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What is Hispania’s place in Formula 1?
What is Hispania’s place in Formula 1?
Posted By: James Allen  |  31 Mar 2011   |  2:30 pm GMT  |  148 comments

At last weekend’s Australian Grand Prix, Hispania Racing’s Narain Kartikeyan and Tonio Liuzzi became the first drivers to not qualify for a Formula 1 Grand Prix for almost a decade. There’s no shame in that; Niki Lauda and Nelson Piquet once failed to qualify for a race, in the days when there were far more teams than places on the grid.

Having failed in its attempt to buy the Toyota cars, the team decided to build its own car very late. It failed to turn a wheel in pre season testing and was still being built when practice began on Friday. Despite turning 11 laps each in qualifying, both drivers failed to make the cut under the new 107% rule and the stewards rightly denied them a place on the grid.

They travel to Malaysia for next weekend’s race, with hopes of making it through to Sunday. But what should we make of this team – which echoes the weekend warriors of the early 1990s, like Andrea Moda and Forti – at a time of unprecedented competence in the rest of the grid? And what of the claims from some, inside and outside the team, that once they fit the correct front wing the car will be faster than Virgin?

I spoke to Hispania’s Geoff Willis on Sunday morning at length. He has been around; was part of Adrian Newey’s team at Williams in the glory days, was in charge at BAR in their heyday and played a role in building Red Bull up to where they are now. He knows what he’s doing, in other words.

Clearly he finds himself now in less than ideal circumstances and is putting a brave face on it, but listening to him talk, you realise that he believes in what he’s doing and that he’s looking forward to shocking a few in the paddock who think Hispania shouldn’t be there.

The construction of the car was outsourced to Italian composites firms which Willis has confidence in. However the front wing failed a crash test and so the car ran in Melbourne with last year’s front wing, which the aero package was not designed for. All being well the revised wing will pass its test in the coming days and Hispania will be able to do some set up work in the four hours of practice in Sepang.

And when it does Willis believes that it will push Virgin to the back of the grid. Already Virgin’s Timo Glock – who looked a haunted man on the Sunday night plane to Kuala Lumpur – has expressed concern that the car is miles off and that a fast Red Bull lap in Q1 could push them out of the race. But to be beaten by a car which has had hardly any running would be very painful indeed for Nick Wirth’s engineers.

The problem at Hispania, clearly, is money. The owner, Jose Carabante, is still learning how F1 works, especially its cash demands. I worked for someone like that at Brabham in the early 1990s, who had underestimated how much an F1 team cost to run. Back then it was £1 million a month. Now it’s a minimum of four times that.

Carabante said on Spanish radio that the team would have €45 million budget this season and promised a “new aerodynamic package” for the Spanish Grand Prix. “It will be enough to be ahead of Lotus and Virgin,” he said. “Last year we were in a worse condition than now and we ended up ahead of Virgin with twice our budget, and behind Lotus due only to one accident.”

Lotus has taken a big step forward on performance and is now closer to Force India on pace, but Virgin is vulnerable and the whole digital design philosophy is coming under question.

“Like last year, we began the development of the car too late due to the budget,” Carabante added. “We were closing [sponsor] agreements that in the end did not come.”

After the deal to buy the assets of the Toyota team fell through, “We set a realistic goal with the budget that we had.”

I’m told that in raising finance to get to that point, Hispania turned to Convers Sport Group, owned by a Lithuanian called Vladimir Antonov, who has been in the background of F1 for a couple of years now. He owns Spyker, is trying to buy Saab and was a sponsor on the Renault car last year, with his Snoras Bank, which appeared on the sidepods. I’ve been told that Antonov has a charge over the team in the event of them not repaying the money, but that has not been confirmed. He is sitting on a significant amount of money – he claims to have $7 billion of assets under management – and may soon have a stake in a great brand in Saab. He seems to be watching and waiting.

Kartikeyan told Reuters at the weekend that he to believes Hispania is set to surprise, “if we get the new front wing. Basically, they don’t want jokers to come in. We respect the 107 percent rule. We are a serious team. When it all gets kicking off, I think we are going to surprise a few people,”

However Liuzzi thinks that qualifying at Sepang is a big ask, “I think things will be different there but, unfortunately, if I was to say at the beginning of the year which track would be worst for the 107% rule I would have said Malaysia because of its characteristics. Even so, I still think we can show improvement compared to Australia and good pace compared to Virgin.”

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Reading the comments saying that if a team does not do any testing pre-season, it should not race. It is a fair comment by others however, that teams turn up to races with different cars to those run in testing (see McLaren!).

However, I do believe there should be a rule stating that, unless the weather conditions prevent it, teams should complete a minimum number of laps in FP1 and FP2, and a minimum number of laps in FP3. This means that a car can go into qualifying safely, the driver knowing the limits, the handling, and have some basic set up.


HRT should be allowed in F1 provided their car passes the regulations and they can qualify under the 107% rule. They clearly need some more time testing and the rules should allow the smaller teams some exception for the limitations on testing, as a Grand Prix weekend is not the place for a test session.

All F1 teams have to start somewhere. It should be remembered that Williams were very underfunded in the 1970s and only became a front runner when the Saudi money arrived in 1978.


Quite, Ferrari and Mclaren didn’t start out as instant dynasties either. A week or so ago Adrian Newey commented on a job offer to work for Ferrari by saying ‘Formula One is about people.” And he is dead on right, money is certainly the mother’s milk of all sports but the sort of people you gather into a team is what makes all the difference. Its about the desire to compete and excel, if you want a sound financial investment, if you’re averse to risks then this isn’t the place to look for a job or to spend your money.

Markin Brundell

I see no reason why HRT should be kicked that hard. Firstly, they followed all necessary procedures to get in, just like the other 12 teams, so they have earned their place.

Their problems seem to be money related. The other trouble for the team is 107 percent rule.

The 107 percent rule is a very convenient one, but not a good solution. If flag marshalls are not up to their job and fail to wave blue or white, is it HRT-s problem? Alright, in case their drivers fail to give way, maybe there should be harder penalties for that. Im quite sure that(f.ex) 2 year race ban for blocking would be enough to make backmarkers interested in letting the leaders through. Nowadays with asphalt run offs it should be easy to do.

I think 107 percent rule should be dropped. My logic is, that the more cars on track, the higher possibility to see some action. With limited testing, participating races is the only way to run your car. Sending teams home early after costly(!) shipping is unreasonable.

Many people love to say that their cars are too dangerous, because they are slow. Well…

Thinking about last years Hungaroring 1000km sportscar race. Fastest LMP1 qualified roughly in 1min 33s, while 911-s were doing around 1.47. That is a massive difference, far more than 7 percent. And believe it or not, the race was not a disaster. If F1 is so pinnacle of pinnacles, drivers should be able to get around slower cars there too.


For one thing, sportscars are accustomed to getting cars at a combination of speeds round a track without it all ending up in a big sticky mess (overtaking not largely depending on aero or gimmicks is a significant factor). For another, there’s a 111.1% rule on race speed – a team missing the 107% mark in (optimally-tuned) qualifying would be at considerable risk of missing the race mark unless the qualifying time was a fluke bad result.

The problem isn’t blue or white flags but the risk of potentially-dangerous accidents and unfair removal of faster competitors through F1 being incompatible with tolerance of deficient speed.


At this point HRT does indeed have a place in Formula One, the question is can they keep it? Every motor sporting series has an underdog of sorts. Why should F-1 be any different? It makes for a good “B” story to go along with DRS, Bahrain, and whatever Bernie has said this week. I’m not a fan of HRT at this point but I wish them well. The herculean effort they made to create the F111 shows that they’re serious about this business. I too think that Virgin might be in big trouble as well toward the middle of the season as the top teams get quicker and the best of the rest chase after them, the 107 percent rule is a moving target. Virgin hasn’t done much development and it will probably show soon.

That being said, if they are struggling it is because Max Mosley their key defender is gone and their chief critic still in charge; I do feel for these teams who are openly criticized by the likes of Bernie Ecclestone.

Good luck to them and I think their efforts are in the best tradition of the sport.


Anyone that saw the HRT’s (well, Liuzzi’s HRT) on track at 1st qualifying would have been impressed. The car sounded good, looked good straight away and the times reflected that relative to the situation. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Liuzzi, a green Lotus and the best of Force India engaged in serious arguments over track posiion within the next few GP’s.



I never received actually your book in Tunisia. I even went to the post office in January and last week and did received nothing.

Is there any issues with mail to Tunisia


No idea. It was one of many sent out, I imagine. Did you order it via the site?


Actually I won as I was among the ones with most comments. You contacted me by email and I gave you my mail adress


Hispania were promised a budget cap rule for all teams of $40m (or somewhere around that figure).

That simply is not going to happen now, just Bernie’s ‘Medals for the top 3 drivers and the most gold medals win the championship’ idea, along with the ‘fake rain’ idea are dead and not going to happen.

The only way things will change and get better for these smaller teams, is by banning wings and introducing mechanical grip only, so it will simply come down to engine performance and grip.

That’s a bit drastic for me, and I love the old F1 cars from the 50’s and 60’s, but we should not go back to that. 107% rule is there and is doing it’s job, so lay off Hispania, if they start they start, if they DNQ then they DNQ.


Interesting forum!

My own view is that Hispania are constained in three keys area:

1) Late confirmation of any budget meant the team could not start work on a new car until late December.

2) Lack of a good budget

3) FIA new no testing rule in season means they are now doing the basic testing at races…something that until 2009 did not affect all previous new teams, such as Andrea Moda, Super Aguri etc.

I wish the team success and hope they can hang on. Colin Kolles is a tough nut, a fighter and has allowed Geoff Willis to form a team which has good F1 experience. (Inc, Toni Chequerella, Ex Kubica Renault race engineer and Richard Connell, ex Sato engineer at Super Aguri and Renault test engineer)

With a bit of luck, a reasonable budget and a lot of hard work (which the team is not shy of) and the ability of Luizzi, maybe then can proove themselves more capable than the many doubters believe?


First of all, I would like to thank James Allen for a fantastic broadcast from Melbourne last weekend. I watched One HD continuously the whole weekend and I have never seen such fantastic dedication to the sport in Australia. Thouroughly enjoyed it.

As for HRT. I believe they definately have a place in F1. I think it is easy to forget how hard it is to even enter F1 let alone succeed. Compare HRT to teams like Pacific or MasterCard Lola and you will soon see that HRT are far from a joke. I was very suprised that HRT were able to do the times they did considering they had almost no running prior to qualifying. We know the car is quick in a straight line as it lacks downforce, so I expect it to qualify for the faster circuits. Malaysia will hopefully be one of them.

I hope they find some sponsors and that the dedicated workers finally get the respect they deserve.


Thanks for that.


Without cars participating in each race the money will soon dry up. I can’t see the attraction for sponsors if the weekend finishes on Saturday.

No offence to Niki Lauda and Nelson Piquet but what kind of driver wants to be languishing at the back of the grid. Hardly looks good on a CV.


Why all the Virgin hate?

They’re not even particularly close to the Virgin brand anymore, they’re now mostly owned by Malrussia. They are a sport car manufacturer so actually it could be said that Virgin are bringing manufacturers back in F1 😉

and yes, the CFD is probably a bad idea. But Wirth thought it could work, and it worked with sports cars so why not give F1 a chance. At least they are developing technology which might have another practical use – say for modelling complex systems like the human body – and that’s one reason why F1 is still around…


People talk about some cars being harder on tyres than other cars. I can understand some drivers being harder on their tyres than others, but what makes one car intrinsically harder on its tyres than another? Or does it all boil down to how the driver chooses to use the available performance of the car?


Firstly, the fundamentals of a car’s characteristics dictate the way the driver has to drive the car. The driver will always try to become part of or at one with the car whatever its tendancies may be. Read about Alonso and his champ Renaults as an example of this.

Generally speaking, a car that has lots of downforce has lots of grip. Lots of grip means you slide less in breaking zones, corners and traction zones. This means you have lower wear rate as its the lateral scrubbing accross the track and spinning up on the exit of corners that really kills the tyres. So, a car that has poor grip will wear its tyres out quicker than a car that has good grip.

Paradoxically this can go too far the other way in that if a car produces more downforce than the tyres were designed to withstand over a stint, the tyre longevity will suffer too. It’s a very deep balancing act to get right.

I think Red Bull have possibly gone too far in this respect this year so it will be interesting to see how for they can go on the softs at one of the more abrasive tracks such as Barcelona. I know they were fine in testing but it’ll be a different story in the warmer temperatures by race day.


I really hope that they get some useful running and hit the set up sweet spot quickly with their car in Malaysia. It looks like a very neatly realised design front to back and something that gives me confidence that it will at least be able to qualify is Geoff Willis’ involvement. Remember the BAR of 2004 anyone? It won the non-Ferrari WDC and WCC.

I’d hate to see the HRT fall away without seeing what the car can do. I always wished that Sergio Rinland’s twin keeled Arrows A23 had the money behind it to see what it could do. It’s one of the great shames of modern formula one when a car is still born or money clips its wings before it can fly. The A23 was still excellent years later when painted white and red and called a Super Aguri. OK, it was ageing by then and had pretended to be a Minardi in the meantime, but a few flick ups and wing refinements here and there courtesy of Honda meant it still qualified and punched above its weight regularly until once again money called time on it once and for all. Such a shameful waste! You wouldn’t breed a thoroughbred stallion and never let it out of the stable.

It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the HRT immediately started to show a clean pair of heels to Virgin. The Virgin looks primitive by comparison. I get the impression from looking at it that the CFD technology they employ can’t simulate the more complex airflow that it is created by more intricate designs so the output ends up being basic. The car is just a reflection of where the technology is at. They have gone backwards from last year it seems. I know the other teams use CFD too but I bet the stage Virgin is at now with its car is where the big teams are 3 months into the design phase. The CFD Model will then become a scale model and move into the wind tunnel to be sculpted and tweaked to produce prodigious amounts of negative lift.

I say lets have a rallying cry for the struggling team. Since when is hard graft embarrassing anyway? They are behind schedule and have faced some difficulties but they have shown their metal by getting to Melbourne and taking the DNQ on the chin. If they qualify in Malaysia I think all you naysayers should promptly rush out to buy a tweed trilby and eat it!

David Turnedge

Sure the team deserves its place on the grid!

It has an entry, it has a car and it has a dedicated crew; all it doesn’t have is a fast enough car, presumably because it was running a 2010 spec nose.

Slow? Who cares? That’s why the FIA wisely reintroduced the 107% rule.

The only question that remains for me is why the FIA allowed small teams like Hispania and USF1 into Formula 1 while turning down outfits like Prodrive.


To be fair, Lotus, Virgin and HRT are actually “new” teams, and have no basis or experience. The other kind of “new” teams like Brawn GP were not really new teams but experienced teams that went through a management change.


Forti. Here is a name I completely forgot that used to race in F1.

They made Minardi look fast in comparaison. Aahhh… the old days!

Geoff Willis is a competent guy and I anticipate HRT to shine compared to Marussia Virgin who are the biggest disappointment of this season’s opener. (Even bigger than Webbo and Ferrari respective performances!)

I feel Liuzzi should be able to get in front of both Virgin cars if HRT’s front wing passes the crash test. I’m really not sure about this CFD only technic.

A big question mark remains as to Karthikeyan’s ability though. Maybe a seat for Timo mid-season?


I miss Minardi, whether it was run by Giancarlo Minardi or Paul Stoddart, they seem to be the most honest and friendly guys around.


God i miss the old days! I remember reading a story about one of the Minardi drivers (Fabrizio Barbazza, pardon the spelling) sitting at the side of the track in Montreal with a couple of fishing rods catching big carp between sessions. lol. Way more interesting than attending sponsors meetings and drinking protein drinks.


I remember that terrible colour car. Wasn’t it roberto Moreno and pedro diniz?


Indeed, a very ugly yellow.


I only remember Luca Badoer taking part in the 1996 Monaco grand prix in which my favourite drivers at the time (Jean Alesi and Damon Hill) both retired from the lead.


Diniz joined the team cause of his sponsorship connection. Something like a pay driver.


It must be irritating being a Spanish F1 supporter right now.

Hispania may not be able to compete at all.

Alonso is driving a car with a big Italian flag on the back.

Lewis Hamilton is the only driver currently showing the form to compete with Vettel for the championship.



I hope you’re happy to eat your words if you turn out to be wrong about HRT.

I’m not an F1 insider, but I find it difficult to believe all this talk about HRT being faster Virgin and maybe Lotus. We haven’t seen anything from HRT this year, no preseason testing, no real running in Melbourne. All we’ve got is to take peoples word on the pace of the car. What evidence is there to suggest that it isn’t just another dogs breakfast? What evidence is there to suggest it can outpace Lotus? Why are we taking what HRT people (and Virgin and Lotus) are saying as a given? It just doesn’t seem very empirical.

It’s clear from Melbourne than Lotus is a bit of a ways off from Force India. To catch up, the need to develop rapidly and Force India to stand still. I can’t see that happening. I would also imagine that is the same case for the next downs, Virgin and then HRT. That is, for the lower team to catch up, the higher team standing still in development.

You’re a good egg James, you’re usually spot on and I have never had any reason not to take what you write as true, but I must admit, this time I’m sceptical about your thoughts on HRT.


P1 Malaysia. Virgin 2.7secs in front of HRT…


I didn’t say that they would be faster, I said that there are plenty of people in the paddock who think they will and that having spoken to Geoff and seen the car, I’ll be very interested to see if it is the case. Hence the question in the title.


Indeed! In the egg cup full of laps Liuzzi did they weren’t a million light years away from Virgin and you have to admit he looked like he was taking it very easy. Out of the box with no set up work they were within grabbing distance of the Virgins,lets wait and see hey?


I don’t have a problem with HRT been in F1.

They have managed to build there own car which meets all of the FIA regulations so should be allowed to come & try & make the show.


my issue with the 3 “new” teams is that they completely ruin the Q1 session of qualifying. it is a forgone conclusion that all 6 will be relegated, leaving us to wonder only about that final 17th position. hardly seems worth it. in fact, in 20 races, only twice has a “new” team made it into Q2: sepang and spa. and both of those were wet sessions…


Virgin has no soul (for a virgin outfit), I hope they kill them.


The article doesn’t answer the initial question, but it does give useful info explaining HRT’s current drawback and, especially, it’s supposed potential. in my opinion, Moseley’s rushed attempt to open up F1 to new candidates resulted in having one very slow and two very very slow teams, stretching finances to such an extent that one could question their short term future in F1. The USF1 team didn’t even have a car but were given a slot and then it went from bad to worse making F1 look like a joke with incompetent managers on both sides: FIA & teams. I don’t blame L, V and HRT to seize the opportunity, I blame the FIA. But now what is HRT’s place in F1? A couple of decades ago, small set ups on the limit of bankruptcy were part of the evolution of F1, but the corporate edge F1 has given itself, the financial stakes involved and the global brand it has become, hardly leaves room for what looks like sudden amateurish involvement by the three new teams. Lotus isn’t even Lotus, Branson goes from lucky sponsor to new team and HRT are where they are. Lots over over promise by these teams, nothing delivered in F1 terms. So my conclusion is, despite respecting the team’s courage and motivation, HRT should not be on the grid. That they should have had enough time to get ready to be in F1 and not improvise as they go along. Nothing works under that much strain.


Teams that don’t make the 107% cut-off should be granted additional test days I reckon.

(I can already anticipate the arguments against this, it just seems harsh that the sport is happy for them to fail, despite their best efforts.)


My view is that there should be place in F1 for any team that can produce and run a car that meets the specifications of the formula. The thing that is wrong is that new teams cannot properly compete with the big spending teams because of a number of factors. Despite declarations of policies to drive down costs with initiatives such as restricting testing, bizarre and expensive changes keep getting introduced. This year we have KERS back, a moveable rear wing gizmo and tyres designed to wear out quickly. Total madness!

Peter, New Zealand

I don’t believe Lotus has gone forward so much as Force India has gone backwards.

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