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Thursday Thoughts - It's not all about speed, but it helps - A closer look at the three epic underdog teams and their 2010 performance

Published by Christine

This week's question is throwing the focus to the back of the grid, as this year we opened up two new garages, and welcomed in three teams - HRT, Virgin Racing and Lotus Racing.

The three new teams made quite an impression on F1 this year. What do you think they brought to the sport? How would the year have been without them? Better or worse?

Ahead of the year, I was a bit wary of the new names coming into the paddock, and that was mostly based on the fact that there were few tales of hope that any of them would actually make it to the grid in Bahrain. We saw a massive failure from US F1, and with talk of Lotus Racing having just a couple of employees, HRT struggling with budgets, and Virgin Racing being a late buyer of the exiting Manor brand, it wasn't filling me with any confidence.

However, once we got to Bahrain, and we saw those teams getting themselves together, it was actually an impressive sight and a good feeling. I'm always a fan of the underdog, but I think these three were more than that. Watching Hispania unable to get Karun's car ready for practice on Saturday was both painful and fascinating. When he finally got that lap done in qualifying, it was special!

Getting the car on track is one thing, making it competitive is another, and I'm sure we can all agree that the new teams were woefully off the pace. Throughout the year there was talk of them getting in the way - the uproar that came ahead of Monaco qualifying seemed to be a way for the other teams to finally release their frustration at the slower drivers on the grid. Traffic was brought out as an excuse for every little thing that went wrong, and the blue flags were seen an awful lot. It wasn't unusual to see drivers four or five laps down by the time the winner saw the chequered flag.

Virgin Racing head off into the sunset in Abu Dhabi
Virgin Racing head off into the sunset in Abu DhabiCredit: Virgin Racing

Given all those issues, though, what HRT, Virgin and Lotus brought to the sport was a lot of heart. Since I've been watching F1, there have been quite a few teams come and go, but the two that stick in my mind are the Spyker/Midland/Force India entity, and of course, Red Bull Racing. Force India had quite a lot of support when they first started, and they're getting to grips with the competition now. Red Bull have come a long way in just a few short years, but I think that is another post entirely! Both of these are teams that bought up existing entries though, rather than trying to build up from scratch.

Instead, we got some new names and faces (plus a few familiar ones as well), and they instantly made their mark. We've talked many times about how fan-friendly Karun Chandhok is, Virgin Racing had a beautiful line-up that helped when making videos and reaching out to their supporters, and the Lotus team went from strength to strength gaining and encouraging fans. From the basics of signing autographs, to a strong presence on Twitter, to asking the public what they think their 2011 name should be, Lotus were particularly good at engaging with us outside of the paddock.

It's too easy to fall on one side or the other when it comes to the original question. The new teams didn't provide much out on track, except for a few too many hydraulic failures, and a Safety Car or two that we may not have seen otherwise. They were slow and they got in the way. However, they showed the current teams how things could be done better. Would any of the other team bosses make a bet to wear an airline uniform if they finished lower in the championship? Maybe Christian Horner would have done, but not so much these days.

They need to improve, there's a lot more they can do to become more viable Formula 1 teams, but there's also a lot they have shown us about the more emotional side of the sport. Where they go for next year will be of great interest, to see if they can keep up their open and welcoming image, or if things become more clinical once the pace picks up. That's assuming the pace is going to pick up!