Pedro de la Rosa has signed a two-year deal with HRT and as the team is believed to already has a deal with Tonio Liuzzi it is logical to assume that this will be driver pairing in 2012. That means that Daniel Ricciardo will be moving on and the word in F1 circles is that he and Jean-Eric Vergne are the likely driver line-up at Scuderia Toro Rosso, with the two current drivers being dropped. That might seem like rather a radical step as neither driver will have much experience, but Red Bull has always liked to throw its best drivers up against one another and see who comes out ahead. It then tends to throw away the losers, which is a very good reason for young drivers who can avoid the scheme not to sign for Red Bull in their formative years.
The return of de la Rosa to F1 at the age of 40 is not really a surprise given the naivety of the new team ownership, which is relocating the team to Valencia, on the basis that it is a good idea to “do something different”. One can only assume that it is not their money that will be wasted.
What is fascinating in all of this is the timing. The announcement was made the morning after the Spanish general election, which I think is very significant. There is no other reason that I can think of to make an announcement at this particular moment.
The vote saw a landslide victory for the Popular Party (PP). The conservative organisation won 186 of the 350 seats in the Congreso de los Diputados, the lower house of the Spanish Parliament, winning an absolute majority, which means that it will not have make alliances to get things done. The ruling socialist party lost 59 seats. The result means that Popular Party leader Mariano Rajoy will become the next Prime Minister. His priority will be to improve the troubled Spanish economy, which is struggling to meet its debt obligations. The country has the added problem of massive unemployment and so Rajoy needs not only to make cuts but also to find ways to stimulate the economy. The PP in the Valencia region scored its best results in history which means that the current government there is now in a position to continue with its policies, which include supporting the European Grand Prix and, in recent days, providing HRT’s owners Thesan Capital with incentives to move the team to Valencia. Presumably there is more to the deal than just an empty building, just as the team’s original plan to be based in a local government-funded facility in the Parque Tecnológico Fuente Álamo in Murcia.
The election is also important because it will perhaps open doors for Alejandro Agag to find some money to fulfil his F1 ambitions. Although he denies wanting to have his own F1 team, most people see Agag was a man who has a clear desire to to be an F1 team owner. He is the son-in-law of the PP’s last Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, who ruled from 1996 to 2004. Rajoy was his right hand man and successor and there is little doubt that a new government will look favourably upon Agag. There is no shortage of big firms that can be swayed by the new government and so Agag is likely to get the moeny he needs to finally break into F1.
There are many who think that Thesan Capital is working hand-in-glove with Agag and they point to the appointment of Carlos Nunez, Agag’s team boss in GP3 to a position within HRT as evidence that Agag is pulling the strings.
At the moment Agag is the owner of the Addax GP2 team, which grew out of the original Campos Racing, which was started in Valencia by Adrian Campos back in 1998. It started competing in GP2 in 2005 and won the Teams’ title in 2008, at which point Campos sold the business to Agag, and split off the GP2 unit. Campos returned to F3 and it was this operation that developed into Campos Meta 1, the forerunner of HRT, while Agag collected a nice sponsorship deal from Qatar’s Barwa and had plenty of cash to play with in GP2. It is entirely possible that Agag will sell his GP2 team to someone fairly rapidly and the word in the GP2 paddock is that Gerhard Berger has been sniffing around to acquire a team, as he seems to have some large sponsor in tow that will facilitate such a programme. One presumes that in the longer term Berger will want to take over an F1 team…
“This is a very important step in my sporting career and one of the most meditated ones I’ve taken,” said de la Rosa. “I’m at a very good stage in terms of maturity and am prepared to take on this challenge, which motivates me hugely. When deciding on joining this project, for me there were three decisive factors: my desire to return to the active competition, the fact that HRT is a Spanish team and getting to know the people leading this project, Luis Pérez-Sala being amongst them. I’m here to work hard, with modesty and humility, accepting where we are now but keeping in mind where we want to be in 2 years time. For me, this is the time to put into practice everything that I have learnt over the years at international top level racing teams so that we can grow together. I am proud that Spain has an F1 team and that I have this opportunity to be its driver. I can only show my gratitude towards HRT for having trusted in me for this.”