Former HRT manager suggests it would be 'harder to add new F1 teams today'

Former HRT manager suggests it would be 'harder to add new F1 teams today'

17 January - 11:15 Last update: 12:31

In recent weeks there has been repeated talk about new teams arriving in Formula 1 over the next few years. This would be great news, because the last time more than one new team entered Formula 1 was way back in 2010, when HRT, Team Lotus (later Caterham) and Virgin (later Marussia and Manor) debuted. One of the protagonists of those adventures was Manfredi Ravetto, general manager at HRT in the team's first two seasons and then team principal at Caterham in 2014. GPblog interviewed him to talk about what we could call 'the class of 2010'. 

A promise

But why did these three teams decide to embark on the Formula One adventure? Ravetto has a very clear answer: "The FIA's plan to allow the entry of three new teams from the 2010 season was born a few years earlier under the premise/promise that there would be something extremely similar to what today is the budget cap. So a series of suitors, including the three teams then chosen, were attracted by the hypothesis of doing Formula One with a derisory amount of money compared to what was needed in those years," he said.

As we know, however, things did not actually work out that way, and these teams then found themselves competing against giants with much larger budgets. Of the three teams, HRT is the one whose debut in 2010 Ravetto experienced first-hand.

"How can you define it, a truly crazy undertaking, mission impossible to put it bluntly?" he said about the Spanish team's arrival in Formula 1. The HRT affair did not start with the best backing, because the ownership and staff that would later debut in F1 only took over in January 2010. They inherited 'onerous supply contracts with Dallara for the car, with Cosworth for the engines and then a contract with driver Bruno Senna'.

As Ravetto goes on to explain, 'The cars completed their first laps, one in Friday's free practice in Bahrain and the other in Saturday morning's free practice', without doing any testing beforehand. After only three Grands Prix, however, both HRT cars reached the finish line and at the end of the championship, the team finished second to last ahead of Virgin.

Virgin themselves were similar to HRT in size, while Caterham, says Ravetto, "was profoundly different, it was actually a very big structure because it is true that they debuted as HRT and as Virgin in 2010, but the latter two have always remained very small structures. Catheram, which was called Team Lotus at the start, grew into a really mammoth, excessively mammoth structure within a very short period of time."

Tony Fernandes's team, in their first seasons, managed to place ahead of their two rivals at the back of the pack, but always without scoring any points. Virgin, on the other hand, the only one where Ravetto did not work, later managed to score points, after a long journey and above all after becoming first Marussia and then Manor.

The Final Word

The first of the three teams to leave Formula 1 was HRT when things seemed to be going well. Manfredi Ravetto explains: "It was a bit of a happy place and there was a good atmosphere between ownership and management."

But in 2011 the owners were hit by the crisis in the real estate market and the team was passed to a Spanish investment fund. The Italian continues: "Unfortunately, the investment fund doesn't deal with Formula One, so they started with a series of somewhat unorthodox ideas. At the end of the 2011 season, we sat down at their table and said 'we don't share your ideas, you don't share ours. Let's find a solution'".

At the end of 2011, management and ownership parted company and after the 2012 season, when they finished last, the team closed their doors for good. "It was the first and only time I have ever seen a Formula One team close down, because you die and then it's a conversation. You always save the entry in one way or another," adds Ravetto, explaining that the investment fund preferred to dismantle the team rather than sell it.

Caterham followed to the same fate at the end of the 2014 season, after also changing hands from Tony Fernandes to a group of Swiss and Middle Eastern entrepreneurs with whom Ravetto also arrived. Regarding the end of Caterham's adventure, the former team principal explains: "We arrived, we restored it both structurally and sportingly, we streamlined the team, we made it much more efficient and so on, but in the meantime, the months passed and we realised, or rather the group of investors behind us realised, that little by little the transfer [of Caterham shares] from the other party was being slowed down. I think very simply that maybe someone thought, 'but if these guys are getting it back on track, why don't I keep it?'"

The corporate situation became extremely complicated as a result of this non-transfer of shares and an administrator, Finbarr O'Connell, even took over as team principal and decided to replace Ericsson with Will Stevens, losing the sponsorship support that the Swede was bringing. After also missing a few Grands Prix at the end of 2014, the team began preparations for 2015 but disappeared during the winter break.

And finally the fate of Virgin, who already in 2011 became Marussia, and then changed their name again to Manor in 2015. Virgin started as the worst of the lot, but as Ravetto says 'the first real somewhat competitive car in that lot of three teams there was seen in 2016 with the Mercedes-powered Manor. There, in the end, in the seventh year, they managed to make a car that somehow could even fight in qualifying to get into Q2, could score points and so on." The Russian-British team was thus the first of the three new entries in 2010 to score points, but the company that ran it went into receivership in 2017 and that was the end of what had become Manor by then.

Yesterday and Today

Even then, as is happening today, the teams already present in Formula 1 opposed the arrival of new teams and for Ravetto there are two reasons: "One concern is the division of money. The Concord Agreement has historically always divided the money on the basis of ten teams. It is one thing to divide the cake into nine, it is another to divide it into 10, and it is another to continue to divide it by 10, but being 11 or 12, because then those inside already say: 'Yes, but if the eleventh is me and the new one I let in takes away my place in the first 10, what will I do?" 

While the second reason is of a different nature: "It is a factor - let's call it - sporting aesthetics, in the sense that you want to avoid having someone who arrives and is clearly the last wheel on the wagon, a team that is always last and runs three seconds slower than the second last. This would be detrimental to the aesthetics, to the image of Formula One'.

We then asked Ravetto to imagine if things would have been different. If those three teams had tried their adventure in the present day. The former team principal replied: 'Difficult to answer. Certainly, the budget cap is something that, if effective, should theoretically help, but it is still a very young instrument with aspects to be contextualised."

He added: "Apart from anything else, I think perhaps it would be even more difficult today, back then it was more manageable even from a commercial point of view because small teams could still access 'small' sponsors and somehow make do with them, whereas today you can no longer make ends meet and small teams have great difficulty attracting big sponsors."

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