We see all over the internet and on TV fans, commentators, media etc. that there isn’t much love or respect for the poor old HRT team. Scraping their way onto the grid in 2010 with an underdeveloped Dallara car, no resources and inexperienced drivers, they were expected to shuffle off the F1 mortal coil by the end of the season at least.
It certainly wasn’t a standout season for Colin Kolles’ boys, but there were a few highlights, such as the 2nd race of the season, where inexplicably even by the team, who were expecting an early car failure seeing as they had run the car so little in the previous sessions, Karun Chandhok managed to complete the tricky wet-dry race in 14th place. This and a similar result for Bruno Senna in Korea would give the HRT team 11th place in the constructors championship, ahead of the much more respected Virgin Racing team, run by experienced F3 outfit Manor Motorsport. There was Senna’s qualifying performances at Monaco and Turkey, putting his car inbetween the much faster, but less reliable Virgin cars, and leaving a considerable gap to his teammate. The season began the fall away from the team towards the back end, as their minute development schedule had meant they were losing ground on the leading pack. It seemed like they were saving their money on what was a lost cause, in order to best prepare for the next season, where they would be producing their own car for the first time.
Coming into the 2011 season, again there were rumours of the team’s demise. They were late in starting the design and build of the F111 car, not beginning these processes until late December under the guidance of Geoff Willis, a former Williams and Red Bull designer who’s reputation up and down the paddock was taking a hit by joining the beleaguered Spanish outfit. They tested with the old F110 whilst preparing the new cars, and had signed Narain Karthikeyan as their first driver for 2011. This caused a fair bit of surprise, as Narain had not driven in F1 competitively since his only season with Jordan in 2005, and hadn’t tested since 2007. He’d even spent the last season driving NASCAR Trucks in the USA! Karthikeyan would test the old car on the new Pirelli tyres to still allow the team to gather important data.
Tonio Liuzzi was present as their 2nd driver along with the launch of the new F111, the shakedown of which was postponed embarrassingly because the car’s new dampers were held in Spanish Customs after being sent from America (perhaps a lie, thought some of the more cynical observers). Further embarrassment was to come when the team failed to qualify for the revised first Grand Prix of the season in Australia, despite being given a ‘free’ extra two weeks after the Bahrain postponment. Kolles maintained the team would’ve been prepared for Sakhir, but the DNQ in Australia suggested otherwise. Still, once they got to Malaysia a week later, even with it being a fly-away race, they managed to clear the 107% barrier and got to race for the first time in 2011, with some encouraging pace being shown by Liuzzi.
Steady progress has been made over the course of this season, and it’s now generally accepted that both Liuzzi, Karthikeyan and now Daniel Ricciardo are comfortably on the pace of the Marussia Virgin team, and can give them a good race on Sundays. Doing this with a car that’s still carrying very little in the way of sponsorship is commendable, and is a big step forward from the stasis they seemed to be in with development in 2010.
Now you look at this overview of their history, and you wouldn’t think they were really deserving of half the stick they get from most of the F1 circus and audience. If you put it into context of similar derided teams before them, HRT seem a much more professional and competitive outfit than some of the team they have been compared to (even if only fleetingly in some cases. Andrea Moda, Forti, EuroBrun and other 90’s no-hopers were just that because they were badly run, penniless teams that even at the back of the grid had to compete with more professional outfits like Minardi, Jordan, Brabham and Tyrrell. HRT are more in line with a Minardi or Scuderia Italia (Dallara)… the plucky underdogs who scrape by financially but are serious about their racing. Colin Kolles runs a tight ship, Geoff Willis is one of the smartest guys in F1, and the whole team is a tight-knit group who work really hard on their cars and their racing. The ownership of the team has recently changed, and though it’s not quite sure what the future of the team will be just yet, I’m pretty sure they’ll try their best to be around as long as possible.
All Images sourced from www.hispaniaracing.com