Sidepodcast // All for F1 and F1 for all

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Ryan Gault

Ryan is one of those people who follow every sport going, from football to speedway and golf to ice hockey. He has followed Formula 1 for as long as he can remember, which just so happens to be the 2001 US Grand Prix, Mika Häkkinen's last ever win. Since then he has followed the tribulations of the greatest Swiss team since he heard about Grasshoppers Zürich, Sauber. Currently studying Journalism at the University of Huddersfield, while also attempting to write about TV and Eurovision.

Manors, Metas and Star Spangled Banners: How not to choose a Formula 1 team // Recent potentials have shown a significant problem in creating new F1 outfits

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Anthony Davidson at Super Aguri
Credit: Sidepodcast

Super Aguri had a brief, but eventful, stay in Formula 1. From those four races with Yuji Ide, to thinking Anthony Davidson might be a competent race driver and that race by Takuma Sato in Canada, they were loved by some but very much disliked by their own sponsors. When SS United decided to default on payments to the team in the late end of 2007, it caused a series of setbacks which resulted in Super Aguri being turned away at the 2008 Turkish Grand Prix.

Their exit left 10 teams remaining, the lowest since 2005, but efforts by the FIA and Bernie Ecclestone to increase the number of teams in the sport suggested that this number would only get bigger. As early as 2006, Prodrive F1, led by ex-BAR manager Dave Richards, were selected from a high quality group of entries to join Formula 1 from 2008 onwards. But while everything was in order - finances, capabilities to at least deliver a car, experience - the age old debate of customer cars ultimately hindered Prodrive. The rules said no, Max Mosely said no, Prodrive said no.

The floodgates open

Several years later the FIA asked for more donations to their charitable fund, asking this time for three new teams rather than just one when Prodrive was selected. And once again they were flooded with applications, every man and his dog wanted one of the three slots going, and most were washed away in the tide that was flowing. It at least provided something different from the dull racing and ever-lasting political dramas in 2009.

Granted this political drama stemmed, rather indirectly, from the applications for the new teams. The proposed budget cap would create a two-tier system which the majority of the FOTA teams strongly opposed, with the lower option the new teams likely to take due to sheer financial ease, capping their costs at 30 million euros. The proposal sent the sport into turmoil, which doesn’t take all that much, and there was even attempts at forming a rival series, which would have made the 15 applicants for Formula 1 a little more likely to get the nod.

But when races around the streets of Helsinki and a return to Mangy-Cours were on the cards, or more likely the idea that the FOTA teams would benefit a lot more from being in Formula 1, they signed the new agreement along with the three new teams. Them being USF1, Manor Motorsports and Campos Meta 1.

Remember those? It feels like such a long time ago considering that none of them made the 2010 Bahrain Grand Prix in the guise that got them selected. USF1 didn’t even get anywhere near Bahrain.

On a road to nowhere

It’s impressive how good use of PR can get you, and USF1 were arguably the most positive, forward thinking and open of all the entries. Led by journalist and former Williams and Ferrari employee Peter Windsor and another experienced motorsport engineer, Ken Anderson. Everything they said promised gold, "How we are approaching it – the lean, mean skunkworks approach – is exactly the sort of thing the FIA are looking for, so they say, for the future," said Peter Windsor. Hindsight is a brilliant thing at times, and certainly makes reading these quotes from their launch on Speed TV way back in February 2009 question if they knew what they were doing right from the get go.

José María López, Super Nova, GP2
Credit: Andrew Ferraro/GP2

We all know what happened with them at the end, after the realisation they didn’t have enough money (at least Windsor admitted this from the start, "The recession has actually helped us out a little. For those out there that say, ‘Where’s all the money? Where’s the huge facility? Where’s the money pouring out of the sky? That isn’t going to happen with USF1," although they would have been helped if they had found, say, someone to give them a bit of money to start off with), they decided to hire José María López, an Argentine pay-driver with limited F1 experience.

He was racing in Argentine touring cars at the time of his hiring (notably, not an American: "There is a list out there of American drivers with the right credentials to race in Formula One who have the talent, they’ve proven they have the talent already," followed by deciding to decorate the factory with a Jim Clark photo.)

While Windsor and Anderson hid behind their pro-American PR stance, the issues hindering the team started to build up by December.

There are a lot of reasons why USF1 failed. Mainly they failed to secure a reliable sponsorship package and any sort of finances to actually fund the project. While they did acquire YouTube’s Chad Hurley, he certainly displayed an impressive ‘hokey-cokey’ display on his stance regarding financing the team. Other sponsors soon pulled out when the whole project was in trouble. Along with money issues, it was the lack of decisive leadership which hindered the team.

While Windsor and Anderson hid behind their strong pro-American PR stance, the issues that were hindering the team started to build up by December. And ultimately, the two team principals did practically nothing to sort it all out until it was far too late, by which point Charlie Whiting had decided the team was ‘unfit for operation’ and the team folded just a matter of weeks prior to the opening race of the 2010 season.

Perhaps the decisive comments come from the manger of López, that the USF1 management had ‘deceived’ the FIA. Windsor and Anderson, despite their experience, hid behind the PR while they said all the right words, yet failing to put those words into action. And while USF1 tumbled and rolled to a heavy stop near the start line, it still wasn’t exactly plain sailing for Campos Meta 1.

What's in a name?

Owned by Adrian Campos, Campos Racing had a decent pedigree in the junior formulae, nurturing drivers such as Vitaly Petrov and Lucas di Grassi, as well as Giorgio Pantano who would go on to win the GP2 championship after his spell at the team (where he finished third in 2007). In fact in 2008, the team scored the most points across the whole season. And while he passed on ownership at the end of the season, he gained the entry during 2009 for his own team in F1. This was ahead of the favourites Epsilon Euskadi, another Spanish entry who also had decent junior formulae history. And while the latter was placed on the reserve list, the exit of USF1 came too late for them to be given entry as the 13th entry.

Vitaly Petrov celebrates for Campos
Credit: Alastair Staley/GP2

Although Campos set their sights big, acquiring the use of Dallara to help production of their cars and signing Bruno Senna at the 2009 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, they themselves struggled financially, so much so it was looking just as unlikely that they would reach the first race of the 2010 season. But saviour came in the form of José Ramón Carabante, who bought out the team weeks before the first race and renamed them Hispania F1, hiring Karun Chandhok alongside Senna.

Manor, by all accounts, had a far smoother ride. As expected Richard Branson came in and rebranded the team as Virgin Racing, they had an innovate way to design the car with CFD courtesy of Nick Worth (even though it proved to be an inadequate solution) and hired experienced F1 driver Timo Glock and promising rookie Lucas di Grassi. All seemed calm and steady.

Of the three teams selected, two nearly didn’t make it. So how come they were selected in the first place? Surely it must have come to the attention of the FIA that this could happen to USF1 and Campos. Or maybe they were keen to overlook this disadvantage assuming they decided that Cosworth were the selected entry of choice. Although thrown out by the courts, N.Technology were keen to protest the selection process due to the seeming belief that teams that chose Cosworth engines were given a big advantage.

Fail to prepare...

Lotus Racing weren’t even accepted first time around and were placed onto the reserve list, it came down to BMW not fancying staying in the sport anymore after a poor 2009 season and a worsening economic situation for them to be called up as the 13th team. Of course BMW Sauber remained after the acquisition of the questionable Qadbak Investments, and later the former team boss Peter Sauber, as the ‘14th team’ when Toyota left the sport as well.

It seems poor to assume that the team that had the least preparations did the best job in 2010, Lotus Racing were always one step ahead of their rivals from the start of the season, especially Hispania who had their first running in the practice, or in Chandhok’s case, the qualifying session in Bahrain, and even Virgin Racing who were struggling to even finish a race.

And if you include Prodrive, it is a struggle to find teams who have entered on their own accord (basically not buying out a previously existing team) that have gone on to succeed. Super Aguri did score some points thanks to Takuma Sato, but they had a large portion of help from Honda, who supplied their 2006 RA106 car to the team for the 2007 season. Toyota entered back in 2002, and while they did go on to secure a couple of pole positions and podiums, the amount of money spent on the team failed to deliver on their potential and promises. Arguably you then have to go back to 1997 with Stewart Grand Prix, in which their short stay in Formula 1 they wielded a win and a pole position.

It’s easier to remember the flops, Lola in 1997, Pacific in 1994, Bravo F1 in 1993, but it also shows how difficult it is to create a team from scratch without significant funding. And maybe the FIA should take that into account when deciding new entries for the future. Entries for the 2011 season were all rejected, suggesting that the FIA had learned lessons from previous failed entries and weren’t prepared to see the sport brought down several notches once again. It’s important to be realistic when entering Formula 1: money helps.