F1: Why B-teams are bad news for the Brits

By LJ Hutchins

CalendarMonday, August 6th, 2007

 
 

We find ourselves, here at Brits On Pole, wondering whether the trend for manufacturers to stake out great chunks of F1 real estate by running a second team is really paying off – for either them or for their drivers.

Take Honda, for example, the current home of both Jenson Button and Anthony Davidson. A team whose season could hardly be going much worse. A year ago they were challenging the front runners, our Jense had just won his first race and everyone was telling him with quite fetching optimism: “Next stop, world championship.” (That was 2006 BL, as in Before Lewis. How far away those days seem now.)

Now the team counts itself lucky if it makes the cut for Quali 2 and is in the previously unimaginable position of being outshone by its B-team, Super Aguri. While it’s nice to see Anthony Davidson making an impression after years of not being invited to the ball, it’s still a pretty unseemly situation.

All power to young Davidson’s elbow, but for how much longer will Jenson – or Rubens Barrichello for that matter – put up with routinely taking an early bath? Wouldn’t the cash demonstrably be better spent on the Honda car rather than on staking out those two back-marker grid slots with a great big Japanese flag?

Then there’s the chaos at Red Bull. As an academy for up and coming drivers, Toro Rosso cannot be judged an outstanding success. Vitantonio Liuzzi has retired from his last nine races according to the BBC radio commentary during the Hungarian GP. And Scott Speed, easily the more promising of the two, has parted company with the team in dramatic fashion. It has been suggested that he demonstrated how he thought he’d signed up with Frank Warren rather than Dietrich Mateschitz. A complaint that occasionally afflicts F1 drivers, but rarely with consequences this large.

None of this helps the career of our veteran Brit, David Coulthard, who is purportedly at Red Bull to steady the ship and act as a role model for the younger drivers. We always find his attempts to play the F1 elder statesman most amusing: he can keep it up for short periods until the mask slips and he cusses on live television or makes a grossly sexist comment to Louise Goodman. But we like to see the old boy do well and there’s this feeling that his team really is on the verge of something big; a little more development on the A-car and both he and Webber could really be pulling in the results. And exactly how is Toro Rosso contributing to this goal?

Which brings us around to Lewis Hamilton. Let’s set aside his trembling lower lip following reports that Fernando’s not his mate any more. I think we can all agree that it’s an unnecessary distraction from the serious business of winning races that we’re absolutely not going to snigger at. No, not at all. What we’re really interested in at the moment is the rumoured McLaren deal with Prodrive.

Of course, it could be little more than a customer engine. But that isn’t the way things seem to be shaping up. And this isn’t the first time the Woking bunch have expressed an interest in the B-team concept – remember that business with Direxiv a year or two ago that came to naught?

Now, McLaren are undoubtedly among the aristocracy of the F1 grid, and have both the cash and the organisation to do the thing properly. And having Prodrive in the mix, bringing as it does the prospect of an extremely welcome return for David Richards to the F1 grid, is fantastic news.

But what a terrible shame if McLaren, with a red-hot car and brilliant drivers, allowed this project to become a distraction in the way that it appears to have done for both Honda and Red Bull?

It’s hard to imagine either Ron Dennis or Dave Richards allowing it to happen. But just picture this for a moment. Lewis Hamilton feeling lucky if he makes it into a top-10 grid slot. Fernando Alonso quitting mid-season because he’s proved everything he needs to and can’t be bothered with serial retirements from a car that’s not quite up to scratch. Ron Dennis having to go on telly to explain why the team have failed to finish yet another race.

Unimaginable, isn’t it?

Let’s hope so…

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