Sports

Formula One: HRT looks
East for the future

They may consistently be at the back of the field, but the HRT team is starting to make some increasingly optimistic noises.

The former Minardi driver Luis Perez-Sala who was appointed by the team’s new owners Thesan Capital midway through last season, now believes that at last, the team has a structure which will allow it to move ahead.

It could be said that the team needs to. So far, in terms of both of performance and reputation, the team has failed to achieve. In 2010 Karun Chandhok was launched into Formula One with a totally untested and unsorted car.

His first qualifying lap in Bahrain that year was the first time his car had ever been driven flat-out.

The opening lap of the race, was just Chandhok’s fifth lap of the track.

Likewise, Narain Karthikeyan suffered as HRT seemed to stand for “the Hardly Ready Team” at the first race of the 2011 season in Australia.

The car didn’t even lap fast enough to qualify for the start.

So saying, despite a “rotating door” driver policy that occasionally dropped Narain for any other driver who might bring an extra dollar, Karthikeyan obviously saw enough potential to commit again to the team for 2012.

Whether that was a good move is still open to question, come the
first race of this season Narain was again unable to qualify an almost untested car.

Yet a closer look at the results shows that things have been improving. In the early races this season Karthikeyan and teammate Pedro de la Rosa were around seven to eight seconds a lap slower than the leading cars. In recent races the deficit has reduced to around 4 to 5 seconds a lap.

HRT is not alone.

Marussia and, some distance ahead of them in terms of performance, Caterham, have made strides forward too, but it certainly seems that HRT is moving in the right direction.

Under Colin Kolles’ leadership in 2010 and 2011, both Chandhok and Karthikeyan have intimated the team was a shocker.

It is clear now that HRT or Hispania as was, simply didn’t have the money to compete.

Kolles was merely playing one budget and driver against another just to find enough money to make the starting grid.

For the past two years the team didn’t even have a proper base. It was operated fom the headquarters of another racing team also owned by Colles.

Everything was outsourced.

No two technicians were based at the same place and things like aerodynamic development simply never happened.

It was a big step forward then, when in May the team unveiled their new headquarters on the outskirts of the Spanish capital, Madrid.

“For us to have a headquarters is the most important thing” said Pedro de la Rosa. “For the first time we will all be working under the same ceiling.

“Particularly in Formula One, which spends the whole time all over the world, one HQ is vital to have some order and that is important to help us grow.”

The team may be increasingly Spanish, but with southern Europe in the depths of financial recession, HRT is looking East for budgets. With that come new opportunities for drivers.

HRT management have said that the team’s current budget is about US$50 million, less than a fifth of the biggest teams and probably half that of Caterham.

It has been reported that Karthikeyan’s Tata deal is worth over $12 million each year, making it a significant sponsor for the team.

HRT is working hard to link up with Indian and Chinese markets. Already the team been unique in having had two drivers of Indian nationality, the team is now working toward what may be the debut of the first Chinese driver in the history of Formula One, Ma Qing Hua. There are clearly interesting times ahead.

Steve Slater is an F1 race commentator on STAR Sports’ coverage of the Formula One.

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