As I mentioned in my previous blog on F1, part of the excitement towards the 2010 season is derived from the anticipated debuts of several new squads, each with very different backgrounds and approaches toward competing in the sport. Four teams: Lotus, Virgin, Campos-Meta and USF1 are scheduled to make their Grand Prix debuts in 45 days. The Sauber team, while in reality being the remnants of BMW Sauber, is officially classified as a new team, much like Brawn is not a direct descendent of Honda. For simplicity sake, I will not include them in this discussion.
While there is increased speculation as to exactly how many of these teams will actually show up*, the build-up to their entrance into the sport is nonetheless attracting much attention from both those within the sport and those who follow F1. With the competitive balance of F1 being as chaotic as ever, is it entirely possible that one or more of these teams could make an immediate impact in terms of results. Then again, it is still easier to believe that they will have an uphill battle to fight in 2010. Much will be unknown until the Bridgestone rubber hits the road. But one can still speculate. With that, let?s look at all five of these teams
Lotus F1 Racing:
It appears to me that this team is the most prepared going in to 2010, which is funny considering that their bid was initially rejected by the FIA. They have made the most noise in the offseason, and have apparently made good progress towards lining up on the grid in most areas. They are funded in part by the Malaysian government in conjunction with several other Malaysian businessmen. The most noteworthy investor is Tony Fernandes, who has assumed the role of team principal.
Aside from the fresh team principal, the team is stacked with veteran personnel both behind the wheel and behind the scenes. The team?s technical director will be Mike Gascoyne, who last worked for Force India F1. With his many years of experience in the sport (including almost 10 years as a technical director for four teams), Lotus looks to be in a good position to have an impact in F1 in short time.
As for the drivers, Lotus again delivers experience with Italian Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen of Finland, making Lotus the only new team to have two former race winners at the controls. It is assumed that Gascoyne was eager to work with Trulli again, and thus there should be some good chemistry between the two. Adding to that is the fact that many Lotus employees emigrated from the defunct Toyota, which would in theory allow the team to jell more rapidly, in addition to having past experience in racing. While I don?t think they will be competing for wins or podiums any time this year, I do think they will put forth a solid effort, and will collect a few points now and then (especially with the proposed scoring system).
While I sincerely believe that Lotus will be the best of the rookie teams in 2010, I do think that this squad will give them an honest fight for the title. They are the first team to officially debut their car for the season, and are right on schedule for the opener at Bahrain. The team has nevertheless taken a unique approach to designing their maiden machine. Led by technical director Nick Wirth (whose prior employers include Benetton and Simtek), the Virgin team has designed their car entirely by computer simulation.
Driving duties will belong to Timo Glock and rookie Lucas di Grassi (the 1-2 finishers in the 2007 GP2 Championship). Glock had several nice runs with Toyota in the previous two seasons, but things will be very different with a start-up squad. Still, Glock can provide the team with solid runs, as he did with the Jordan team several years ago. Di Grassi will be the one to watch. His prior experience is noteworthy: a 2005 win at Macau, followed up by 5 wins in 3 seasons in GP2. He?s certainly got the qualifications, but can he perform in the big stage? The past few years have seen some drivers thrive under the spotlight (Hamilton, Rosberg, and even Kobayashi) while other have wilted (Grosjean, Piquet). I look for di Grassi to join the former category.
The team has experienced past success in the lower formulae as Manor Motorsport (with the name change coming after billionaire Richard Branson invested in to the team), nut can they even come close in F1? I see the testing limitations having the greatest affect on this squad. If the computers get the setup wrong, they could be in for a long season. With that being said, I think they?ll meet the bar set for them.
Ah yes, we come to the much ballyhooed Team America. My outlook on this team has gradually shifted from Pollyannaish optimism (?'no, we're not going to accept that money?) to almost total doubt (Jose who?). Regardless, Peter Hamilton Windsor is sticking by his rather bold claims? sort of.
In contrast to their earlier claims of being a friendlier and more open team than their European counterparts, USF1 has remained very secretive in their preparations (something about refurbishing a house). While that in itself is not great cause for alarm, the fact that this silences comes after press conferences and interviews with Windsor and technical director Ken Anderson presents a bit of concern. The hiring of the virtually unknown Argentinean Jose Maria Lopez only adds to the idea that this team isn?t ready to compete with the big boys.
I do think the concept is nice. Regardless of what the current economic climate looks like, the United States is still one of the world?s biggest markets, and it makes sense for the country to have some representation in one of the world?s biggest sports. Still, if the U.S. is fine with NASCAR, what else can you do?
In 1993, Michael Andretti left Indy for the alleged greener pasture of F1. It was a colossal flop. Why? Some say it was because he never really ?left?. By not making Europe his permanent residence, Andretti was never able to connect with his team, the car, or the sport in general, leading to a swift exit. If a driver can?t do it, can a team?
Campos Meta F1
It appears as though this team has overtaken USF1 in the ?Team That Probably Doesn?t Exist? poll, as rumors swirl about their status. Aside from the announcement of Bruno Senna as one of the drivers, most of the buzz surrounding the Spanish squad is who will own the team, if the team is still around. A1GP boss Tony Teixeira?s name has been linked to this team in recent days, but it?s speculated that this is being met with great resistance by the other owners.
With that being said, there have been no public complaints from their chassis manufacturer Dallara, even as reports state that the team is behind on payments. It?s almost certain that Campos needs additional funding to keep the team going, but they?ve made nothing official. Adrian Campos has said in the past that the team was formed with the idea of a spending cap in mind. Now that the idea has been pushed aside, it?s seems very plausible that the team will back out. Making it to the desert isle will be a victory in itself.
Perhaps the biggest eyebrow-raiser has been the Serbian Stefan GP team, led by Zoran Stefanovic. They?ve signed an agreement with Toyota, which will provide them with chassis help, engines, and technical support. Kazuki Nakajima is apparently driving for them. And they?ve hired a couple of F1 veterans to help: Mike Coughlin (yes, that guy) and Dave Ryan (yes, that guy too). Their gear is en route the trip to Bahrain in preparations for their debut in the sport. It?s too bad they?re not even in F1.
James Allen posted in his blog that Stefan GP is looking to take Campos? spot on the grid, especially if Teixeira takes over the Spanish team. This appears to be one of many possibilities for the team. Might they be a ?back-up? team in case somebody doesn?t make it? Will they just continue to test in hope of getting a 14th slot? Will they stand outside the gates at Bahrain? Will they be forced to wait until 2011, or just wait forever?
I suppose it all rests in the current team?s (FOTA's) hands. One would assume they are very hesitant to allow any team to waltz on in to the paddock, simply because 1/13th of the pie is bigger than 1/14th. If Stefan does somehow find their way in the field, does it set a precedent for other teams to squeeze into the back seat?
In any event, it looks like the circus that is F1 is going to get crazier.
*Apparently, a deal has been worked out that would allow the new team to ?no show? up to three events without penalty.
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