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Thursday Thoughts - So far so good // The new teams help F1, but are they just making up the numbers?

Published by Steven Roy

This week's Thursday Thoughts is on the subject of the new teams in 2010.

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?

I think the simple answer is that F1 is better with the new teams than it would have been without them. Without them there would only have been 18 cars on the grid which is unacceptable to most people. We needed more teams to guarantee the future of the sport.

My view has always been that anyone who can turn up with a car that can get through scutineering and a driver who qualifies for a superlicence should be allowed to attempt to qualify. That way the better teams thrive and the less capable disappear. That is not an option due to FIA rules. The USF1 mess shows that the FIA is not capable of assessing teams so I was not particularly convinced that the new teams would start the season let alone finish it. Add to that the whole Lotus/Notus saga and the CFD only Virgin and my hopes for the new teams were not high.

Despite all that all three teams have added greatly to the season. The three of them showed how to interact with fans in a way we have not seen before and you only have to look at Christine’s Rankings to see the only pre-existing team who stopped the new teams taking the top three positions were McLaren.

Everyone in the paddock knew about Alex Snell’s plans for the season after the first couple of races but while the successful teams couldn’t see the opportunity he presented them with but Virgin more or less made him part of the team and as a result all the publicity about his trip was usually full of mentions of the team and pictures of Alex either in their garage or in their team gear. You have to wonder how the over-staffed marketing departments of the major team missed out on all the free coverage he could provide.

Lotus provided all sorts of entertainment from the golf matches and other sporting contests between Heikki Kovalainen and Tony Fernandes with all the tweets and twitpics of challenges, friendly boasting and taunting between them. The fact that the team did such a good job on the track after getting their entry so late says much for Mike Gascoyne’s ability to pull a team together and their potential for the future.

The real surprise of the season was HRT. Given how they emerged from the Campos Meta mess it is little short of a miracle that they made the grid at all. The early season partnership between former GP2 team mates Bruno Senna and Karun Chandhok despite all the on track problems provided great off track entertainment. Once Chandhok was dropped from his driver for purely financial reasons he turned himself from a little known driver with a less than promising career into an established personality with an encyclopaedic knowledge of F1 history and a personable manner which made him universally popular.

Of course what really matters is the on track contribution the teams made. There has been a lot of rubbish talked about how slow they were by people who should know better than spout that kind of nonsense. There has been talk of re-introducing the 107% rule despite the teams rarely if ever being slow enough for that rule to be needed. Some of the people who have made these kind of comments need to look back into there own history when it was not unusual for drivers on the podium to be lapped and drivers in the points by either lapped several times or not finish at all.

I think the real test of the three new teams is not there first season but how they evolve from there. Team Lotus or whatever they are going to be called seem to be destined for a rapid rise to the midfield. They have good drivers and a technical team lead by Mike Gascoyne so they should have less difficulty progressing than the other teams.

We need to see how much Virgin improve next season before we can assess Nick Wirth’s CFD method is going to be as successful in F1 as it has been in sportscars. That combined with the limited budget should prevent them making immediate progress. It is possible that Wirth will be proved right and we will see teams dropping their wind tunnels but I don’t see them making quick progress.

HRT seem destined to be the slowest team again next season. Their constant driver shuffling suggests they have little if any money and while it is possible to complete a season on a limited budget it is harder to complete the season while designing a new car and hiring good people. I guess the drivers will be chosen from those with the biggest budgets who can’t get a more competitive drive.

So my summary is that so far I am very happy with the new teams and believe they have made a positive contribution but they really need to be judged on how they progress from here. We still have a free slot and it is time we had another new team take that. I hope it goes to the likes of Prodrive or Epsilon Euskadi who have the potential to be genuine heavyweights rather than fantasists like USF1 or another team with no money like HRT.