The 2010 new teams battle was all about resurrections. It was about the resurrection of Heikki Kovalainen's grand prix career after two years playing second fiddle to Lewis Hamilton at McLaren. And it was about the resurrection of the Lotus name in F1. So why shouldn't AUTOSPORT stage a resurrection of its own?
In 1987, the Jim Clark Cup and the Colin Chapman Trophy rewarded the best normally-aspirated performers in an era dominated by turbos. The premise was simple - points were awarded on the same lines as those given to the front-runners, creating a division two championship. Jonathan Palmer and Tyrrell won that season, and if you apply that structure to create a championship for new teams in 2010, Kovalainen and Lotus were runaway victors.
Unable to trouble established teams, the new outfits - Lotus, Virgin and HRT - waged their own private war throughout the season. With 10th place in the constructors' championship, and the resulting financial rewards, decided in Lotus's favour courtesy of Kovalainen's 12th place in Japan, a revival of the Jim Clark Cup and Colin Chapman Trophy gives a more rounded picture of their performances over the season. However you look at it, it was Lotus that made the biggest impression.
Heikki Kovalainen © LAT
"We want to be higher up in the main championship, but this tells us that I've had a reasonably good year," says Kovalainen when informed of his new team championship victory. "The target was to be ahead of the other new teams and that was all that we could really do with the car that we had. But we don't get anything from it other than a good feeling. The target is to score real points next year."
Kovalainen drove well all year. After two years alongside Hamilton, he was paired with another qualifying superstar in Jarno Trulli and for the first half of the season, he often had the better of the Italian. In the final reckoning, he was beaten by Trulli 11-8 in qualifying, but when the car was trickier to drive it was Kovalainen who got the best out of it. This was most obvious at Monaco. Trulli is awesome around the principality and went to this year's race knowing that no-one had ever out-qualified him there in the same team. Kovalainen ended that run, which stretched back to the F3 grand prix in 1996.
He was consistent, too, finishing 13 races and winning 10. The other three results were all second places, giving him championship victory by Korea.
"My performances have been noted in this paddock," says Kovalainen. "Two races stand out for me and one qualifying - Monaco and Suzuka are the races. At Suzuka I nailed every single lap and the car was working really well - in fact, the second stint at Suzuka was probably the second best stint of my career after the last stint at Bahrain in 2008 [when he outpaced Hamilton]. And the best lap of the year was probably in Montreal qualifying where I was close to Q2 and a long way ahead of the other new teams.
"I didn't know no-one had beaten Jarno in qualifying at Monaco. There was a chance to do a better time, but I went over the limit and started to make mistakes."
Next year, Kovalainen and what is probably most conveniently called Scuderia Tony Fernandes for the moment will be well-placed to score real points. For all the controversy surrounding the identity of the team and its aggressive recruitment policy, you have to give huge credit to Mike Gascoyne's efforts.
A visit to the team's Hingham HQ last November revealed a base containing a whole lot of nothing after the FIA granted the Lotus Cars-licensed team a last-gasp slot in September to fill the void left by BMW's withdrawal (at that time, Peter Sauber had yet to re-acquire the team and guarantee its future).
The car was crude by F1 standards, but it served a purpose and acted as a keystone upon which the team was built - albeit one beset by hydraulics problems in the gearbox system that made reliability hit and miss. Next year, that will be resolved by the switch to Red Bull gearboxes, but as far is 2010 is concerned, Gascoyne is happy with progress.
"It's job done in every respect," says Gascoyne. "We've ended up a second to a second and a half off the established teams. We probably expected that to be half a second, but we never expected to catch up. That gap is probably because we haven't been able to do F-ducts or blown diffusers. But apart from that, we've been best of the new teams from day one, finished 10th in the constructors' championship and most important of all we've built up the team."
For the new teams' fight, the first race of the season was a microcosm of what was to follow. While Lotus looked every bit the established team in terms of presentation, HRT turned up with no testing and after a troubled practice Karun Chandhok headed into qualifying having not so much as driven a lap! The former Campos Meta 1 team had been saved at half-past the 11th hour by former part owner Jose Ramon Carabante taking over the whole show and appointing the redoubtable Colin Kolles to run it. It was a miracle that the team was there at all.
With HRT condemned to the last row, it was down to Virgin to challenge Lotus, and in qualifying former Toyota driver Timo Glock was the fastest of the new team drivers by just over a tenth. At the start of the race, Kovalainen surged into the lead, only for Glock to pass him moments before a gearbox problem caused by high ambient temperatures forced the German out.
Kovalainen won, Trulli limped home second after suffering hydraulic problems (which would recur, almost without fail, throughout the season), Lucas di Grassi joined team-mate Glock in retirement after Virgin's flashes of speed - although given that the team had contrived to design a car that couldn't fit enough fuel in its tanks to get to the end of the race, it was always going to be Lotus's race. And both HRTs failed to finish, although that was a trend that was rapidly nipped in the bud.
Kovalainen backed up that win with a second victory in Melbourne, this time ahead of Chandhok. The Chandhok/HRT combination's consistency proved to be vital in the early stages of the season. In his 10 races for HRT before his seat was taken by Sakon Yamamoto for the German Grand Prix, he finished eight times. Astonishingly, he actually led the new teams championship by 21 points from Kovalainen when he dropped off the grid.
Karun Chandhok © LAT
With Lotus reliability vastly improved in the second half of the year, it would have been impossible to stay there. But despite missing the final nine races Chandhok had made his point and deserves another crack at F1. He even beat team-mate Bruno Senna in both the new teams' championship and the real one.
"It's no secret that this hasn't been an ideal season for me with the driver swap situation in the second half," says Chandhok. "Starting off in Bahrain and going straight into quali with no testing or free practice was a unique situation, but I think I earned a lot of respect for that in the paddock."
"From there on, I think I generally made the most of the opportunities I had under the circumstances. As a rookie in a new team at the back of the grid, there's very little you can do but I didn't make any mistakes, and I finished races generally ahead of my team-mates. I don't regret the decision to take the plunge with HRT this year - it allowed me to get a foot in the door of F1 and puts me in better shape than I was 12 months ago."
The Indian was the only driver other than Kovalainen to head the championship, but he didn't complete enough races to get into the mix for runner-up. This scrap went all the way down to the wire in Brazil, where Trulli's fifth place after suffering various wing failures was enough to beat Virgin's Timo Glock by a point.
Trulli is relentlessly upbeat about how the team is shaping up for next year, and it seems he will be there to benefit after Lotus missed the breakoff clause in his contract, meaning that a second year of his lucrative contract kicked in. Not that it's a bad thing, for Trulli in harness with a car with a stable and consistent rear end on turn-in is as quick as anyone.
The 2004 Monaco Grand Prix winner was delighted to see the back of the season during which he didn't have a single clean weekend in terms of reliability. Frequently, hydraulic problems hobbled him, and it wasn't until the Spanish Grand Prix that he was able to have a decent run in the race. That proved to be one of only two victories for him during the season, with the other coming at Silverstone.
But he came on very strongly at the end of the season, turning the tables on Kovalainen courtesy of a steering change that transformed the car and four straight qualifying victories over his team-mates. That proved that the 36-year-old has still got it.
Jarno Trulli © LAT
"Several things went wrong this year," says Trulli. "I had a lot of failures - not only during the races but in qualifying as well. Twice I wasn't able to have a proper qualifying run. But I was also struggling with the power steering and only found out in the last few races.
"I like a more precise car, but my power steering was saturating under heavy load in some corners and not giving me good feeling. In Korea, I compromised the steering a little bit and the way I steer in favour of a better feel and reaction. As soon as I put it on, I found three or four tenths in my performance. Before I was always complaining about the car, but it changed my life.
"It was less precise, so for the same steering angle I was turning less, so when I had the option mid-season to go for this change I said no because I didn't like it. That was my mistake. When I changed, it didn't only change the feeling, but the whole car set-up. Before, I wasn't getting the right feedback from the car but I didn't know until the end. That was a big surprise for me."
Despite a strong end to the year, Trulli only finished ahead of Kovalainen on the road once in the team's seven double finishes, although it should be noted that he was often at a disadvantage by the team splitting its strategies to ensure that unexpected safety cars didn't allow one of its rivals to fluke into the lead.
For all of Trulli's struggles, he had it better than Virgin pairing Glock and Lucas di Grassi. Glock had a superb season, thrashing di Grassi 17-2 in qualifying and in races like Korea and Singapore stunning some of the regular team runners with inch-perfect drives after climbing into the midfield. There were also a couple of Q2 appearances in rain-hit qualifying sessions.
Ranged against that were the frustrations at Virgin's situation. The German didn't see a chequered flag until Spain and his first victory was not until Turkey, where both Lotuses retired. He went on to add a win at Hockenheim, and had his gearbox held together in Bahrain he would surely have pipped Trulli for second.
There were also races where the frustration of driving the erratic Virgin got him down - not least when good mid-season progress wasn't built upon by a Singapore upgrade package that didn't help his motivation. By the end of the season, it was clear that there would be no way to move to a bigger team and he finally confirmed that he was going to be a Virgin driver in 2011, something that will come as a huge boost to the team.
As for di Grassi, he had a stronger season than results on paper suggest. He took three victories, and his fuel saving run in Malaysia - driving the early-season version of the Virgin that wasn't able to start the race with enough fuel to go the distance flat-out - was as good a drive as any in 2010. And it was evidence of his intelligent approach that could make him F1's leading uber-test driver of the next decade.
Lucas di Grassi © LAT
"That is an example of a small victory that people outside don't recognise," he says. "We had a massive problem with the fuel consumption and didn't know if we were going to finish. We expected rain, but it didn't come so I had to save a lot of fuel. I wasn't driving slowly, I was still on the edge, but had to lose less fuel. It was a good result and when I crossed the line it was a great feeling - not the same as a victory or even a point, but everyone was happy that we had made the first step.
"It's tough to keep up your motivation when you know that the chances of finishing are so low. But the will to perform, the pressure of it being my rookie season and seeing how hard everyone in the team was working made it possible. I kept my head down and focused."
In the final reckoning, Virgin did much to overcome the early-season blow to its reputation of the fuel tank farrago. Throughout the year, it was often able to match the Lotuses over a single lap and dice with them in race conditions, but the team probably didn't get the results that it deserved. There were also times when some outside suppliers let them down in terms of on-track reliability.
Most importantly, by the end of the year it looked like a serious, established grand prix team. The budget isn't going to be massive next year, but while everyone focuses on Lotus as the one to take a leap forward, there are signs that Virgin and its CFD-dependent design philosophy will also edge up the order.
"The lads now belong in the pitlane," says team principal John Booth. "The pitstop turnaround is quick, everything in the operation really clicked in the last four or five races. Before we had to change the fuel tank early in the season, I'm convinced that we had the quicker car but changing that put us back aerodynamically and affected the car in a strange way. It took us until Silverstone to get back on track."
After woeful early-season reliability, the team became far more consistent in the second half of the season and overhauled HRT for second in our revived Jim Clark Cup in the final race of the season. That HRT was able to bother the Virgins in races to the end of the year, and beat the team in the official championship courtesy of Chandhok's results in the first half of the year, is testament to Hispania's efforts.
It's easy to write off the efforts of the back of the grid team, but considering where it started after months of financial uncertainty, its season was remarkable.
There were no performance updates - design consultant Geoff Willis's aero package reputed to be worth close to 80 points of downforce was never manufactured - but the Dallara-built car managed to stay in touch with the other new teams even though it never had the pace to challenge them.
While Chandhok was the standout driver, his old GP2 team-mate Bruno Senna endured a year best described as character-building. Sidelined from the British Grand Prix after a disagreement with the team, Senna returned for the rest of the year but had only a 50 per cent finishing record. There were some impressive drives - at Hockenheim and Interlagos for example - but it was clear that the team's struggles did nothing for the Brazilian's motivation. A hard season, but a season's experience can only stand him in good stead for the future, provided he has one in F1 with the available seats dwindling. He, too, warrants another crack at it.
The other two drivers on the HRT driver merry-go-round, Christian Klien and Sakon Yamamoto, were a mixed bag. The under-rated Austrian did a good job in his three appearances, while Yamamoto did about as much as could be expected for a pay driver with his limited CV but was often closer to Senna than he had any right to be.
Bruno Senna © LAT
HRT's ultimate victory was still being in existence at the end of the season, largely thanks to the efforts of Kolles. At times, team personnel were unsure whether the team would make the next race, with many traveling to Singapore knowing that the team might not be able to run. But HRT kept on rolling and in the circumstances, it was a great season in which the team tried to play to its strengths - namely, reliability.
The Dallara supplied for the start of the season was fundamentally sound - and if financial problems with the former incarnation of the team hadn't hindered work over the winter it would have been vastly superior. But the team worked hard on it and ensured it didn't drop off the back of the grid as the season went on. With greater resources, HRT is clearly a team with potential - although it could be a few years before it is able to show it with results.
"It was not a bad achievement to get the team on the grid and finish the season," says Kolles. "People don't really know how much work this was - and still is because we are still not where we want to be. But I'm not thinking now that it is wonderful because we are not there. Of course, it's a nice year and for me it's a nice challenge - that's why I took it.
"Three weeks before the first race, there was nothing and to build up a team in that time is not easy. Also to keep the team going with all of the rumours around was not easy, but we finished the season. And we don't look like an unprofessional team.
"We focused on reliability because even if we became more competitive the gap to the established teams was too big to fight for points this year," says Kolles. "The first strategy was to have a reliable car because it improves the whole team."
Next season, all three of the new teams will be judged in comparison to the nine established outfits. After a year of their own private battle, they join the big boys next year. Lotus - or whatever it is going to be called long-term - won this skirmish, but the long battle to the front of the field will go on for many years for these three outfits.
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