Features - 2011 Grand Prix Review
JANUARY 3, 2012
Hispania Racing Team
BY TONY DODGINS
Pos 11: Hispania Racing Team
Tonio Liuzzi (I); Narain Karthikeyan (Ind); Daniel Ricciardo (AUS)
Points: 0; Best finish: 13th, Canadian GP
After its hand-to-mouth opening season, HRT continued in similar vein although there was the luxury of a gearbox/hydraulics deal with Williams that addressed a number of reliability issues that had plagued 2010.
The season started with Geoff Willis continuing in his consultancy role but, without a development budget, the ex-Leyton House, Williams, Honda and Red Bull man's hands were tied. By year-end he had joined Ross Brawn at Mercedes and experienced Belgian Jacky Eeckelaert was overseeing technical operations.
Eeckelaert knew the story from the start, having worked with team principal Colin Kolles in LMP1 after he left Honda.
"That team was the basis of HRT," Eeckelaert says. "In January 2010 Bernie called Colin and said he'd found someone to meet the Dallara bills that Campos couldn't pay and he wanted the team on the grid.
The Carabantes had money but no team. Colin had a team, with trucks he'd bought from Super Aguri, so it was a case of taking two Audi sportscars out of the truck and putting two F1 cars in!
"I flew down to Italy with Willis and discovered two naked monocoques and a few cartons and boxes with wishbones and uprights!"
That became the 2010 chassis and from there HRT adapted the cars to the Williams gearbox with a new rear axle and to the single diffuser rules for '11. The aero package was done with the aid of CFD and simulation. Dallara's chassis remained with revised bodywork.
The team had balance issues in 2010 but found that the 2011 Pirelli tyres improved things, with further progress down to front wing work also done in CFD.
Again they managed to pip Virgin to 11th spot by dint of Liuzzi's 13th place in the delayed goings-on of Montreal, that being one slot better than D'Ambrosio's 14th place in Australia for Virgin.
Alongside Liuzzi the team ran Narain Karthikeyan, who Eeckelaert says "was not slow - not at all." And then from Silverstone, India notwithstanding, they made some Red Bull income by race-blooding promising young Australian Daniel Ricciardo in Karthikeyan's place.
Eeckelaert was impressed: "He got there very quickly for a rookie and without any mistakes. No spins, not even a flat spot, nothing. There were lots of others, even those with more experience like Bruno Senna, flying off left and right. I think he has big potential."
For those teams at the back of the grid race strategy has a different meaning. They pit when they are being caught by the pack, so as to avoid losing time to blue flags as much as possible.
"Better that than lose three seconds each time to 11 or 12 blue flags," Eeckelaert explains. "It's almost like a free stop. This year was a bit easier because with the Bridgestones it was mostly one or two stops and with Pirelli it was two, three or four. So more often the leaders were pitting themselves and we could stay out longer."
With the sale to Thesan Capital in July, HRT will have a development budget for a new car for the first time in 2012 although Eeckelaert acknowledges that it's a late start. The design is being handled by a Munich technical office while the team establishes a racing base in its native Spain -- a brave move.
HRT is renting wind tunnel time from Mercedes but that is a step forward given that the current car has not been near a tunnel for two years. With the head count around 125 -- debatable considering that a number were/are employees of Kolles -- there is much logistical and organisational work for new team principal Luis Perez Sala to oversee.
The signing of Pedro de la Rosa, so experienced in McLaren methodology, is a great bonus and at the moment the second seat is still up for grabs. With the amount on the team's plate technically and organisationally, it's not top priority!
Technically, the rule changes to the exhaust exits and engine mapping will help limit a Pandora's box of tricks that was closed to the cash-straightened smaller teams and should reduce the gap a little.
HRT's extended collaboration with Williams will also give it KERS for the first time, something that Marussia will not have. But, will that and a new design allow it to keep pace with a team hoping to benefit from a new technical association with McLaren? Time will tell.