It is 'wrong' for existing teams and observers to pass judgement on the F1 2010 newcomers before they have even turned a wheel in anger, argues Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner – contending that a return to the reign of the independent outfits will be good for the sport's long-term future.
Over the past twelve months or so, F1 has lost four major manufacturers – in the shape of car makers Honda, BMW and Toyota and sole tyre-supplier Bridgestone – and another, Renault, has significantly reduced its involvement following the majority sale of its Enstone-based operation to Luxembourg investment fund Genii Capital.
That has paved the way for an influx of new privateer teams next season, with USF1, Campos Meta 1, Virgin Racing and Lotus F1 all due to join the fray for the Bahrain Grand Prix curtain-raiser in mid-March, and Peter Sauber having regained control of his eponymously-named squad in the wake of BMW's departure. That means there will be just two fully-fledged manufacturer teams on the grid in Sakhir – Ferrari and Mercedes Grand Prix, formerly double 2009 world champions Brawn GP – and eleven independents. As one door closes, reasons Horner, so another one opens...
“In 2008 there were six manufacturers, and now there are only three effectively (including Renault),” the Englishman told Crash.net Radio
, “but the big teams are still there – the Ferraris, the McLarens, the Williams' and now the Red Bulls, because we are growing in stature as a team that has proved itself as obviously credible. I think it's important to have a blend of manufacturers and independents, and that tends to sway if you look back over the history of Formula 1.
“I still think Formula 1 is in good shape; we saw that in Abu Dhabi, with the spectacle that was put on there, and the excitement that we had in the 2009 championship. As costs become more under control it becomes more affordable for the independents, and for sure that's one of the key reasons why Red Bull has been able to achieve the kind of performance that we did in 2009. Out of Honda withdrawing came Brawn GP – often out of negatives, positives appear.
“Obviously there had been mixed signals and speculation about Toyota all year, but it was ultimately a surprise when they announced their withdrawal. It's a great shame to lose any grand prix team, but particularly one of the significance of Toyota, who are one of the biggest car manufacturers in the world. Ultimately I guess it boils down to several factors, and results are obviously a key part of that – but our feeling goes out to the employees, and we hope they will be able to find employment in other Toyota motorsport projects or within some of the new Formula 1 teams.
“We've got some good new teams coming in, the re-emergence of Lotus which is interesting for Formula 1, and more cars potentially on the grid than we've seen in several years – if they all make it. It's always sad to lose any grand prix team, but manufacturers do have a tendency to come and go; the independent teams are the stalwarts of Formula 1, and out of one team's unfortunate situation is created an opportunity for another. I think Formula 1 is well-set for the short, medium and long-term future.”
That remark 'if they all make it' is indeed something of a moot point, with a number of observers – F1 commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone chief amongst them – casting some doubt on the likelihood of all of the newcomers actually getting as far as Bahrain. USF1 and Campos are the two most under the microscope – but Horner insists they should all be given the benefit of the doubt.
“I think it's wrong for us to judge them,” the 36-year-old stressed. “It's down to them to do the job. It's a heck of a challenge for any grand prix team – irrespective of size – but they've been given the opportunity and it's wrong for anyone to judge them until we get into the racing season. I'm sure they're all working very hard. It's a big challenge to design, produce, manufacture and develop a grand prix car, but hopefully they'll all make the grid in Bahrain.”
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