Are The New Teams Welcome?
Bernie Ecclestone seems to have had a slight change of heart about the new teams. At the start of November, his attitude on Lotus, Virgin and Hispania was that “… We need to get rid of a few of those cripples. They do nothing for us. They are an embarrassment.” By the end of the month, perhaps realising that maybe it isn’t such a great idea to criticise the sport he runs, Ecclestone was happy to point the finger of blame for it all: “As for the new teams, their problems weren’t their fault in all fairness, it was really Max Mosley’s fault, telling them they could come in and be contenders for £30 million – but they’re here now and, provided they don’t walk around with begging bowls, it’s good to have them.”
So, a suitably vague opinion from Ecclestone but what do I think?
First of all, it’s fair to point out that all three teams have been a fair margin off the pace of the existing teams to the point that the FIA felt it necessary to reintroduce a variation of the 107% qualifying rule for next season.* The results is that they’ve provided a hindrance to everyone else during qualifying (most notably around Monaco) and the races where they’ve been repeatedly lapped. In raw mathematical terms, they failed to score any points and so in terms of the standings tables at least, they’ve added nothing.
However, it’s worth comparing the new teams to the worst of the existing outfits: Toro Rosso. Toro Rosso came away from 2010 with 13 points but that was heavily reliant on the new system and calculated from last year’s it would have only been a solitary point for Sebastien Buemi’s eighth place in Canada – not exactly a season to remember. In fact, out of all the teams on the grid, Toro Rosso have been the most anonymous in 2010. The reason is not just that the team had a bad year but that the new teams added an extra dimension to the season.
The Second Championship
While 2010 spoilt us with a titanic struggle at the front of the grid, we were also treated to a second battle at the back as the three new teams fought to become the best of the worst. In some ways, the side dish was every bit as compelling as the main dish as Virgin (at least with Glock at the wheel) diced with Lotus in qualifying while Hispania was left in their wake, yet, come the actual race, stronger reliability produced some better results for Hispania and eventually left Virgin at the bottom of the tables.
Unfortunately, that cant really continue. Lotus will be firmly targeting a midfield challenge next year (accepting that the midfield has slipped down to where the backmarkers used to be) and that story should be compelling to follow in itself but there will come a point that the new teams can’t just be a second championship, especially if it is only a two-way fight. Virgin need to start seeing some results from their grand CFD experiment and get some return from the big investment that they’re ploughing in to computers. Hispania? Well, for now, one wonders if they’ll even have a car next year. If they fail to make the grid that just makes the need for Virgin to catch up even more vital.
Off The Track
However, to differing degrees, the new teams have brought something extra to fans off the track too. Lotus, in particular, have been exceptionally open, with everybody and anybody in the team seemingly having a twitter account and backed by Facebook and a neat website: Mike Gascoyne in particular has been one of the highlights of the season. No other team on the grid has allowed fans to come so close to the heart of the team. It’s such a foreign concept in F1 that some were surprised and read a lot into the team carrying a “Thank You Lotus Fans” message on its Abu Dhabi livery even though it was totally in keeping with how they’d run for the whole season.
Virgin also have a very informative official twitter account, armed with a great sense of humour although I found their website rather poor – especially when you consider how multimedia savvy the Virgin organisation is (Virgin Broadband users may disagree with me.) Hispania, however, have looked every bit underfunded off the track as they have on it. The exception to that is their drivers, with Karun Chandhok and Bruno Senna becoming two of the best twitterers in the paddock. Unfortunately, the team even managed to get that wrong when they brought in Sakon Yamamoto to replace them while simultaneously making a right mess of going about it. By the time Yamamoto had to miss the Singapore Grand Prix due to food poisoning, few fans believed the excuse. For me, Hispania have done little to win over fans in 2010 and are underestimating their value when it comes to attracting new sponsors.
So, all-in-all, I think the new teams made a hugely valued contribution to the 2010 season but perhaps the more pertinent question is where do they go from here? Lotus seem hugely ambitious, paying off their Cosworth contract and chasing Renault power and Red Bull gearboxes – the fact that Group Lotus’ has been circling overhead like vultures hasn’t done them any harm either. Virgin have opted to invest big in computing power while Russian car manufacturer, Marussia has increased its investment – it’s still to be seen if CFD alone can propel a team up the grid. I’ve no doubt that it will one day but is it too soon?
As for HRT, they added to the 2010 season but they need to do a lot better next year – both on and off the track.
Posted as part of Thursday Thoughts – Are New Teams Welcome?
* Next year, all cars will have to qualify within 107% of the fastest Q1 time in order to take part in the race, although it is at the stewards’ discretion to allow cars to compete in exceptional cases, for example Fernando Alonso’s failure to set a qualifying time at this year’s Monaco Grand Prix.
Credit: Virgin Racing