For the last 10 days (or more) Formula 1 has been in the deep freeze, in many cases quite literally as the weather in Europe has been freezing. Work has nonetheless been going on at many of the F1 factories as the teams work to produce the new chassis for 2010. This year there is less need to rush as there is no testing at all in January but in most cases this will mean that the production schedule is just pushed back a little, allowing the maximum amount of time possible for aerodynamic development. With many team principals taking a well-deserved break there as not been a lot of action and thus there has been a lot of rumour-mongering but very little in the way of fact. A look around the Internet this morning, for example, reveals stories suggesting that Pedro de la Rosa is joining Campos and Sauber. Elsewhere one can read that Jacques Villeneuve is rumoured to be joining Renault (which happened in 2004, you may recall, without much success). Jacques has also been spotted in Australia and one can speculate as to whether this means he was having a break or that he was going to talk to V8 Supercar teams. Who knows?
There are six of the 26 Formula 1 seats still available for 2010. The best is either the second Sauber, or the second Renault, depending one which team you think will do the better job. Campos Meta 1 needs a driver to go alongside Bruno Senna and logic dictates that unless the team is desperate for money it is only sensible to take a driver with considerable F1 experience as there is no time these days to allow drivers to learn the ropes. Signing a well-supported youngster would thus be a clear sign that the team is short of cash – as has been rumoured a lot in recent months.
Scuderia Toro Rosso has yet to confirm Jaime Alguersuari alongside Sebastien Buemi, but thus far has not officially done so, for reasons that are not immediately obvious. One must assume that they are related to finance as Alguersuari was taken on last year in order to give him experience for this season (or at least that was what the team was saying at the time). It is true that a more experienced driver would probably help the situation as Buemi has had just one season and there is no doubt that the team was struggling with two rookies onboard last year.
The USF1 team is said to be closer than ever to a deal with Jose Maria Lopez from Argentina. He was also fairly quick in his days in GP2 but he tended to leave the racetrack strewn with bits ad pieces of car. However, he has now had a few years to calm down and may be better driver as a result of that. In motor racing folklore it is best to hire a fast but accident-prone driver rather than a slow steady one because there is always the hope that the fast man will learn how to moderate his speed. A slow driver is never going to become quick. There has been very little talk about the second USF1 seat and one would hope that the team has sufficient cash to buy itself a driver with some experience as going into the season with two pay-drivers without F1 experience is not a recipe for success. However, whether deliberately or not, USF1 has created a situation in which expectations are low – and that means that the team is not going to be a disappointment, if only because no-one thinks it will be any good. The good news is that there are some signs of life from Charlotte and photographs of a monocoque being put together so the naysayers in Europe will have less to grumble about. The signs are that the team did have a go at convincing Ralf Schumacher to make an F1 comeback. For Ralf fans this makes sense but for most of the F1 world it is seen as an odd move. However, USF1’s Peter Windsor has long been a Ralf fan and Ralf is still “only” 34. He has said that he has had an offer to join one of the new teams but declined it. The best man for the USF1 job is probably Pedro de la Rosa, with his in-depth knowledge of how things are done at McLaren, but he may feel that the call of the first ever Spanish F1 team – Campos Meta 1 – is impossible to ignore. On paper, right now, there is little to choose between the two new teams: Dallara (which is building cars for Campos) has a long record of building cars but has never been very successful in F1; USF1 has no record at all in F1 but will not have any distractions such as the production racing car business. Both will use Cosworth engines. Dallara has a sensible wind tunnel, USF1 is doing its aerodynamic testing virtually. As Nigel Mansell once famously said “The proof of the pudding in on the clock”, but Pedro de la Rosa probably needs to make his decision before the cars are run.
The USF1 website has also revealed a list of the team’s partnerships which includes Crawford Composites and Gunther Steiner’s Fibreworks Composites, plus a couple of other composite companies. This answers the question oft-asked in Europe as to who will be building the cars in the US. Crawford Composites has a long and fairly successful history, which stretches back 20 years. The company says it was the first private enterprise to build a fully composite chassis in the United States, back in 1993 when it manufactured the Mazda RX7-92P GTP car and it went on to manufacture cars for the Riley & Scott’s IRL programme, and parts for NASCAR, Champ Car, IRL, Formula Atlantic, SCCA and sports car racing teams. The company has enjoyed much success with its own Crawford sports cars in GrandAm.
Steiner is an Italian former rally engineer who came to F1 with the Ford Motor Company when it was running Jaguar Racing. When this became Red Bull Racing Steiner stayed on for a while before being sent off to NASCAR by Red Bull. He left the Red Bull NASCAR team in March 2008 and joined forces with German engineer Ralf Brand, who worked at Sauber in the mid 1990s before moving to Toyota F1 in the pre-F1 phase. In 2002 he moved on to work for Opel in DTM and then to Carbo Tech Composites in Austria, where he was involved in the production of parts for Scuderia Toro Rosso and in various other disciplines, including ALMS, DTM and NASCAR.
The team is also working closely with a company called Fibre Dynamics, which is 20 years old and was created to commercialize the leading-edge composites manufacturing technologies developed at National Institute for Aviation Research in Wichita, Kansas. this deals with advanced resin-transfer molding, which is becoming increasingly important in F1 manufacturing these days.
The Sauber and Renault teams both have decent heritage but both have been struggling for money for 2010. Both have new ownership and thus, by implication, both have business plans that foresee how the teams will be run successfully this year, but the teams have yet to reveal the details and until they do then there are bound to be questions. Clearly neither will have the budgets of yesteryear and so cost-effectiveness will be important. Renault F1 has signed Robert Kubica but has a second seat available, while Sauber has signed Kamui Kobayashi and has the second seat ready for a more experienced racer, which will probably be either Nick Heidfeld or Christian Klien.
Of the active drivers in 2009 Giancarlo Fisichella, Heidfeld, Sebastian Bourdais, Kimi Raikkonen, Kazuki Nakajima, Nelson Piquet, Romain Grosjean, Luca Badoer and Alguersuari are currently not placed in F1. Raikkonen has declared his intention to go rallying and it is expected that Nakajima will race GT cars in Japan. Grosjean’s brief sojourn at Renault was so destructive to his confidence and his reputation that it seems he is going back to GP2 to rebuild his damaged career. Badoer has zero credibility after his efforts with Ferrari and Fisichella’s standing also took a big knock with his failure to get to grips with the car, although he did do well with the Force India.
Takuma Sato and Anthony Davidson are also knocking about, along with test drivers such as de la Rosa, Klien, Alexander Wurz, Gary Paffett and James Rossiter. Others who want to be in F1 are Russia’s Vitaly Petrov, Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado (although we hear he is staying in GP2) and India’s Karun Chandhok. Another man to watch for is Neel Jani.