USGPE, Lola Should Heed the Events of 1997

James BroomheadAnalyst IApril 22, 2009

29 Feb 1997:  Lola drivers Vincenzo Sospiri of Italy (left), Andrea Montermini of Italy (right) and Ricardo Rosset of Brazil (in car)  during the Lola Team Launch at the Hilton Hotel in London. \ Mandatory Credit: Gary M Prior /Allsport

With the announcement of the FIA's £30 million 'cost cap', and today's announcement that the Lola Group are evaluating a return to F1, it appears that Bernie Ecclestone's dream of having 26 cars on the grid for 2010 could be closer to fruition than we thought.

However, it should not be getting the cars on the grid that is Ecclestone's concern.

It should be keeping them there.

The history of Formula One is littered with teams that that came and went within a season after struggling for money, drivers, or speed.

Perhaps the most recent—and spectacular—case was (coincidentally) Lola's effort to get to the grid for the start of the 1997 Formula One season.

With drivers Vincenzo Sospiri and Ricardo Rosset the team showed up at the Melbourne curtain raiser only to find their faster car, Sospiri, some five seconds behind the next slowest car and a full eleven seconds off the pole pace.

The story behind the failure is intertwined with the approach of the team's title sponsor, MasterCard. Partly linked to some bizarre marketing practices and, probably, a craving for money MasterCard forced Lola to take to the grid a full year ahead of what they originally intended, and had been working towards.

As if starting a new team from scratch wasn't hard enough, they had now missed on a full year of development.

The outcome was never a surprise.

That's what a rushed effort into F1 gets you.

Fast forward 13 years and take a look the efforts coming from Lola (again) and USF1, now renamed USGPE (Grand Prix Engineering) after Bernie to a disliking to them using his trademark. That massive false start seems to be symptomatic of teams as they fall over themselves to take advantage of new rules and perceived opportunities. Acting first and thinking later, or often being told to think later.

While nothing is known of how seriously Lola are looking at F1, let alone a level of development, we know more about USGPE.

Only recently have they started talking about engines, with a possible link to Cosworth. But do Cosworth have a current spec F1 engine they have lying around and can give to an F1 team at a moments notice.

I don't think so.

There are no confirmed drivers, although they've been linked with a long list of American racing headliners.

We haven't even seen a chassis yet and no chassis means no testing, and while they may be chucking models into wind tunnels and numbers into computers there is no alternative to actual track time, just look at McLaren this year.

At this time they have just under a year until the opening race of 2010. This may sound like quite a long time, but compare that to Toyota. Their F1 car debuted in 2002, a full three years after an announcement they were coming to the sport and after a full year of testing.

The £30 million cap might help their lack of time become less of a factor than it was in 1997. However, this is a huge unknown, and if I was a team boss I'd still want to maximum amount of time to test a car before taking a green flag.

Lola have first hand experience of what a rush to the grid can do, and surely, by this experience and racing expertise have to be better prepared if they do indeed take the plunge into F1. USGPE, however, may have forgotten to look at the history books, just as they failed to look at a trademark.