McLaren Racing managing director Jonathan Neale has insisted that McLaren-Mercedes is fully supportive of the new teams that will join the grand prix grid in F1 2010 – though he confessed that he 'would not like to be the managing director in the position of having my car run for the first time on Friday' in Sakhir.
Lotus, Virgin and Hispania will all make their bow in the top flight in the curtain-raising Bahrain Grand Prix this weekend, but each has been plagued by varying issues in the build-up to the campaign. Whilst reliable, Lotus has toiled to get to within four or five seconds of the front-running pace with its Cosworth-powered contender, Virgin has seen its testing mileage severely limited by a series of niggling hydraulic woes and Hispania – rather unfortunately abbreviated to HRT – has yet to so much as even turn a wheel at all, following its eleventh-hour takeover of the financially-struggling Campos concern late last month. And they are the teams that have made it.
On the other side of the fence, you have the shambles that was USF1, and the curious case of Stefan GP, which had the cars, engines and a brace of drivers ready to sign on the dotted line – but ultimately no entry and, it has since transpired, quite possibly no concrete funding behind the project either.
Neither made the grade in the final reckoning, and whilst acknowledging that the three successful newcomers – and HRT in particular – face an unenviable task to try to haul themselves closer to the pace over the coming months, Neale is adamant that they must be given every possibility to do so.
“I think as a group of people, we have to be supportive in trying to get new teams off the ground,” the Englishman underlined, speaking during a special pre-Bahrain Vodafone McLaren-Mercedes phone-in session. “One or two drivers have raised concerns, and we respect greatly what they are saying, but we've got to try to get as many of the new teams as we can running and stable as quickly as possible. In getting to where we are now, we lost Honda, Toyota and BMW, which was disappointing. I'm saddened by their loss, but at the same time excited by the new prospects.
“Admittedly, I would not like to be the managing director in the position [of HRT] of having my car run for the first time on Friday. How on earth do you dial it in with such limited running? It's going to be a real handful, and if there are big gaps in terms of closing speed and lots of red flags, then the FIA will have to look into it – but we hope they all succeed. The sport doesn't need another casualty before the start of the season!”
Thirteen-time grand prix-winner turned BBC F1
pundit David Coulthard has already made very clear his views on the topic, opining that it is 'irresponsible' to allow a wholly untested car to join the field, and contending that the sorry saga is 'a poor advertisement' for what is supposed to be the pinnacle of international motor racing and even worse 'degrades the sport' [see separate story – click here
] – and Ferrari star Felipe Massa tends to agree that the new arrivals could turn out to be more trouble than they are worth.
“I hope they won't be a danger,” the Brazilian told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera
. “There are six or seven teams one second apart, while those teams are four seconds behind. It's not good for the sport and not good for them – it's like two different series. They'll suffer, and we'll suffer too, when we have them in front of us during qualifying.”
“It's not so much a question of danger,” added defending F1 World Champion Jenson Button, speaking to La Stampa
, “but it will make it more difficult for us to work in practice. It could be we're starting a fast lap with low fuel and you come across a Lotus or a Virgin with full tanks running twelve seconds slower. Even in qualifying, with 24 cars on the track, it will be crucial to get it right. In the race it will be better, because the difference between first and last will be more like three or four seconds.”