As the rubber is burned and the (who knows how much) fuel is pumped into the new 160kg tanks at Jerez this week, the teams ready themselves for the 2010 season. New boys Virgin are there, despite a front wing which has a disturbing tendency to fall off; Force India are there, despite rumours of financial difficulties. There are two notable absentees, both of whom have entries for the 2010 season – USF1, and Campos Meta 1.
It was back in March last year that Peter Windsor told this journalist that he was a devotee of the “Skunk Works” school of thought. Roughly translated, this means a minimal approach to the development and management of the F1 team that Windsor and Ken Anderson founded in 2009. No-one could have imagined that the team would have difficulties after YouTube announced its involvement in the middle of last year, but the signs are worrying.
Firstly, USF1 signed up an Argentinian racer, Jose Maria Lopez, whose credentials are questionable. His lack of success in GP2 and his recent exploits in Argentinian touring cars do not constitute the meteoric rise an aspiring star would hope for. Conspiracy theorists have already linked the arrival of Lopez with Windsor’s relationship with Carlos Reutemann, Argentinian politician and ex-F1 star.
Secondly, although their website is flashy, well-presented and contains an enviable level of technical detail, the last news item is that signing of Lopez on January 25th. No car updates, no news updates, no nothing since then. A promising tab, inscribed SCHEDULE, entices a visitor keen to discover how the car is getting along; but all we get is the calendar for the 2010 F1 season. Hardly enough to fill a potential USF1 fan with confidence.
On February 4th, Windsor promised Autosport that his team would be in Bahrain. He acknowledged that there had been problems with an unnamed sponsor, but said that everybody at the team was working flat out to make the first grand prix. Since then nobody has heard anything more.
In deeper trouble, though, we find Campos Meta 1. Having pulled off a considerable publicity coup by signing Bruno Senna at the last grand prix of 2009, Campos have endured bad headline after bad headline, the nadir coming after Adrian Campos admitted on February 5th that his team were having serious financial difficulties. The A1 GP boss Tony Teixeira then became involved and the future looked brighter for the team. But rumours persist that Dallara, the famous chassis manufacturer that has taken on the Campos job, has demanded payment from the team.
In the wings wait Stefan GP, a mysterious outfit hailing from Serbia. Some reports said they had bought Toyota’s F1 organisation wholesale; they are also rumoured to have contacted Dallara, and some of the more salacious reports have even said Stefan have already bought the car originally intended for Campos. Stefan GP continue to make headlines, making it known they have Kazuki Nakajima and Ralf Schumacher in their sights, and that they have the money and the power to make the first race in Bahrain where others may not.
No-one outside the teams concerned truly knows what stage they are at, nor the level of readiness for a season that starts in almost exactly a month’s time. Furthermore, it is a good bet that all of the above will be near the back of the grid if they do manage to get onto the sandy track in Sakhir. Should they miss it, the FIA indicated this week, there will be no mercy.