Monday, 8 June 2009

So, who wants a new team?

2010 will once again go back to the days of 26 car grids as 3 new teams will join the 10 existing ones (hopefully) in the pitlane for next season. With about 8 new entries coming in from various teams, outfits and companies, there’s certainly a lot of competition. Of course, we won’t see the days of pre-qualifying return, or at least not any time soon. But with these new slots meaning more cars on the grid and therefore more packed and competitive racing, are we seeing this new era of F1 advance at such a rate that it’s getting difficult to keep up? Nevertheless, here is who I think will make it onto the grid. I’m looking at 4 teams, not ruling out the possibility of one team pulling out should the new rules not turn out the way they want them.

I feel that this team is in the best position to get one of the 3 places. A dream of Ken Anderson’s to have an American F1 team is on the verge of coming true. With support from journalist Peter Windsor, USF1 already has two bases set up in Spain and in Charlotte, North Carolina which is deep NASCAR team territory. But don’t see that as a bad thing. With so much technical expertise behind what seems like just going round in circles, poaching some of that talent will be valuable for this team to get off the ground.

There’s already been talk of engine deals, but the speculation of who will be driving for them is rife. One such name that seems to keep cropping up is Danica Patrick, IRL’s “first lady”. With an IndyCar in at Motegi last year already under her belt, the pressure’s on for her to perform and do it again. But if she was to come to F1, I can’t help but feel it would be more of a publicity stunt rather than a logical decision based on talent. There’s no doubting the girl can drive, but probably not at the level required for the pinnacle of formula racing. I’ll be honest, I’ve not seen her perform all that well on the road courses. But with enough time in the car, who knows.

Windsor and Anderson made it clear their intentions driver-wise were to have one American driver and one experienced veteran, therefore looking at both sides of the talent market. By introducing a driver from their homeland into F1, the first since Scott Speed in 2007, it might just rekindle America’s enthusiasm for the sport. Of course, it probably could never overthrow NASCAR as the number 1 viewed motorsport in the country. As for experienced, I can’t help but have Barrichello in my head for this one. Should he have finally had enough of Jenson’s winning ways at Brawn, a wise old fox like himself might just give USF1 the kickstart they need in terms of on and off track development. The American driver? Marco Andretti seems like the popular choice.

Predicted driver line-up: Marco Andretti and Rubens Barrichello

Not since 1997 have we seen this name in F1, and everything didn’t quite go to plan that time. 14 seconds off pole in Australia and that was it. The cars made it to Brazil but the covers never even came off. All the money and sponsorship had dried up and with it had Eric Broadley’s dream of a true works Lola F1 effort. But with the new rules, new company owner Martin Birrane seems to have sorted out their reputation and gone on to a world of great things in other forms of motorsport. Single seaters and Le Mans have been their strengths since their disastrous ‘97 campaign. They have built cars for F3, F3000, A1GP and Champ Car in terms of single seaters, while a variety of LMP machines have graced the world’s best race tracks including Le Mans of course.

What this says to me is that they have rebuilt themselves and done it well. With so much in their design portfolio, it’s clear to me that they’re best equipped out of all the teams applying. They have excellent facilities including their own wind tunnel, which will be a big aid in the design process. Personally I think they are the best developed race car builders. It’s plain to see what they’ve been to since last time we saw them on the grid. Surely some of the time they spent on projects for A1GP and F3000 will be of use. It’s good to see that they’ve kept themselves in the single seater loop all this time, so I think getting up to speed won’t be a problem.

Drivers seems to be a rather tough one when it comes to Lola. Seeing as there is no works Lola team in motorsport at the moment, choosing 2 drivers isn’t for me. For some reason, I’m not sure why, Vitaly Petrov from the Barwa Addax team in GP2 is the first name in my head. Alongside Renault-bound Romain Grosjean, the two of them have helped the ex-Campos team shoot to the top of the series. Kinda like Brawn only without the financial troubles. As for a second driver, I reckon Bourdais could seek refuge since it’s looking ever increasingly like his seat is under threat. Brendon Hartley would be the best choice to replace him, and with Le Seb having experience in a Lola Champ Car, it could be a wise move that saves his F1 career.

Predicted driver line-up: Vitaly Petrov and Sebastien Bourdais

Prodrive/Aston Martin
Now here’s a team that promised so much but delivered nothing, quite literally. After securing the 12th slot on the grid for 2008, Prodrive decided against entering, feeling that the ongoing row on customer cars at the time was the main reason why they pulled out. It was highly touted a customer deal with McLaren to provide chassis would help them along, but thinking better of it, David Richards decided to focus on his WRC and Le Mans projects with Subaru and Aston Martin respectively.

Then Richards was put in as a potential buyer for Honda, but he ruled himself out after a while stating that the current state of F1 was not good enough for him to consider re-entering. But when the budget cap was unveiled, it was just the spark that he needed to put forward the plans to mount a serious bid for the top flight. Richards is one of those guys who I admire as a team owner and businessman. He’s done so much, from starting out as co-driver to Ari Vatanen to running Porsche 911s in rallies, then being team boss of 2 F1 teams, Benetton and BAR, and ongoing projects like the Subaru WRC program, Aston Martin’s return to sportscar racing and also orchestrating Ford’s works team assault in the Australian V8 Supercar Championship. All that, plus he’s head of the WRC.

Now, there’s big talk of David bringing the Aston Martin name to F1. When his initial bid was made, he said he had no intention of using the brand, or Subaru for that matter. But with the British marque being the only major partnership he works with right now, he has hinted that while he’s not looking at doing so straight away, he wouldn’t mind incorporating them into the team in a few seasons’ time. An Aston Martin F1 car in Gulf colours would looks simply stunning and probably sound great too. In terms of drivers, Anthony Davidson crops up straight away. He’s racing for Aston in their LMP1 prototype at Le Mans this coming weekend, so if he performs well there he’d stand in good steed for a race seat and a return to the big time. Who to partner him? This requires some thought. I would suggest Darren Turner to make it an all British line-up, but despite the guy being an ex-McLaren tester, it probably wouldn’t happen. Perhaps Gary Paffett could benefit from this, or Paul di Resta. I can't decide!

Predicted driver line-up: Anthony Davidson and Gary Paffett/Paul di Resta

Epsilon Euskadi
OK, so if one team was to throw a hissy fit or lose interest and declare the words “I quit”, I believe this entry to be the best placed to capitalise on it. All I know of Epsilon Euskadi is that they’re Spanish, they have their own Le Mans prototype, their team is run by ex-Benetton man Joan Villadelprat and…well, that’s about it. Apparently, they have a full sponsorship board already in place and ready to initiate should they be accepted which means financially they could the best placed in that category. Villadelprat is a wise man who has been around a long time, so his experience in motorsport will prove invaluable. Apart from that, I’m not sure what else to say about them.

So, drivers? Alvaro Parente has come up straight away in my head for some reason. Maybe it’s because he’s Portuguese, I don’t know, but he seems to fit. Alongside him could be Lucas di Grassi. This man has been overlooked for a Renault driver thanks to Piquet and Grosjean and I think he deserves a chance at least.

Predicted driver line-up: Alvaro Parente and Lucas di Grassi

Now I dare say you’ve got your own opinions on who should be in which new team, whoever gets accepted. Please do share them, I would love to hear what you think. All I know is 2010 is shaping up to be rather awesome – I think…