Formula One: On and off track - week 8

Formula One: On and off track - week 8

US F1, Campos and Bruno Senna, Virgin and Lotus, and who's the fastest team Things are not going according to plan for Formula One newcomer US F1, team principal Ken Anderson revealed last week they are in discussion with the FIA to get...

US F1, Campos and Bruno Senna, Virgin and Lotus, and who's the fastest team

Things are not going according to plan for Formula One newcomer US F1, team principal Ken Anderson revealed last week they are in discussion with the FIA to get permission to miss the first four races of this season, which would mean they would join the rest of the teams during the Spanish Grand Prix on May 7-9. What exactly is going on, is unknown, they could have financial problems, or problems with building the car. Insiders reported that "sponsor money didn't come through the way it was supposed to." And without money to pay their suppliers, US F1 will certainly not get the parts they need to finish the car in time.

Peter Windsor, Sporting Director of US F1.
Photo by GP2 Series Media Service.

Sofar rumors have emerged the US F1 facility in Charlotte was for sale, Chad Hurley had stopped his financial support, and when the team's official website also went off the air for a few hours, it fueled the suspicion the team would already be out of business. Anonymous sources claim a number of the 60 employees have left the team. The representatives of Argentine driver Jos? Maria L?pez have met with members of the FOM organization to discuss the situation, and revealed they sofar have not made any payments to US F1, and the latest new is that Lopez wants to make a switch to Campos.

For the American Formula One fans, and for the team itself, this is of course a very disappointing situation to say the least. But the lack of transparency and the silence of US F1 is also very disappointing, their sporting director Peter Windsor is an excellent reporter and journalist, and US F1 should use Windsor's skills to break the silence and give the media more insight on what is going on.

Campos could be the next team to miss a number of races this season. Last week Spanish businessman and entrepreneur Jose Ramon Carabante, who was already a shareholder, took complete control of the Campos team. The team's headquarters will remain in Spain, and Colin Kolles, former Jordan, Midland and Force India team principal, will be at the helm of the renewed Campos team. This was also good news for Bruno Senna, after a meeting with Carabante and Kolles last weekend, the team confirmed Senna will retain his race seat at the new team, and although additional funding would be welcome, the team will not force him to find more sponsor money to safeguard his seat.

Carabanta is still adamant the team will be ready for Bahrain: "The whole rescue operation has been a race against time with the goal of always having the team run two competitive cars at the first Grand Prix of the F1 season in Bahrain." But although the team has now been financially rescued, it does not mean they will be ready for the first race in Bahrain. When Kolles visited the Campos headquarters in Spain, he was shocked when he found an empty workshop, no cars, no machines and no tools. Carabante has paid the bills for the Dallara chassis and the Cosworth engine, but that is all, they now have a chassis and an engine, and it would be a miracle if the team succeeded in building the rest of both cars in only three weeks time.

More encouraging is the progress of the other two new Formula One teams, Virgin and Lotus. Both teams have now joined the other teams during last week's testing at the circuit of Jerez in Spain, unfortunately for Virgin, their debut was not flawless, they experienced problems with the hydraulics and had to abandon testing on the second day due to a lack of spare parts. The mounting of the front wing of the car had failed on the first day, and the team had no spare wing. Virgin will have new updated parts for the test at Barcelona later this week.

Because of those problems, Virgin designer Nick Wirt described the test in Spain as a 'character-building week'. However, Wirth remained optimistic about the next test at Barcelona: "On a positive note, despite these issues, we have actually completed a lot of good race preparation work and it is satisfying to see the car's potential with minimum set-up changes or development." Virgin were able to complete 144 laps, while archrival Lotus completed 315 laps.

Lotus during testing last week.
Photo by xpb.cc.

On the first day of testing Lotus reserve and test driver Fairuz Fauzy completed 76 laps without any problems. Technical Director Mike Gascoyne: "With the car we had no major reliability issues - a few niggles with overheating which were quickly solved and then the car ran pretty faultlessly". Lotus also didn't bring a spare front wing either, and when on the second day Heikki Kovalainen slid of the track in the rain, he damaged the front wing, and like Virgin the day before, the team also had to retire from testing that day.

On the third day Kovalainen put the car through its paces on slicks for the first time, and on the fourth day Jarno Trulli was behind the wheel of the Lotus, and completed 141 laps without any problems. All in all not a bad result for Lotus and Gascoyne said the team was now concentrating on reliability and improving the race pace, and was confident the last test at Barcelona would be successful. Both teams will indeed have to work on their race pace, they were several seconds slower compared to the other teams.

During testing the discussion about who will be the fastest team this year also started. Is it Ferrari, Mercedes, McLaren, Red Bull, or? Most drivers are very reluctant to say anything about it, not Michael Schumacher. He thinks Mercedes, Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull are the strongest teams, but he admitted it is very difficult to give a judgment based upon the recent test times. Schumacher also was impressed with the Sauber team, Kamui Kobayashi again did an excellent job and clocked the third fastest time during the last day. Of course Schumacher is very confident his Mercedes team is in good shape: "I am fully convinced that we have a car that is able to fight for the championship" he said.

Another confident driver is Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso, he said the Ferrari F10 was the best car he had ever driven, and also suggested the Ferrari team still hasn't shown its full potential yet. Jenson Button, who will be racing for McLaren this year, was worried about the happy Alonso, and explained: "I see a happy Alonso, and that's not good because it means he's fast." He told he had been tailgating the Ferrari and the Mercedes during a few fast laps on the circuit, just to see how the cars behaved compared to his car, and he was impressed with the Ferrari. Button: "You never know what fuel loads people are on but you can see what sort of balance they have, Ferrari looked good on the circuit, good consistency."

Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel on the other hand, said it was way to early to conclude the Ferrari was the fastest car. "Ferrari looked pretty strong, but all the top teams are still making improvements to the cars, so there is more to come", Vettel commented.

But we can't look into the future, so we will have to wait until the end of the first race in Bahrain to see who really is the fastest driver. Meanwhile, the next test at Barcelona will start on Thursday, and could give us some more clues about the performance of the teams.

Join us again next week for the weekly "Formula One: On and off track".


See also: Formula One: On and off track - week 7

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About this article
Series General , Formula 1
Drivers Jarno Trulli , Jenson Button , Michael Schumacher , Fernando Alonso , Heikki Kovalainen , Fairuz Fauzy , Mike Gascoyne , Sebastian Vettel , Bruno Senna , Colin Kolles
Teams Sauber , Force India