1) did not even have a car, despite having been preparing for at least a year.

With the shit hitting the fan at USF1’s factory in Charlotte, Bernie Ecclestone was apparently trying to help Stefan make it onto the grid in an attempt to keep the field full. The trouble was that, despite having a car, Stefan still wasn’t terribly credible.

Their preferred form of communication was by bizarre press releases bemoaning everyone and everything in broken English. And when they attempted to test their car a couple of weeks ago, everything was all set, apart from the minor fact that they forgot to arrange a tyre supply!

And I hardly know where to begin with the drivers Stefan are rumoured to have been talking to — the likes of Jacques Villeneuve and Ralf Schumacher. Michael Schumacher’s comeback is cynical enough, but at least he is talented and has the ability to come back after a few years away. Jacques Villeneuve couldn’t even spend half a season away in 2004 without coming back even worse than normal.

All-in-all, this entire process hasn’t been F1’s proudest moment. And Formula 1 in recent years is littered with bad news. Here is hoping that Jean Todt will manage to bring some sense into the FIA’s processes. I won’t hold my breath though.

Update: Read more about the dodgy Stefan operation.

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