The new teams and the safety question
Back in 12th of June, when the FIA released the entry list for the 2010 season, many raised eyebrows when they saw the name “Manor GP” there. At that time, Manor was believed to be out of contention, with names like Epsilon Euskadi and Prodrive being considered the most serious applicants. The entry list was released, and it didn’t take too much time for people to say that Manor was probably the least capable of the three outfits. The picture changed, however, when Manor signed an established driver in Timo Glock and then being taken over by Richard Branson’s Virgin company. The team was rebranded Virgin Racing and another three drivers were announced along with a vast portfolio of sponsors.
So, it is quite obvious that Virgin Racing is, along with Lotus, the most serious, capable and well funded new team. But the incident on today’s test season at Jerez makes you think if being just “capable” is enough to be a Formula 1 team.
While driving, the front wing detached from Glock’s car, meaning that the test season had to be red-flagged until the track was clear. Shortly after people were making fun of the incident, saying that “it’s a virgin after all – it’s natural for something to go wrong in the first time”. However, this matter is not one to make jokes about; it’s a matter about the safety in the sport.
Whatever you may think about Max Mosley, you can’t deny the fact that safety improved up to stratosphere-high levels during his mandate, and if Robert Kubica and Felipe Massa are still alive today, they should thank Max Mosley’s administration. However, it was also during his time as FIA president that smaller teams were strangled out of money, being forced to leave the sport and paving the way for the manufacturers and their deep pockets. It’s not wrong to say that this was a key factor on the sport’s safety improvement.
Although we all love small teams and their true-racer spirit, it’s an utter truth that the more money is invested, the higher quality the product will have in the end (not that it means the car will be fast, just look at Toyota). When Formula 1 had its solid cluster of money-burning manufacturers, the standards rose up to a point where every team had to build a state-of-the-art car, and its quality and integrity was not even questioned.
But with lower budget teams, we may again see under-developed and problematic cars. When a car’s front wing detaches all by itself and the team does not even have a spare one to replace it, something is wrong. In his last year as president, Mosley forgot his own obsession with safety in a quest to field independent teams on the grid. Failing to give the entries more capable applicants was another blunder by the FIA.
And if that wasn’t enough, the picture gets even scarier when I think about Campos and USF1 – considering that they will even make it to Bahrain – widely known as the teams with the most difficulties in building their cars. When they were accepted into the 2010 season, these teams didn’t have even a base, personnel, machinery or funds for that matter. What was the criteria used to choose them then? Cosworth engines?
It is in times like this where we ask ourselves “what is needed for a team to be good enough for F1?” In my opinion, we need teams which are at least able to participate in all races during a season and capable of building a car as safer as a Ferrari or a McLaren.
Do you remember who was and what happened to the last driver to drive a car designed by Nick Wirth when the front wing of the car broke off while he was driving?
He was Roland Ratzenberger. And he died.