Home » New Team, Personal musings

F1 Team Selection

By Steven Roy | 1 Mar 2010 | 14 Comments | 1,464 views

We are less than 2 weeks from the start of the 2010 F1 season which should have 4 new teams. Lotus seem to be in good condition. They are financially sound and their car seems to be reliable. Virgin are in good financial condition but their car has not shown the reliability that the rest of the field have. Campos have been taken over and the new owner seems less than impressed with the job done by his predecessor. And then there is USF1 which launched with a fanfare then maintained radio silence for 12 months. They have no money, no car and look like losing their only driver who didn’t have a licence to drive in F1 in the first place. Then we have Stefan GP which doesn’t have an entry but has cars and drivers including apparently a former world champion. The only reason they have not run their car seems to be that Bridgestone are not prepared to give F1 tyres to teams who are not in F1.

All of this raises questions about how the teams were selected and how their progress has been monitored since to make sure that they would make the start of the season. According to the FIA they scrupulously examined all the applications for the vacant grid slots and chose teams who had the capacity to produce and run cars and who had the finance to do so. Those claims look ridiculous now. There has been a great deal of circumstantial evidence that any new team that wanted to use anything other than a Cosworth engine was discounted. Max Mosley used his incredible powers of foresight to predict that the manufactures would leave F1 after they started leaving. Everyone else knew the manufacturers would leave as soon as the economy dipped because this has always been the case and while Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone were aggressively recruiting manufacturers ten years ago numerous articles were published pointing out the folly of this strategy.

So now that the manufacturers have left en masse with very few exceptions Mosley decided that what was needed was an independent engine manufacturer. The same engine manufacturer who’s business he ruined by recruiting manufacturers. As a result the candidate teams who chose this engine found themselves to be the preferred candidates. The teams chosen came as a surprise to most observers. There were other, on the face of it, far better candidates who were not chosen. Prodrive who have run competition programs for many manufactures in many championships and are best known for the Subaru rally campaigns that changed Subaru from a little known, massively unfashionable farmer’s car to the manufacturer of very desirable sporty cars that won a string of world championships. In addition to that Prodrive boss David Richards along with members of his staff ran both Benetton and BAR in F1. Another candidate which was expected to be guaranteed a slot was Epsilon Euskadi. The Spanish team has run cars in the World Series by Renault including winning the title with Robert Kubica and in the Le Mans 24 hour race. The team principal is Joan Villadelprat who was the Benetton team manager while Michael Schumacher was winning world titles and has also worked for McLaren and Ferrari amongst others. The team also has Segio Rinland on board who designed a number of F1 cars. It is inconceivable that either of these teams had they been given a franchise would have failed to be on the grid in Bahrain.

Clearly USF1 is the team most likely to fail. That, according to a recent leak amongst the deluge of leaks, is the opinion of the entire staff. Peter Windsor at a team meeting asked who didn’t think the team would be on the grid at Bahrain and was reportedly stunned to see everyone in the room raise their hand. How is it possible for someone running a business not to know that every single person who works for him thinks the business is headed for failure? Like many people I was delighted to see one of the slots awarded to a team in the USA. Properly run this could have done a lot of good for the sport in America. Now we hear that USF1 has formally petitioned the FIA to defer the team’s entry into F1 until 2011.

The FIA is far from faultless with regard to the state of USF1. Firstly as part of the selection process the team’s budget was supposedly verified. Bear in mind that the people who failed to spot that neither USF1 or Campos had any money were the same people who said they could run a budget cap. In addition to the initial selection USF1 were visited in October by Nick Craw to inspect their progress on behalf of the FIA. You have to question what he saw that resulted in a glowing report.

Clearly nothing can be done about the teams that were chosen for this season as it is far too late but equally clearly a better system is needed for the future. My preference is, and always has been, that anyone who can build a car that can pass scrutineering and can get a qualified driver to drive it should be allowed to enter the championship. I see no value in artificially limiting the number of cars that can enter just as I see no merit in giving a grid slot in perpetuity to a team that has never achieved anything and in all likelihood never will. I would revert to the system that existed before the ridiculous $48 million deposit was introduced and a limit was put on the number of teams and cars. The deposit scheme disappeared very quickly after it arrived for the simple reason that anyone who was interested in entering F1 was either unable or unwilling to to pay it.

I see no problem with 30 odd cars turning up for the first race of the season. At one point in the 1980s we had races with 39 cars entered. Circuits at that time were licensed to race 26 cars and qualify 30 so on a Friday morning 13 cars ran in a pre-qualifying session with the fastest 4 being allowed to run in practise and qualifying. The rest prepared to leave the circuit before first practise had even started. After that 30 cars ran in qualifying and the top 26 made the race. Every half season the 13 top point scoring teams were awarded an automatic slot in qualifying and the others ran in pre-qualifying. This way any team that made the race had earned its position. You may think it would be impossible for a new team to go from pre-qualifying to getting an automatic qualifying slot but it was not. Jordan for example entered the championship in 1991 and had to go through pre-qualifying. Other than the first race of the season where one of its cars failed to pre-qualify the team got both cars into qualifying for every race. By the time of the mid-season reshuffle they had scored enough points to be guaranteed a qualifying slot and never looked back. Despite having to pre-qualify for the first half of the season they finished fifth in the constructors’ championship. It is the perfect demonstration of how the system should work. Had Jordan been looking to enter F1 in 2010 they would have had to hope they were chosen by the FIA rather than being allowed to enter and live or die on their results. This season looks like it could be one of the best ever but had Prodrive, Epsilon Euskadi, Lola etc been allowed to enter cars we could have had an even more competitive grid.

To me rather than have the current farcical and secret team selection process where a team can be chosen that has a car that could hypothetically be ten seconds off the pace and be guaranteed a grid slot in for ever while contributing nothing to the sport it would be far better to allow anyone who wanted to enter to do so. That would mean now instead of watching the slow death of one or maybe even two teams who have never made a car we could be anticipating 6 or more new teams turning up and trying to pre-qualify with the best of them making qualifying and then possibly the grid. For me F1 should be about excellence and natural selection guarantees that the best will thrive and the weak will disappear never to darken the doorstep of the sport again. Surely that is better than the FIA making themselves look stupid by claiming they have selected then inspected teams and declaring they are on target when everyone knows they have no chance of making a car and probably couldn’t make a toaster.

Tagged: , , , ,
Bookmark and Share

14 Comments »

  • Gavin Brown (RubberGoat)

    I agree, let them all in and bring back pre-qualifying. F1 needed a shakeup and I think the FIA missed the boat.

    Lola had an wind tunnel model in June, and could have waited until October to start their program!

      (Quote)  (Reply)

    .
  • Journeyer

    I guess it depends on what needs to happen. On the other hand, I don’t think it’ll be any more successful if a team tried to come in and DNPQed. That team will run out of money pretty quickly before it even gets a chance. Of the many teams in the late-80s that tried to enter the sport this way, how many ended up staying? None that I can recall. Much of the current grid either were there in the early days or entered in the 1990s, when we had more sensible grids and qualifying (think Jordan/FIF1, Sauber, Stewart/RBR, BAR/Merc)

      (Quote)  (Reply)

    .
  • str8y

    “Bear in mind that the people who failed to spot that neither USF1 or Campos had any money were the same people who said they could run a budget cap”

    Cue the next great F1 scandal. Teams will be cooking the books left. right and centre in the coming years.

    What’s the odds we’ll see Ferrari or McLaren hauled up in front of the FIA for serious charges once the ‘ back to 90’s budget’ comes into force.?

      (Quote)  (Reply)

    .
  • paul

    I agree, the FIA look like fools with what has happened with USF1 and Campos. The troubles must have been obvious as early as December. Were they convinced by drawings on a computer screen?

    Having said that, I dont think you can compare modern times to the early 90s. It takes a lot more money and expertise to put an F1 car on the grid these days. It does make sense to review the entries, having team fail because they are not sound is no good to anyone. The FIA just don’t seem capable of keeping tabs on the teams,

      (Quote)  (Reply)

    .
  • KerbRider

    You makes some great points steven, but the point of the $48mil entry was to ensure that teams were suffieciently budgeted before they fell over in heap like we have with USF1 and nearly Campos now. That $48mil was drip fed back to the team. This may have been a wise idea for the new teams wanting entry 2010 to adhere too. This may have in fact brought about your wish of having Prodrive and Epsilon granted entry.
    On the other hands, budgets are up, and sponsorship is way down, so diluting the pool even more with up to 15 or 16 teams would only make it easier for the front runners to stay in front.
    Point in case is the 90s being dominated by only 4 teams. At least now we have RBR and Brawn/Mercedes mixing it with Ferrari and Mclaren, and now Williams and Benetton/Renault having to make up ground once more.
    Clearly the FIA made a big mistake in their selection process, which is a massive embarrassement fore them. Im sure Mr Todt will ensure it never happens again.
    Fingers crossed mate ;-)

      (Quote)  (Reply)

    .
  • Alianora La Canta

    I started to reply to this, but my comment got slightly overgrown and turned into a blog entry.

    In summary, I think F1 is too expensive for pre-qualifying to work, but believe a system of checkpoints could force a minimum standard for new teams and having a maximum race grid of 25 linked with a demotion mechanism would prevent a truly slow team from clogging up a grid slot coveted by potentially-faster teams.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

    .
  • Maverick

    I do wonder if USF1’s problem really is a lack of money – yes backers are pulling out now but they’re not seeing any return. There just seems to be an aura of mismanagement around the team. Look at what Honda came up with with a huge budget (before changing the management just prior to becoming Brawn) – now imagine what Honda would have done with Virgin’s budget.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

    .
  • saltire

    My own opinion is that the FIA were so desperate to get teams to join for this season after the manufacturers left that they almost took on almost anyone who expressed an interest and was prepared to accept Cosworth engines.

    My feeling is that USF1 were accepted purely because the sport needed to rebuilt its lost market in the USA and a team purporting to be flying the patriotic American flag was bound to get noticed. It’s just a shame that the hopes and dreams of many an American fan were damned by the apathetic management who headed the Company; they have done the sport no favours and now look like being a laughing stock even amongst those fans.

    I guess we will never know why the FIA did not accept Stefan GP first time around but after they went and sued for a place, are they the type of team we would want to have racing? I sincerely hope they don’t manage to get a place without the proper application process, bully boy tactics should have no place in F1. However, I digress and am starting to rant. Would I like to see any team with the resources and infrastructure to compete get a place as Steven suggests? Darned tooting I would.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

    .
  • Pitmonster

    Maverick: I do wonder if USF1’s problem really is a lack of money – yes backers are pulling out now but they’re not seeing any return. There just seems to be an aura of mismanagement around the team. Look at what Honda came up with with a huge budget (before changing the management just prior to becoming Brawn) – now imagine what Honda would have done with Virgin’s budget.  (Quote)

    Considering that at the time their entry was awarded, Peter Windsor was boasting that they had 3 years’ budget secured already – and this was based on the budgets before any capping was being discussed – so mismanagement has to be at least part of it.

    If he did not have the funding then he has lied to the FIA, his business partners, co-investors, his staff and his drivers about having the money.

    If he did have the funding where has it gone? Did he do something massively stupid to lose it?

      (Quote)  (Reply)

    .
  • Bassano

    Some excellent point to ponder there Steven

    I do wonder if sponsorship would be an issue for a team that may start no races but it would certainly help F1 be ‘the best of the best’

      (Quote)  (Reply)

    .
  • Sebastian (Birmingham, UK)

    I read somewhere that FIA did not specify Cosworth engines but that they had to have an engine contract, which was only available that far in advance with one supplier, Cosworth! That this was FIA saying “Cosworth-only” by the devious means seems likely and enabled them to do this and defend the court cases.

    The difference between now and the old days for small teams looking for sponsership is that back then all the teams generally had one main sponsor but there came a time when perhaps the main sponsor of a team like Minardi would be persuaded to put their budget instead into appearing on the side of the front-wing-plates with a team like McLaren.

    I think if we were not in a World financial slump, US F1 and Campos probably would have found sponsership but in current economic conditions, would the likes of Prodrive and Lola found money?

      (Quote)  (Reply)

    .
  • Steven Roy

    Thanks for all the comments. I expected a degree of resistance to my ideas as this is not the first time I have made these points.

    On the other hand, I don’t think it’ll be any more successful if a team tried to come in and DNPQed. That team will run out of money pretty quickly before it even gets a chance.

    That is true but just now there are teams like Prodrive and Epsilon Euskadi who are kept out of F1 for purely artificial reasons. Surely it is better to let everyone enter and find out who has what it takes rather than wasting a year on USF1 and the only thing we will have to show for their F1 campaign will be two empty grid slots and possibly another 2 from Campos. F1 is not called the piranha club for nothing but if people want to dive in they should be allowed to and they will either float or err..swim with the fishes. Metaphor got stretched a little.

    I do wonder if USF1’s problem really is a lack of money

    There was a story today that James Rossiter had also signed to drive for USF1 and like J Lo was paying $8 million for the privelege. Add their money to Chad Hurley’s original $20 million and you have $36 million for starters. Given the much vaunted skunk works approach that should be enough to get them on the grid if not through the season. Seems the only thing the skunk works produced was the stink.

    It does make sense to review the entries, having team fail because they are not sound is no good to anyone. The FIA just don’t seem capable of keeping tabs on the teams

    My problem is not so much the teams that get selected then fail but those that are locked out of the sport for no good reason. The FIA has proved twice now that it has no idea what it is doing on this subject. On the previous occasion they had 12 applicants and chose Prodrive. Prodrive had made it clear that they were only interested at that stage in being a customer team but it was months after they were selected before the FIA figured out customer cars were not allowed.

    but the point of the $48mil entry was to ensure that teams were suffieciently budgeted before they fell over in heap like we have with USF1 and nearly Campos now. That $48mil was drip fed back to the team.

    That’s fine in theory but few teams other than manufacturers have $48 million available up front. Given the difficulty teams have raising a budget just now asking them at some point to hand over $48million is futile. To me the only purpose of the bond was to keep the plebs out and guarantee manufacturers a place. The only outcome of the bond was a decline in grid numbers. It never did what it was supposed to.

    My feeling is that USF1 were accepted purely because the sport needed to rebuilt its lost market in the USA and a team purporting to be flying the patriotic American flag was bound to get noticed. It’s just a shame that the hopes and dreams of many an American fan were damned by the apathetic management who headed the Company; they have done the sport no favours and now look like being a laughing stock even amongst those fans.

    I think given the outcry about the loss of the US GP it is not surprising that this team was viewed possitively. I think the US fans have to view this as the failure of a group of individuals or one company and not a failure of their country. Many of the people involved are quite clearly not American. It would be great to have an American team but I think it is just too difficult to run a team from there.

    I do wonder if sponsorship would be an issue for a team that may start no races but it would certainly help F1 be ‘the best of the best’

    It certainly would be a problem and needs a good sales pitch to make it work but as we have seen having a guaranteed grid slot did not help teams get sponsorship. I am sure some sponsors would do graded deals. Paying different amounts depending on whether teams get to qualifying, the race or into the points. The Jordan example holds up. They had a record in F3 and F3000 and were able to put a business plan together that resulted in them being a race winning team in F1. Christian Horner had a similar record in the junior formulae with Arden but to get into F1 had to become a Red Bull employee.

    I think if we were not in a World financial slump, US F1 and Campos probably would have found sponsership but in current economic conditions, would the likes of Prodrive and Lola found money?

    Don’t know about Lola bu Martin Birrane is not daft and is not short of money himself. David Richards would have raised a budget for Prodrive and would have had a good idea where he was getting it before he applied for a slot. His record of finding sponsorship is incredible and he has great contacts in the Middle East. Given the number of races in that region I am sure he would have found sponsorship there.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

    .
  • Bryan

    I agree with the author but would like to see it taken a step further. I think F1 should be a set of regulations that any body can run a racing series to, just like the old days, you could have Continental championships, maybe ran with year old F1 cars, a good way of giving new drivers proper experience, teams that run in these championships can then turn up at a World Championship race and try and prequalify, if they don’t qualify at least they can still run in there local championship.

    There should also be a teams championship as well as a constructors which would allow customer cars to be ran. Ticket costs for the local championships should be a lot lower bringing f1 racing to the masses, and then the World Championship events can be ran as a premium event.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

    .
  • KerbRider

    With today facilites, there are limited garage spaces. especially in the more traditional rounds of the championship. So letting anyone compete willy nilly also causes a safety concern.
    I heard that Albert Park have been planning to put temporary garages on the grass at the pit lane entry. Not ideal, and not fair oin the teams who have take these 3rd world facilites.
    Sure it happens at monaco, but monaco is brilliant and cant be messed with. I think the FIAs intentions have been good. I dont see why they would deliberatley put F1 at risk. They made mistakes with the 48 mil bond. Theory was good, but failed in the end, but the backflip of last year still ended in disaster with USF1 and campos debacles.
    Like qualifying, they will eventually get it right.

    In saying all this, i do think it a hideous judgement to deny prodrive. Richards has a brilliant record in F1 as well as everything else he touches. He turned BAR into a greast team. Enough to have it sold out from under him, then get the sack!

      (Quote)  (Reply)

    .

Leave your response!

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also subscribe to these comments via RSS.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

This is a Gravatar-enabled weblog. To get your own globally-recognized-avatar, please register at Gravatar.