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HRT: Cursed by Patriotism?

779   //    14 Dec 2012, 22:45 IST

Might be a hard and ugly fact. A team on the troubled waters ever since the initial foundations were laid out. No one seems to be interested in bailing this team out of the financial crisis, but what if a certain scenario was different?


There were certain people in this world who were claiming that that the FIA had manipulated the selection criteria back in 2009 when they were hunting for new teams to be inducted into the lucrative world of Formula 1. We have seen enough reports already which suggested that the FIA favoured those teams that have signed up with a certain engine supplier. It was said that the FIA wanted a sole supplier to be under their control if the manufacturing teams decided to get a breakaway series and this is the reason they wanted the new teams to sign with that particular manufacturer. Let’s say that is just a report and that the FIA had actually selected teams based on the proper criteria of financial backing, their infrastructure and other normal criteria that they should have followed. Let’s say that the FIA had not manipulated the selection norms. What if the Spanish team that was formed in collaboration with Adrian Campos and Enrique Rodríguez had proper plans for running their F1 team? We have to wonder what went wrong in the aftermath of their entry into the pinnacle of Motorsport that was always labelled ambitious and adventurous.

Campos Meta, as stated earlier, was a result of a collaboration of two of the most leading promoters of sports in Spain. Meta Image is a sports agency based in Madrid. Back in 2009, Meta Image was associated with Campos Racing through Bruno Mendez who was driving for Campos in European F3 Championship. Like the ambitious plans of the disastrous USF1, Campos Meta was formed in a bid to create the country’s first Formula 1 team. This venture gained many shareholders as the plans progressed in the form of José Ramón Carabante and other leading personalities of the country. They wanted to utilize the Spanish talent and wanted to promote F1 further, as they also hoped to transform the nation into a Motorsports hub. For an interim period, it was reported that the team would be having two headquarters located at various part of the country with the administrative headquarters at the Meta Office in Madrid, while the Technical Headquarters was at Campos Racing Office in Valencia. Strategically, it was the best move for an interim period as they also signed a deal with the local government to build new facilities in the Region of Murcia. Upon three months of getting an entry into F1, this team looked all set for bigger dreams. It was also confirmed that Bruno Senna will be one of the drivers in the initial season and that the Italian Manufacturer Dallara would be building the cars.


The Struggles:

Bernie Ecclestone voiced his concerns about Campos Meta and also USF1 in the month of December, A month later, it was widely assumed that Tony Teixeira would be buying out this team and that the associated parties have also signed the dotted lines. Teixeira was also vocal about the team’s prospects, with him stating on several occasions that the team would be present in pre-season testing, either at second test or at final pre-season testing. By February it was again speculated that Tony Teixeira’s ambitious plans had been put to rest by some of the existing teams which meant the the team’s prospect was in jeopardy.

In an eleventh hour rescue mission, José Ramón Carabante, who is one of the team’s shareholders, was confirmed to take full control of this team. It was also revealed that this outfit will race under Hispania Racing, the term Hispania was taken from one of the José Carabante’s companies, and that Adrian Campos was replaced by Colin Kolles as the team’s principal. Kolles, who is an expert under the given circumstances, was expected to take the onus on himself in finding this team a sense of stability. The team’s headquarters were also moved from Meta Images office to Grupo Hispania Office at Murcia.

On March 4th, lots of things were revealed, including the identity of Karun Chandhok as the second driver while the team also unveiled their 2010 challenger F110 built by Dallara.

The start of their 2010 Campaign was one of the most remarkable events for this team as well as for the F1 Universe. The team with no pre season testing only managed to hit the track in the Friday Practice session with only Senna’s car ready for the initial shakedown, with his teammate’s car being rushed to compete in the Qualifying. Karun Chandhok completed his first shakedown in Q1. Both the drivers were hailed for their efforts, especially that of Karun Chandhok who managed to clock a time just 1.8 seconds slower than his teammate, while Senna himself was around 8 seconds slower than the pacesetter. Over the course of the season, they tried hard in battling their nearest rivals while also trying to overcome the various reliability issues that they were forced to deal with and Kolles initially stated that the first four races of the season were just used as the platform to test and understand the car. But throughout the initial races, it was constantly speculated as to whether this team would last the season and many wondered whether this teams had the funds to finish its maiden season. These reports were further fuelled by the team when they dropped Senna on the eve of British Grand Prix, but the team stated that Senna would return to the next race and that he had the support of the team. Yamamoto replaced Senna for the British Grand Prix and continued to race for this team for the next 4 races by replacing Chandhok and for the rest of the season, this team rotated its drivers.


José Ramón Carabante and Colin Kolles over the course of the season stated that the team had even higher ambitious plans for the 2011 season. They parted ways with Dallara due to the lack of on track performance and the team confirmed a long standing speculation over the course of summer that they had secured the deal to use Toyota’s TF110, the challenger that Toyota built to compete in the 2010 season. Hispania had also confirmed that they had a deal where they could use much of the Technical resources at Toyota’s Motorsport facility. However in the month of November 2010, Toyota issued a statement where they stated that all the agreements with Hispania Racing were cancelled due to the non payment of dues. At this point, while the team stated in front of the media that they are walking out of the FOTA, it was later revealed by the FOTA secretary that Hispania racing were expelled due to the non payment of fees for the 2010 membership. Over the winter break, it was speculated that the team was put up for sale but was denied by the owners.

The Team’s 2011 Campaign started off in a similar fashion as that of the team’s 2010 season where the drivers did the installation laps on the eve of the qualifying. Narain Karthikeyan and Vitantonio Liuzzi were announced as the drivers. However around the British Grand Prix, Daniel Ricciardo replaced Karthikeyan and continued to do so until the Indian Grand Prix where the Indian was once again behind the wheel of F111. A major announcement regarding the team was issued on July 4, 2011 where it was revealed that a Madrid based investment company Thesan Capital had purchased the controlling stake from Jose Ramon Carabante, but the new owners stated that the overall operations of the team would continue in similar fashion and that they are intending to make the team ‘more Spanish’.2012 was tipped to be a major year for this team as the intention of making this team ‘more Spanish’ was coming true. Pedro de la Rosa was announced to have signed a multi season deal with this team. Colin Kolles was replaced by Luis Pérez-Sala and by February 2012, the team announced that they are moving to the new headquarters in Madrid. Narain Karthikeyan was announced as the second driver for this team with new direction. The team started off in a similar fashion to the previous years and over the course of the season they showed that they had taken a step forward, although their nearest rivals regained their performances by the mid season. Towards the last few races of the 2012 season, HRT, as they were called, were denying reports that the car is in terrible shape in terms of reliability and that the team is stretching out various components due to the lack of funding. Another report stated that the F112 wasn’t fit to be driven on track; this claim was rejected by both the drivers. On the eve of Austin Grand Prix, the owners issued a statement that the team is put on sale and that they are required to find a suitable buyer before November 30th whereby it will lose its spot on the grid for the 2013 season due to the non payment of the entry fees for the next season.The Team eventually failed to find a suitable buyer and now doesn’t find a place on the grid for the 2013 season.


The Cause of the Struggle:

It’s really unfortunate but there have to be few people to be blamed for this debacle. It all started with the hype around Tony Teixeira. The shareholders were seeing the light through Teixeira and unfortunately for the administrative team of Campos Meta, many of the existing teams were against this decision as it was speculated that Teixeira would use the team as an extended arm of A1GP ,where by the struggling series was to be put more on a spotlight. Lots of team were expressing concerns and since the deal had to be averted by the Campos Meta shareholders on the last minute, José Ramón Carabante took upon himself in rescuing this team. It has to argued whether the new owner was really into this rescue mission. Colin Kolles was roped in as he was an expert in breathing a new life into a struggling team and his decision to sign in Karun Chandhok nearly paid off, as not many expected to see the well funded Indian on the grid. But towards the midway through their maiden season, Chandhok was replaced by a well funded Yamamoto although it was reported from the Hispania camp that the Indian wasn’t able to bring in more funds or that many of his sponsors had defaulted on their payments. Although the team saw the likes of a more funded driver, maybe some of the Indian sponsors had actually derailed the plans of this team by a few notches. The team was again hurt by the fact that they had to operate from many locations instead of a single roof and this added more burden on the struggling team. 

They have to be criticized for an ambitious plan to strike a deal with Toyota. Not many saw it coming but that’s the time when the team should have opted for stability. A bold move to quit FOTA and put up a brave face didn’t do any justice to this struggling team as they were later embarrassed by FOTA when the actual reason for the walkout was revealed to the public. Their reputation took a big hit by this needless act. When Juan Villalonga was hired in the same period to boost the team’s communication and to hunt for more sponsorship, it was understood that he had plenty of responsibility to hunt for prospective buyers in the Spain.

Colin Kolles also struck gold when the team announced that they had signed Narain Karthikeyan as their driver. Narain, who drove for Jordan team back in 2005, was said to bring in huge amount from the TATA Group as well as leading brands from India. The amount was tipped to be in millions. However, their 2011 challenge took a massive turn when Ricciardo replaced Karthikeyan. Not many understood this deal, but it was assumed that Red Bull had a technical deal in place along with the regular sponsorship in terms of funds and few Red Bull cans.

July 4, 2011 was a decisive date for this Spanish team when it was announced that Thesan Capital had brought in a controlling stake from José Ramón Carabante. It was initially believed that the team’s long term future had been secured as the new owners had lot more solid plans than their previous ones, but the decision to make a struggling team more patriotic was subject of debate. The management had a massive shakeup with Colin Kolles being replaced by a former Spanish racing driver Luis Pérez-Sala, although the decision to hire Pedro was understandable. They also moved to new headquarters which meant that the entire team operated under one roof which was never possible in the team’s entire tenure, but this would have been fair hadn’t they focused on patriotism. The new owners were of the opinion that more regional content would mean more interest in this team but they must have forgotten the state of Spanish economy.Since 2009, successive Spanish governments haven’t been successful in undermining confidence into one of the largest nations that use Euro. Spain is the fourth largest nation amongst those 17 countries using Euro. The country is struggling with a poor banking system and the nation has large amount of debts which is in the highest levels. The property market has collapsed and the country is facing an unemployment rate of nearly 25% which has hurt regional governments within the country and that has forced the investors to panic, while the central government, despite borrowing huge sums of money, is yet to find stability as the crisis hit nation is tipped to come out of the financial troubles only by 2014. The country is also rated high on emigration as many are looking for jobs elsewhere and for people under 25, the unemployment figure is around 52%. The country is also seeing a second recession in three years. Spanish Banks are in need of bailout and despite the fact the leaders of other countries that use Euro have structured a package, not many people seem to know the exact value needed by these banks to clear of their debt, which isn’t a positive sign for the country. The number of financial institutions in the country has been cut by a large extent as the Government is looking to find solidarity into the banking sector but the number of banks seeking a bailout package is still at large and unless they are sorted out, other banks may follow suit.

In a scenario as this when a country as a whole is looking to find investors, the decision of a team to find a sense of patriotism has to be questioned unless if it promises to find employment and in case of Formula 1 is not possible from a single nation.

One can argue that HRT under Thesan Capital has secured the likes of Narain Karthikeyan and Ma Qing Hua but both of them were the only funding sources for this team. The Team needed investor confidence and it wasn’t an encouraging sign to see their new headquarters located at the prime recession centre.

It was really hard from a certain point for Thesan Capital to find more funding into this team but the timing of the announcement that they are looking for prospective buyers came in a little too late. Although it’s believed that the talks with certain buyers in the east have failed and that’s the reason for the timing of the announcement.

Lots of things could have been avoided if certain scenarios were different.

It’s what they have dubbed the spanish economy, “Too big to bail, Too big to fail”. A team that could have been flourished was put to rest due to certain hard scenarios.

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