Cosworth is a current engine supplier to Formula One. Its customers are Marussia and HRT, the teams that came second last and last in 2012. It seems, however, that HRT’s days in Formula One are over, which halves Cosworth’s F1 customer base. How long will it be before Cosworth disappears from Formula One altogether?
Formula One is in the midst of an engine freeze. Until the end of 2013, the engines run in Formula One cars must largely be free from alteration. But for 2014, the situation changes dramatically. Gone are the current 2.4 litre V8 engines, which will be replaced by turbocharged 1.6 litre V6 powerplants. For the major engine suppliers (Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault) the change in engine regulations has already resulted in a significant amount of investment and testing. But for Cosworth, it might just be a waste of time.
Cosworth’s only current Formula One customers finished last (HRT) and second last (Marussia) in the 2012 Formula One World Constructors’ Championship. Neither team scored points, and the highest finishing position by a Cosworth engine this season was 12th for Timo Glock’s Marussia in Singapore. If both teams seemed able to sustain long-term relationships with Cosworth, then development of a new engine could make sense. But HRT are in the process of liquidating, which creates problems for Cosworth.
Developing a new engine for Formula One requires an enormous amount of work. The engine must be designed and tested to perform in the most demanding of environments – the back of a Formula one car. So it is not an exercise to be taken lightly. Cosworth must believe that they stand to benefit from the new engine before they even begin to develop it. In the case of their 2014 Formula One engine, the benefits are looking quite small at the moment.
Each of the other engine manufacturers supplies at least three teams, and none of those relationships looks like breaking down, which gives those engine suppliers incentive to dedicate resources to 2014 engine development. But in the case of Cosworth, with only back-of-the-field Marussia to worry about, what’s the point in going to the trouble of developing a new engine that is unlikely to be in a competitive car? They may as well focus their attention on their already successful involvement in other forms of motorsport.
There is the possibility that Cosworth could be handed a lifeline. With HRT gone, there are only 11 teams left in Formula One. The Concorde Agreement that governs the sport allows for a field of 13 teams. That leaves two spots open for potential new entrants. If the FIA can find two new teams, Cosworth would be the obvious source of engines for the newcomers, as the other engine suppliers already have quite enough on their hands. If, however, the FIA chooses to keep a field of just 11 teams in 2014, then Cosworth could well decide to pull out of Formula One.
It seems all but certain now that there will be only 11 teams on the Formula One grid in 2013, after Sky Sports reported today that HRT began to liquidate assets in November. The struggling Spanish team was put up for sale before the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix by owners Thesan Capital, but has not managed to secure a buyer.
The news comes after Formtech Composites, a supplier of carbon fibre components to many Formula One teams, revealed that it had agreed payment terms with Thesan Capital for debts owed by HRT without being informed that the team had begun the process of liquidation three days earlier.
With the team’s assets being sold, it seems impossible that HRT will be able to make the grid in 2013 even if a buyer can still be found. Considering how little time remains before the first pre-season test starts on 5 February, it also seems impossible that the FIA would be able to go through the process of allowing another team to enter. There will therefore only be 11 teams on the grid next season.
Although HRT spent their three seasons in Formula One at the back of the field, they did manage to attract some fans, particularly in Spain, where the team is based. Those supporters will be disappointed to see their team disappear from the grid, particularly after the team recovered well from a disastrous start to the season and was able to compete regularly with the Marussia team during the middle part of the season.
HRT is currently for sale, and the general impression in Formula One is that buyers are not exactly queuing up. Considering that the team’s history consists of three thoroughly uncompetitive seasons, that is perhaps not so surprising. But the sale of the team does present an interesting opportunity to the existing big teams.
Each of the 12 current Formula One teams operates independently. That is, each team designs, builds and races its own chassis. Engines are sourced from one of four suppliers: Renault, Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz or Cosworth. There are some technical partnerships between the teams, notable examples being Caterham’s use of Red Bull’s gearbox and McLaren’s technical partnership with Marussia. But in general, the the teams exist in isolation.
There is one exception to the pattern of separation between Formula One teams. And that is the relationship between Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Toro Rosso. Both teams are owned by energy drink giant Red Bull, and until regulations made it illegal from 2010 the two teams ran essentially the same chassis. Toro Rosso is, for all intents and purposes, the junior Red Bull team, and is used to develop drivers. It famously produced currently triple World Champion Sebastian Vettel, who drove for Toro Rosso during 2007 and 2008 before moving to Red Bull Racing in 2009.
Red Bull’s ownership of two teams has some particular benefits. From a marketing perspective, it provides an advertising platform twice the size of any other in Formula One – instead of having two cars in Red Bull colours, there are four. For driver development, it is the perfect solution. In-season testing in Formula One is virtually forbidden for reasons of cost saving. Other teams run test and development drivers during Friday morning practice on Grand Prix weekends. Red Bull runs their development drivers in full race seats at Toro Rosso, which gives the drivers infinitely better experience than any other team can offer. From a strategic perspective, one sixth of the grid is racing for Red Bull, which is crucial on the track – a Red Bull Racing driver in the fight for the World Championship can count on having an easy time passing a Toro Rosso.
Having a junior team works very well for Red Bull. So why not for other teams? Fairly obviously, it is a question of finance. Red Bull are prepared to pump money into two teams, and it is paying off. They are winning the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships consistently, and have a ready supply of capable drivers waiting in the wings. Perhaps the other teams with big budgets should look at a similar idea. The teams in such a position are Ferrari, McLaren, and possibly Mercedes.
Taking over HRT would have some significant advantages over starting a new team or running a separate development program outside of Formula One. The team already exists. It has a base in Madrid and a race team with three years of experience. In Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan, HRT has two capable race drivers. All that is required is funding and the right technical personnel to help the team progress. And, to be frank, HRT’s performance cannot get worse. For three seasons, HRT cars have been at the back of the field. The only available direction is forward.
Red Bull saw the value in HRT in 2011, when there was a need to give Daniel Ricciardo a taste of racing at the highest level. Red Bull paid for Ricciard to drive for HRT in 11 races of the 2011 season before offering him a full-time driver for Toro Rosso in 2012.
This is a golden opportunity for one of the big teams in Formula One to create an increased presence in the sport. A junior team equipped for driver development has already shown value for Red Bull. It is time for one of the other major players in Formula One to follow suit.
Thesan Capital, the current owners of HRT Formula 1 Team, have made public their intention to sell the team in a statement on the team’s website yesterday:
“The current owners of HRT Formula 1 Team, TC II S.a.rl., would like to confirm that they are currently in talks with a number of groups interested in buying the team. HRT Formula 1 Team’s current management hopes to conclude the sale in the upcoming weeks and, with it, enable the team to continue progressing and become a reference in modern-day Formula 1 after the important achievements already accomplished in this 2012 season. HRT Formula 1 Team hopes to communicate the name of its new owner in the upcoming weeks.”
The team has struggled at the back of the field since entering the sport in 2010, partly through a lack of resources. HRT has never featured in pre-season testing with a current car, and failed to qualify for the season opener in Australia in 2011 and 2012. Development through the 2012 season has, however, been reasonable, and has allowed drivers Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan to compete with the Marussias on occasion, although the HRT F112 is still clearly the slowest car in the field.
Thesan Capital’s statement suggests that it is close to concluding a sale, but it could also be an attempt to lure buyers by creating the impression that there is demand for the team. There certainly is reason to believe that the team would sell quite easily, as the FIA is currently not offering entry for new teams to Formula One.
In recent years, there have been a few attempts to launch new teams. An American team called USF1 was granted entry in 2010 but failed before the start of the season due to a lack of funding. A Serbian team called Stefan GP attempted unsuccessfully to enter the sport in 2010 and 2011, despite having purchased the chassis, engine and gearbox of the Toyota team that withdrew at the end of 2009. David Richards’ Prodrive team was also denied entry in 2010, along with a dozen or so other potential new teams. It is highly possible that investors connected to these teams could be interested in HRT, which already has a fully operational headquarters in Madrid, and a race team with three season under its belt. It is therefore an attractive proposition.
Rumours have surfaced that the team could be dissolved if a buyer is not found by 2 December 2012. While the team’s owners have not confirmed the possible dissolution, securing funding for the team’s 2013 campaign is now urgent, as the new car must be built and tested before the season begins in March next year. If a solution is not found soon, HRT will almost certainly occupy last place on the grid in 2013, if it features at all.
Pedro de la Rosa: “Silverstone is a beautiful and classic circuit; it’s a place I really like. I’ve raced in many categories there: Formula Ford, Formula Renault, Formula 3 and Formula 1. It’s a quick, high downforce track with a lot of quick corners linked together. It’s very demanding on the tyres, so the logical thing is to go for three stops. Strategies will play a big part. It’s not the most favourable circuit for us so we’re going to have to grind our teeth because, apart from that, it’s also one of the toughest tracks for a driver. We’re going to try and continue the good work from the last grands prix, finish this race and improve on our result in Valencia. That is our objective.”
Narain Karthikeyan: “I’ve got very good memories of Silverstone as I’ve raced a lot there in the past in junior categories, it’s one of my favourite tracks on the calendar and a place I expect to do well. Copse and the Becketts complex are special corners and are up there with the most exciting ones in the championship but I don’t know the new part of the circuit as I didn’t race at Silverstone last year so it will take me a few laps to adapt. After a positive weekend in Valencia, with a good performance in qualifying, I’m hoping to continue from there and build on it in Great Britain.”
Dani Clos: “I’m very happy to step into the F112 once again in Silverstone, a place where I’ve got good memories since I’ve made the podium every time I’ve been in GP2. After Barcelona I’ve really been looking forward to this new opportunity. The work we’re carrying out with the team is positive and I think that I can make a good contribution. I will be able to run in better conditions than in Barcelona because the car was new back then and I had to carry out various aero tests. Now I’ve got a new opportunity, not to prove anything but to work with the team and evolve as much as we can.”
Luis Pérez-Sala, Team Principal: “In Valencia we had a positive weekend and were able to confirm the good sensations we’d felt in the last few races. Silverstone is one of the most emblematic and historic circuits in the Championship and racing there is always something special. We want to see how our car performs at the British track with the latest upgrades because it’s a track that contains various quick turns and that’s where we suffer most. On another note, I’m happy that Dani will have a new opportunity to sit behind the wheel of the car for the first free practice session. This time he’ll be able to get more out of the session because in Barcelona there were many things to test and he had to focus on them, but now he’ll be able to get the most out of the experience. Besides, it will be the second time he drives the F112 this season so he won’t be stepping into the unknown and won’t need a period to adapt.”
Pedro de la Rosa: “Just like in Barcelona, I’m really looking forward to racing in front of our home fans in Valencia. At the Valencia Street Circuit we will encounter high air and track temperatures so the brakes will be put through their paces once again, but we’re confident we can make the necessary modifications to overcome the problems we experienced in Canada. Valencia has long straights but overtaking isn’t easy and it is a high-downforce track. I think we can do quite well here, although it’s not as favourable to our car as Canada, because there are a lot of braking areas and slow corners which are good for us. We’re looking forward to putting in a good performance in front of our fans and we want to continue with our progress from the last few races, where we’ve been at a good standard, but here we want to confirm this improvement in the race.”
Narain Karthikeyan: “Valencia will be our third street circuit in a row, and our team’s second home race. It is our second visit to Spain in just about five weeks but the circuit is as different as it could be compared to Barcelona. It shares some characteristics with Montreal and Monte Carlo, like emphasis on low-speed traction so I expect our car to do well here. Apart from that, it is a beautiful place and weather is pretty hot, just like India, but the track itself isn’t a huge challenge. Yes the walls are close but the adrenaline factor isn’t close to Monaco or even Montreal. But on the back of the promise we showed in Canada, I’m looking forward to the race and hopefully we’ll have a chance to build on it this time.”
Luis Pérez-Sala, Team Principal: “We’re looking forward to racing in Valencia, as it will be the second time we do so at home this season. In Canada we were quick and performed well but were unable to finish the race. In Valencia we want to confirm this progress and achieve a good result, plus doing so in front of the Spanish public is even more special. I think that the characteristics of this circuit adapt well to our car and I hope we have good reliability and finish the race with a positive result.”
Four races into the Formula One season, and it’s time to take a little break. Or is it? Although there are three weeks between the Bahrain and Spanish Grands Prix, the teams will certainly not be relaxing. Instead, they will be testing from 1-3 May at Mugello in Italy.
In-season testing was banned to save costs in the wake of the global financial crisis in 2008. All subsequent testing has been conducted in the pre-season, with some limited in-season straight-line running permitted. Teams have also been able to run on track with demonstration tyres for filming purposes. Now, for the first time since the testing ban was instituted, Formula One teams will participate in a full track test during the season.
Amazingly, HRT have elected not to run at the Mugello test. The team claims this is to allow time to focus on an upgrade to the car, and to get settled into their new headquarters in Madrid. Their reasoning doesn’t seem particularly sound, as there is no substitute for track time when evaluating an upgrade. Unless HRT are significantly quicker at the Spanish Grand Prix, this will almost certainly turn out to be the wrong decision.
This is the time for a team like Ferrari to catch up to the front-runners. The factory in Maranello will have been working round the clock since the start of the season, developing upgrades and testing them in the wind tunnel. Now that the Scuderia is back in Europe, the new parts can be track-tested. We can expect Ferrari to be much more competitive after the Mugello test.
For those not taking part in the test, like Jenson Button (McLaren are running their test drivers and possibly Lewis Hamilton), it’s a good opportunity to spend some time at the factory, in the simulator, training or just generally recovering from the stress of the first four races. All of the teams will arrive in Barcelona for the next race at full strength, after operating on somewhat limited resources at the flyaway races, so it’s crucial for each of the team members and drivers to be as well-prepared as possible.
I will be posting after each day’s testing, looking at the time-sheets and upgrades. In the meantime, take a look at my summary of the season so far, published by f1plus.com: