Worst Formula One Teams, 2000 – present
The F1 scene has changed quite a lot in the past 13 years. Teams have been bought out or changed names, engine manufacturers have dropped out and the sport went back to a single tyre manufacturer. However, the sport is constantly having to endure bad F1 teams which are doomed to mediocrity.
I started following the sport actively circa 2000 and these are the worst teams that used to compete up till now…
There is probably nothing more sad than seeing an F1 constructor with a long history come to a sudden end. This was the fate which befell the Arrows F1 team. Starting its first season in 1978, over the years Arrows had teetered between being a back-lot runner to being a fairly respectable middle-tier contender. Also, many greats of the sport had their start at the team.
However, it’s clear that Arrows limped its way through two decades of racing on the backs (and wallets) of up-coming drivers which eventually led to the depressing final chapter in Arrows’ history. In the second half of the 2002 season, the team were forced to sit out on the French Grand Prix and following the German Grand Prix, the team collapsed due to financial difficulties.
It was the first time ever I saw an F1 team giving up part-way into the season (though as you will notice from this list, not the last). I don’t have many great memories of Arrows, but they showed early on in my fascination of the sport that, in F1s, anything can happen.
Scuderia Minardi (1985-2005)
Minardi already had a long history of fail behind them, long before I started watching F1s. The team debuted in 1985 and were consistently one of the lamest and slowest teams on the grid, despite using Ferrari engines. However, most people within the sport really liked the team and its staff who were never shooting for the stars but instead kept their feet firmly on the ground. Also, Minardi had some excellent starters like Mark Webber, who actually managed to drive a Minardi on points in his very first F1 race in 2002.
However, when your drivers are consistently the last two men on the track, it’s usually a sign that your team isn’t doing well. The team’s final season was the 2005 championship during which the team scored its only points in the highly controversial US Grand Prix, which was driven amongst the Ferraris, Jordans and Minardis (6 cars) when the teams using Michelin tyres all retired after the warm-up lap because of safety issues. Afterwards, Minardi were bought out by Red Bull (who had bought Jaguar the year before) and the team became Toro Rosso.
Despite a rough start Minardi’s successor is now a serious middle tier contender and also serves as a feeder to the championship winning Energy Drink team.
The Jordan F1 team was, to its credit, at one time a seriously competitive constructor in the series. In 1999, they finished 3rd in the Constructors’ championship with their cars even winning two races that season. The team competed evenly within the sport for the next three years, but then the drop came in 2003, when (despite one race victory) the team scored points in only three races that season. The following year, the team was reduced to racing ahead of the Minardi cars at the backlot. Their final season in 2005, just like Minardi, the team achieved its only points (and a podium) in the US Grand Prix, after which the management decided it was time to get out and sell the team.
The next year, the team raced under the banner of the British Midland airlines, but rather than improve, their race performance became even worse (Toro Rosso, the former Minardi, actually scored their first championship point in their maiden season). Midland decided then that running an F1 team wasn’t as luxurious as they had imagined and swiftly sold the team to the Dutch Spyker car company by the end of the season.
Things did not improve much after that. Spyker was actually able to score their first and only championship point late in the season, thanks to Adrian Sutil, but the orange nightmare was perhaps best remembered for Christijan Albers‘ embarrassing hose incident in the French Grand Prix that season. Disappointed that they weren’t able to compete with the big boys, Spyker sold the team onward to yet another airline, Kingfisher run by Vijay Maliya, which is when the team attained its current name: Force India.
Since the buy-out, Force India has also risen the ranks to become a competent middle tier contender, but this series of buy-outs proves that while big money is involved in running an F1 team, not everyone possesses the skills to make a championship winning car.
Super Aguri (2006-2008)
By the mid ’00s, the amount of F1 constructors was pretty low with non-contenders like Prost and Arrows dropping out. At that point I was already used to constructors changing names to become other teams, but new teams, coming outside of the established ones, was still a bit new to me. The first team to crop up when I had started to follow the sport actively was the (now defunct) Toyota team, but in 2006 we got another Japanese constructor to enter the sport, Super Aguri.
The team was founded by Aguri Suzuki who, before Kamui Kobayashi, was widely considered the greatest Japanese F1 driver (having achieved a podium finish in the 1990 Japanese Grand Prix). Unfortunately, all Super Aguri was ever able to achieve by entering F1s (apart from 4 championship points) was to prove the old F1 rule: teams banking on the name value of former drivers rarely succeed. Indeed, Super Aguri short stint within F1s was embarrassing to watch. The team was clearly adamant in trying to feed more Japanese drivers into the sport (by stark comparison to Toyota who actually tried to improve their race performance), probably best evidenced in the continued employment of the talentless Takuma Sato.
During their first seasons, the Super Aguri’ struggled to even make it to the end of the race. On their second season, they landed consistently outside the point-scoring range. By the start of the 2008 season, sponsors had left the team and Super Aguri folded four grand prixs in, the second time since Arrows that I had seen an F1 team collapse mid-season.
The car manufacturer Honda actually has a long and glorious history with Formula Ones as an engine supplier to many championship winning cars. However, Honda’s attempt at running their own F1 team fell extremely short of expectations. After a rocky start, the British-American Racing team was finally making steady results by the mid ’00s which is when Honda decided to buy major share of the team and turn it into the Honda F1 team. While their performance was still good coming off of the previous season’s car in 2006 (scoring 86 points, achieving 3 podiums and 4th in the championship) and with former Ferrari driver, Rubens Barrichello, joining the team, things quickly deteriorated the following year.
In 2007, Honda was third to last in the championship, beating only Spyker and Super Aguri in the standings. The team didn’t fare much better in 2008. Despite a surprise podium finish by Rubens Barrichello in the extremely hectic British Grand Prix, the team drove to points only four times that season, beating only the four-race runner, Super Aguri, and the non point-scoring Force India. Afterwards, Honda’s faith in its own F1 team was so bad that team principal Ross Brawn (former Ferrari) bought out the team, renamed it after himself and went on to win Brawn GP’s first and only championship the following year.
It’s ironic that Honda would drop out at the exact moment when things were starting to look up and probably due to this failure and Super Aguri’s collapse, Toyota too eventually decided to leave at the end of the 2009 season (despite it being their best season as a constructor). Honda of course is now returning as an engine manufacturer in 2015, but they in part are to blame for the decline of Japanese constructors within the sport.
Hispania Racing Team (2010-2012)
And of course, this list just wouldn’t be complete without mentioning one of the worst F1 teams in history. Hispania Racing Team made their debut in 2010, the same year that three other constructors were due to enter the sport: Lotus Racing, Virgin and USF1. Things got off to a rocky start already when neither USF1 nor HRT were able to finish their cars in time for pre-season testing. The USF1 team was eventually dropped from the constructor’s roster before the season’s start and HRT eventually did get their car on track… for the first Qualifying of the season.
The tragically hilarious story of HRT has all the hallmarks of a shitty F1 team. They kept switching drivers like underwear. During their first season they had no less than four drivers, most of whom are no longer driving in any team. Next season HRT banked on old has-beens by hiring former final season Jordan driver Narain Karthikeyan and the disappointing former Force India driver Vitantonio Liuzzi. Half-way through the season, though HRT struck a deal with Red Bull and sidelined Karthikeyan in order to give current Toro Rosso driver Daniel Ricciardo a chance to gain some F1 experience (though HRT did let Karhtikeyan drive in Liuzzi’s place in the very first Indian Grand Prix that season).
However, it was due to the poor performance of HRT (and to a lesser extent Virgin/Marussia and Lotus) that the 107% rule for qualifyings was re-introduced that year, which lead HRT to not qualify for the season opening race. However, perhaps afraid that the treatment of the smaller constructor this way would seem harsh, the FIA showed increasing leniency to HRT in future qualifyings by allowing them to race based on their practice session times. Regardless, the same indignity befell the team in their final season and HRT never managed to get a car out in time for pre-season testing.
2012 was a farce for the team, full of retirements with F1 has-beens Karthikeyan and Pedro De La Rosa trying to look like they were trying their hardest. By the end of the season it was becoming painfully evident that HRT would not be returning next year and the team’s workers even had a drunken brawl at their Spanish HQ following the final race of the season (and most likely the announcement of their resignations). The guessing was over when the FIA announced the 2013 constructor roster in November which finally confirmed that HRT’s tale had come to an end.