The news that HRT is looking for new owners came as little surprise this week and it comes as another twist in the saga of a team that has taken part in 56 events, used eight drivers and have barely troubled the likes of Caterham and Marussia, let alone aspire to score any points.
The team barely made it to the start of the 2010 season as Adrian Campos struggled for finances before being taken over by Jose Ramon Carabante. He installed Colin Kolles, who worked tirelessly to make sure the team got to Bahrain. Astonishingly, they did, although they qualified miles off the pace and neither driver finished the race. Their debut season was slow and steady, although they surprisingly gave Virgin a good run for their money and through circumstances, finished 11th in the championship. They repeated the feat in 2011 as well, by which time Thesan Capital – a Madrid based investment company – had taken over the team from Carabante. Kolles left the team, with Thesan Capital setting out their aims to make the team more Spanish.
For this season, the team moved to the Caja Magica in Madrid – away from their previous base in Murcia – and lead driver Pedro de La Rosa spoke of taking ‘one step back for two steps forwards’. But now, there’s a question as to whether those two steps forward will ever be realised. Owners Thesan Capital bought the team with the aim of improving it and selling it on for a profit. Oops. Thesan Capital said in a statement released on Monday that “We're convinced that the sporting potential of the team is huge and that the presence of new investors can give it a big boost” and that they are “currently in talks with a number of groups interested in buying the team”. Well good luck with that. HRT has very little to offer except for an entry into the championship. If they are currently in talks, why publicly reveal this? The likely explanation is that any current talks with prospective buyers are flagging and they want the hurry up.
The issue is what would any potential owner end up buying? Thesan Capital has very clearly wanted to create a Spanish team. There’s a reason why the majority of teams (save Ferrari, Toro Rosso and Sauber) are based in the United Kingdom and that this specific area is known as ‘Motorsport Valley’. Even Marussia (nee Virgin) and Caterham (nee Lotus) felt that their respective bases in Sheffield and Norwich were too far away from the main action and decided to move to Banbury and Leafield respectively.
2013 is also unlikely to bring about any major changes in the order of Formula One, not when compared with the big changes coming in for 2014. What do HRT have to offer for 2013? A chassis that has been based on the 2010 car (built by Dallara) and has barely improved since then. It’s always difficult to judge HRT’s qualifying times, because of the use of hard tyres by top teams in the first segment of qualifying. But at the 2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Bruno Senna was 4.915s slower than the best time in Q1. This season, De La Rosa was 4.269s slower than the best time in Q1. It’s not much progress. In the races, it’s a similar story – de La Rosa finished the race in Abu Dhabi and it was the first time an HRT finished on the lead lap, largely down to the late safety car period. But the previous three races have also shown examples of the parts potentially running out. Karthikeyan’s steering failure and both drivers suffering from brake failures (in Korea and India respectively) have been put down, in some areas of the media, to a lack of new parts.
It’s always sad to have to portray negativity: the sport would be better off with twelve teams, but with HRT it is so difficult to imagine the outcome of this sorry saga resulting in positivity. You only have to look at how Caterham and Marussia have struggled to see the difficulties of starting a F1 team, but there’s a real vibe around those teams regarding 2014.
The Spanish economy was already struggling in 2009, when Adrian Campos was searching for a budget for his new Campos Meta team. Spain’s history with Formula One is also chequered – take out the brilliant Fernando Alonso and there isn’t much to scratch the surface. Furthermore, for the first time since 2007, the sport will only visit the country once next season. Again, the financial strain is being felt. 25% of Spaniards are unemployed. 52% of young Spaniards are unemployed. Add that to the fact that HRT is the first Spanish team and you have a recipe for disaster.
Teams such as Ferrari have frequently pushed for three car teams as opposed to teams such as HRT tootling around at the back. But F1 needs a variety of teams and there is a soft spot in the hearts of any for the backmarker teams. HRT are far from the worst team ever to grace the sport, but it is increasingly difficult to see how they can progress to the level of Caterham, let alone the midfield. What was the old statement about a tenth of a second being worth ten million dollars?
The press release on Monday should have been titled ‘Please, please come and buy us’. The same Spanish websites that preceded the official confirmation have also suggested that the team will be dissolved on December 2nd should a buyer not be found (the entry fee must be paid by November 30th, something that Bernie Ecclestone told Sky Sports F1 in India has not happened). Let’s hope for the sake of the real people involved that the team can continue, but any large backer in that situation will swiftly be approached by other teams as well! After all, the team spent the 2011 season with ‘your logo here’ and other such comments as the livery, to little success. If sponsors don’t want to buy space on a car, what hope for the entire team being bought?
HRT barely made the start of 2010 and 2012, while their presence in 2011 was thanks to the cancellation of the Bahrain Grand Prix. It’s hard to imagine them making it to 2013.