If I am to participate in the Thursday Thoughts adventure it seems the only way is to convert it to Friday ones. Blame the time difference.
Anyway, here is the topic for this week, Thursday of Friday:
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?
Maybe the question should be rephrased – Are the new teams welcome and is it OK to have on the grid teams several seconds off the pace ?
And few more questions to follow up – Was F1 better with Toyota after the car maker joined the sport in 2002 ? Were we better off with Minardi and Jordan on the grid (not Eddie himself but the team) or without them after the former was turned into Toro Rosso by Red Bull and the latter metamorphosed to Midland, Spyker and finally Force India ? Was F1 better with or without Super Aguri ?
One thing we should recall is that F1 grid was relatively stable and occupied by established and one can say competitive teams since 1997. Footworks, Fortis, Simteks, Larousses etc all disappeared, Lola’s attempt failed. When you look at the 1997 grid you can see there almost all the teams that raced in F1 at the end of 2009. Yes Benetton turned into Renault, Jordan is now Force India, Stewart is Red Bull, Tyrell is Mercedes, Minardi is Toro Rosso but they are still all there. The only teams genuinely lost between 1997 and 2002 were Prost and Arrows in 2002 although Arrows briefly resurfaced in the form of Super Aguri few years later. The only real addition to the grid in those years was Toyota. But what looked like stability was in fact manufacturers dominated series with budgets spiraling out of control and we know how that house of cards quickly collapsed once the car sales plummeted…
The years of relative stability (economics, technical regulations) brought us to the situation where all the cars were separated by less than two seconds. Just look at the final qualifying session before the major rule changes – the 2008 Brazilian GP – Q1 fastest time by Massa – 1:11.830, slowest by Sutil – 1:13.508. Things got a bit shaken up in 2009 but by the end of the season the gaps between teams were back to the 2008 level, although different teams were on different levels.
When we look back to Toyota’s debut in 2002, the first relevant qualifying session was Malaysia (as Australia was wet). The best Toyota driven by Salo qualified 10th, 2.428s behind pole setting Schumacher’s Ferrari. This was approximately 3 years since one of the largest and richest car manufacturers in the world decided to go into F1, 2 years after they were granted entry and a year later than their original plan. At the same qualifying Heidfeld in 7th place was 1.933s off the pole, both Jaguars were over 3 seconds off the pace, Mark Webber in Minardi 4.188s back just ahead of his hopeless team mate Yoong (+4.892).
Gaps like these were rather normal in F1 less than 10 years ago and these were gaps between cars run (with the exception of Toyota that time) by established teams.
The next new team to appear was Super Aguri in 2006. It does not really make much sense comparing them to current new teams as Super Aguri never really designed and built their own car. They used the 4-years old Arrows chassis before switching to a year old Honda machinery.
Then came the economic downturn, Honda exit, the drive to reduce the cost, the politics, the exits of BMW and Toyota, the budget cap, new entries and all the mess that threatened the existence of F1. Somehow the sense has prevailed. Two out three teams that were to enter F1 under the budget cap regulations made it to the grid even after the budget cap was flushed down the toilet. Another operation managed to build the team and a car from scratch within 9 months.
The result ?
Yes, the new teams were hopelessly off the pace and with no realistic chance to score points or make it to Q3, or even Q2 without others messing up. But they were all well within the standards of F1 in the early years of the millenium, before the car manufacturers turned the F1 economics on its head. Their relative performance was better than that of many of the teams that came and went before 1997. They kept the gap to the top teams rather steady during the season which is amazing achievement given the pace and cost of development at the top of the grid.
They also provided space on the grid for six drivers (or more if we count the merry go round in HRT).
Yes, that was space way back on the grid, but how did Alonso and Webber, the 2010 title contenders, enter F1 ?
Photo: Lotus Racing