Are new teams good for F1?

On the eve of the 2010 F1 season, the shake up of the winter season is becoming clearer and the effect of teams leaving and joining is now almost certain.

As we all know, Toyota and BMW left, each pursuing a different course of action to do so: 

BMW "sold up" to Peter Sauber who will be doing well to keep the team running next year when the BMW dowry runs out (my money is on Volkswagon jumping in assuming they haven't already by then).  He knows how to run a team on a smaller budget and the facilities are top notch and apparently attracting alot of good people, but the he'll have to reduce the overheads of the large organisation  BMW built up in order to survive.

Toyota decided first to just close down, then did a u-turn and sold up to Stefan GP although the details of the deal are unclear so this may turn out to not be the case.  Pulling out first the way they did was a big mistake as they forfeited their place in the 2010 series first, then saw Mike Gascoyne poach their best staff.  This was very misjudged by Toyota (who seem to have the anti-midas touch in everything they do recently), and going on how other teams have been reacting to Stefan GP, they're not going to approve its entry and because this needs to be a unanimous decision, they could fall at the first hurdle.

Then there are the new teams and this is where the real tragedy / comedy starts.

First Lotus.  I for one hope and think Lotus will do very well.  I've always thought Mike Gascoyne has been an exceptional team manager (and a great pundit when he stood in for Eddie Jordan last year) but never really been appreciated at his former teams.  He was involved in nearly making Frentzen champion at Jordan in '99, helped Renault to a world title and even the eternally underperfoming Toyota improved significantly under him (although that could just be down to getting rid of Ralf!).  On his return to JordlandSpykIndia, they turned out a car which (after he was given the boot), last year got a pole, a podium and gave Ferrari a run for it's money in Belgium. There's alot of good things about Lotus to be confident about.  The name and heritage are the obvious, but it's being done with reverence and respect.  They've been bold with driver choices (no pay drivers here), the staff were cherry picked by Gascoyne and the team seems to have secure funding with their owners/backers in it for the long haul so I'm sure by next year they'll start moving up the order and at least stand a decent chance of being around for many years to come.  It's also good to see Lotus back on a firm footing after they faded away in the 90s.  A brief respite in '92-'93 when they could leverage their active suspension research came to an end with Max's ban on everything (except Benetton and Ferrari's traction control) and they faded away in 1994 and disappeared at the end of that season.

Then comes Virgin Racing.  Branson is a very shrewd operator personally but I think this could be what dooms the F1 effort.  Traditionally Virgin related enterprises haven't actually had anything major investment from Branson.  Instead other companises are setup as franchises of the name (Virgin Radio, Virgin Media) or joint ventures and the history of Virgin Group companies is littered with failures, selloffs and flops.  I believe the only companies that he owned/owns were Virgin Records and currently Virgin Airlines.  Few of the other businesses have had long term success – Virgin Megastores / ZavviVirgin Cars (remember them???) Virgin Cola, Virgin Brides.  Virgin Racing went down the CFD only road and although their car looks nice and swoopy, time will tell if it was a good idea.  My main concern however appears to be that Virgin get their name on the side without actually committing any money apart from some capital to buy into the team.  Instead they're hoping other sponsors will jump on because of the draw of the Virgin name.  I think this is very risk as they may find that Virgin as a brand is too well known so other sponsors don't want to swim with such a big fish.  I can also see Branson pulling out after a couple of years when he's bored and results aren't coming.  The Virgin brand itself will have had lots of nice exposure by then and there's bound to be another sucker waiting in the wings to buy the share in the company, but how long it'll survive after that is the key.

Then the other two.

Campos F1 was set up as a Spanish Team, presumably in the post-Alonso popularity F1 has achieved in Spain.  The premise was sound.  Campos Racing was an established team, already running in F3, and decided to outsource the manufacture of the car and focus purely on the running of the car at races.  It now appears that funding was an issue from the start and it's still uncertain where they money's going to come from, although at least reports from their chassis supplier are that it's ready to go once they are paid.

USF1 always had rumours circulating that they weren't moving forward very fast right from when they announced the project at the start of 2009.  It seems that they had some good commercial deals, but for whatever reason they just didn't progress with the car development very quickly.  By all accounts this wasn't for lack of hard work, but more from poor management, but we'll probably never know the real reasons until the team is dead and a post mortem is carried out.

The real frustration is that the FIA under Max Mosely were supposed to have done due dilligence to ensure that the new teams were viable.  Sadly it seems in the case of Campos and USF1 this was either done badly or not at all.  Quite how established Motor Racing teams such as Prodrive and Lola could be overlooked for such pitiful teams as these is hard to imagine.  The FIA seems to now be getting worried their grid might not be full and rather too late are seeing how USF1 is progressing.

Will someone close the stable door please?


where’s our HD?

Despite minority sports such as ski jumping now being broadcast in glorious HD, Bernie thinks that the time isn't right for one of the few sports that gets about 500million viewers that would look fantastic in high-def

From ESPN:
"Bernie Ecclestone has also warned audiences not to hold their breath for the introduction of high definition broadcasts of F1. Despite most other sports adopting the new technology, Ecclestone insists that there isn't enough demand from TV stations to make HD worthwhile."

In other words he's too tight to fork out for the equipment unless it makes an instant profit.