The 2010 Teams – What went wrong?

2010-f1-teams2With Manor now closing its doors, the last of the 2010 debut teams has bitten the dust. Last year, Haas F1 entered the sport as the first American constructor in F1s for decades. And though their maiden season wasn’t very flattering on the overall,  the team scored points in three of the first five races of the season thanks entirely to Romain Grosjean. These along with a couple of more visits to the bottom-half of the score zone eventually secured Haas the 8th position in the Constructors’ championship, beating out long-standing constructors Renault and Sauber (as well as the recently deceased Manor). Even if the latter half of the season was quite challenging, Haas proved itself to be a constructor that knew what it was doing. They maybe struggled to keep up with the rest of the teams on car development – but now with money coming into the team thanks to their promising results, the team will hopefully keep developing.

This all begs the question of how come of the three teams which debuted in 2010, none ever managed to rise from the back-lot to the middle-tier and only one ever even managed to score some championship points. The three teams of which I speak are of course the late Lotus Racing (later Caterham), Hispania Racing Team and Virgin Racing, which after a number of years under the Marussia banner became the now-late Manor team.

One big factor which can be pointed to as having had an enormous effect was probably preparation time or, in other words, the 2010 teams’ incredible lack of it. Gene Haas voiced his intention to start an F1 team already in 2014, but he had the foresight to wait a while, and only set the date for his team’s debut into 2016 – so that he could have all the raw materials to make a functioning F1 team. It’s worthy to remind everyone here that there were in fact supposed to be four F1 teams debuting in 2010. One team, USF1, never even got their car off the concept stage and Bernie Ecclestone revoked their entry after it was becoming apparent that the team had no serious preparations ready. Hispania was the worst prepared out of the entries that made it to the season opening Grand Prix. Hispania’s cars didn’t even get to the circuit until the qualifying on Saturday (missing the Winter tests and even the Free Practice sessions entirely).

Once the season started, it was painfully evident how much slower the three teams’ cars were in comparison to the rest of the pack. But despite Hispania’s hilariously awful start to the season, for a while, it looked like it was Virgin who was not going to make it to the end of the season (despite Richard Branson bankrolling the team), as the “brilliant” designers had made the car’s fuel-tank too small to even last a full Grand Prix. Considering this was the season when pit-stop refueling was banned, you can see why things were looking extra dark for the team, so much so that Branson ended up selling Virgin to the Russian car manufacturer mid-season.

But if I have to be candid, the biggest blunderer of them all was still Tony Fernandes’s Lotus Racing, which after a heated legal dispute with Genii Capital (the owners of the Lotus car brand, who ended up bank-rolling and even owning Renault for a time, renaming it Lotus in 2011 to the confusion of audiences) was forced to rename the team Caterham in 2012. Luck is definitely a factor when you’re racing at the back, but Lotus/Caterham never seemed to be able to capitalise on the few races where their cars were within a striking distance of the Top-10. Caterham’s best result ever was an 11th place finish, just one point down from actually scoring championship points.

Why does this matter? Well, because all through 2010 till 2012, Lotus/Caterham whooped the butts of Marussia and Hispania. By making it into the Top-10 of the constructors’ championship, they were receiving shares in F1 broadcast revenues and essentially getting free capital which, in theory, should have given them an edge over their fellow 2010 debut-teams in car-development. But unfortunately, either due to ineptitude or simply not having enough money, Caterham never managed to improve.

This is where Marussia actually turned things around in a big way (while Hispania quietly collapsed in on itself). In 2013, they crushed Caterham in the results and in 2014, they finally scored their first points. Unfortunately, this was also the year that Caterham and Marussia both went into administration, Marussia after the tragic accident of Jules Bianchi, who would die a year later in a coma and who was the man who actually scored the points. Marussia didn’t just beat Caterham in the results (even if they were forced to sit out on the final three races of the season) but Sauber as well. But unfortunately, Marussia/Manor’s luck seemed to dry up. The Russian constructor pulled out at the end of the season and Manor technically still raced under their banner in 2015 as this way they secured the TV revenues. But in 2016, as the Rio Haryanto incident proved, the team was clearly still not financially clear and the end result was bankruptcy.

So in other words the whole ordeal boiled down to a few things:

  1. Rushed launch into the sport: It’s clear all three teams rushed in with a burning desire but without the necessary prep-time to actually get their cars set up for the season.
  2. Not utilising their resources properly: Caterham in particular should have done slightly more dramatic decisions while it was still clearly the top-dog of the 2010 teams. By the time Marussia stepped up their game, the constructor was already too far gone to realistically improve. And Hispania barely scraped through the three seasons it was part of the sport anyway.
  3. Not striking while the iron was hot: Of course, this was all down to bad luck – but the smaller teams should have attempted something drastic to improve race results, especially on those days when the score-zone was at its closest.

Haas seems headed to a much better future. Let’s hope they’ll stick around for a bit longer than these guys.