There has been a lot of criticism this year of the three new teams in Formula 1. Hispania Racing in particular have been the victims of some fairly severe abuse from the media along with the other two new teams, Lotus and Virgin Racing. Some people have said they don't deserve to be in Formula 1—that they add nothing to the sport and their cars are so far off the pace they are dangerously slow.
Now, personally I feel that the new teams have had a learning year and that the 2011 season will see if the teams are worthy of a place in Formula 1. If the cars are still as far off the pace of the established teams as they are now then I have to question their value to Formula 1. They can still be at the back but the gap needs to close.
Currently the quickest of the new teams is around 1.5 seconds off the pace of the next cars, which are normally one of the Toro Rossos, Saubers or maybe one of the Force Indias. That gap has to close.
Some people have even said that Hispania are the worst team ever to grace Formula 1 and that the other new teams are not much better. Now these people need to look back 20 years or so to see the ultimate F1 ineptitude.
In the late '80s and early '90s we saw some of the most appalling Formula 1 teams ever seen. I will focus on one team in particular in this piece to show that the new teams are not the worst but there were many teams in this era that were much worse than the 2010 newcomers.
Now in the late '80s to early '90s so many teams tried to enter that qualifying and pre-qualifying were needed.
The teams that I am referring to have statistics like this:
Coloni: 81 Grand Prixs entered, 67 DNQ/DNPQ
Eurobrun: 76 Grand Prixs entered, 55 DNQ/DNPQ
Pacific 66 Grand Prixs entered, 25 DNQ/DNPQ
Andrea Moda: 16 Grand Prixs entered, 15 DNQ/DNPQ
Coloni, Eurobrun and Pacific never had enough money to develop their cars and gradually fell more and more off the pace. Andrea Moda was a truly insane team that barely had the parts to build two cars, was run by a man later charged for fraud, normally broke down after two laps, put one of the drivers (Perry Mccarthy) in serious danger and was eventually thrown out for bringing Formula 1 into disrepute.
However, despite these teams' dreadfulness there is one team from this era that encapsulates the sheer terribleness of these teams combined. This team had a car with around half the power of the other cars in the field, put the drivers in danger, broke down after a few corners, had little money, was designed to show off the awful engine, had no more than 10 or so mechanics and various others flaws.
This team that produced the slow-moving deathtrap was called Life Racing Engines.
Now the Life story actually begins in 1988 a full two years before the team entered Formula 1. During the 1988-89 offseason the FIRST team commissioned a design for a Formula 1 car that was to be used in the 1989 F1 season. However the man behind the FIRST group pulled out and it looked like the chassis was going to never be raced.
To be honest it would have probably been better if it hadn't. The man who designed the chassis, Richard Divila, called it nothing more than an "interesting flowerpot." Somehow despite the main FIRST backer leaving, the project pressed on and soon enough the team had to take the mandatory FIA crash tests.
Now, not surprisingly considering what the designer said about the chassis, the car failed the crash tests and was not allowed to enter the 1989 season.
Whilst all of this was going on, Life Racing Engines had come up with a W12 engine that they were desperate to sell to any team. They approached teams and no one was willing to take the engine.
Now engine designers stated that the W12 style engine was, in concept, a good idea. An engine that is as compact as a V8 but producing V12 amounts of power sounds like a good idea. But despite the approval of some engine engineers no one team was prepared to take the plunge with the engine.
The founder of Life Racing Engines, Ernesto Vita was totally desperate to get his engine into F1. So with no one willing to buy it Vita decided to make his own team.
He purchased the old FIRST chassis and fitted his engine and so Life F1 was born. Somehow it survived the crash test this time (something of a minor miracle) and was therefore allowed to compete in the 1990 season. The whole point of the team was to attract interest in their engine and to be purely an engine supplier in the 1991 season.
Now one of the major flaws with the car was the part they were trying to show off: the engine. Most of the cars had engines producing around 800 horsepower. The Life W12 engine produced 450 horsepower. Not only this but the engine only seemed capable of doing a few yards before exploding.
The team signed Gary Brabham (son of Jack) to drive and headed to Phoenix for the first race of the season. The car went round the track recording a time of two minutes and seven seconds in pre-qualifying. This was 30 seconds off the pace of the Eurobrun ahead of it.
Rather astoundingly Brabham wasn't the slowest car in Phoenix with Gachot in the Coloni, which wasn't even close to being ready, setting a lap time of five minutes and 15 seconds. The team failed to pre-qualify obviously. In a rather odd way this was actually Life F1's best weekend.
In the next race at Brazil the Life did the sum total of 400 yards before breaking and a lap was never set. Gary Brabham, seeing the total rubbishness of the team, quit after Brazil. In came Bruno Giacomelli who, I suspect, wanted just one last trip round the F1 world.
The 1990 San Marino Grand Prix saw Bruno Giacomelli set a "fast" lap of seven minutes 16 seconds. This was just fractionally slower than the rest off the field, 424 seconds off pole has to be a record. Unsurprisingly this was the slowest and they didn't progress pass pre-qualifying.
Monaco saw Giacomelli in the Life come only 20 seconds off the pole time and just 14 seconds slower than the best of the pre-qualifiers. In Montreal the Life was back to 30 seconds off pole and 22 seconds away from the best pre-qualifier.
At the Mexico Grand Prix the Life once again was staggeringly slow. Giacomelli set a fast lap this time of four minutes seven seconds, which was 170 seconds off the pole time. Improvement over Imola, I guess.
The trend continued with the Life car being anywhere from 20 to 30 seconds off the pre-qualifying time during the next few events at France, Britain, Germany, Belgium, Hungary and Italy. Seeing how terrible the engine was the W12 experiment was ditched and Life got themselves some Judd V8 engines for the Portuguese Grand Prix to the end of the season.
However, the Life outfit was so unprepared and useless they didn't think to change the engine cover. So they got to Portugal and found that the cover wouldn't fit over the engine. Yet another DNPQ was automatically chalked up. In Spain with the engine cover changed the car was still around 18 seconds a lap off the pre-qualifying pace.
Seeing how pathetic the whole operation was, Ernesto Vita didn't bother entering the last two races and Life Racing Engines were never heard from again. The Life F1 team ended with statistics of 14 Grand Prixs entered and 14 DNPQs.
The car was so far off the pace in races that is makes all of the new teams suddenly not so bad. The Hispania's overall qualifying times this year have been hovering around the 107-percent mark when averaged out this year. I am not going to even try and work out that statistic for the Life Team but it has to be over the 150-percent mark.
So next time you read anything that is overly critical of any of the new teams, remember things have been so much worse before.
1990 saw some of the best in Formula 1 in history in Senna, Prost and Mansell, and some of the worst in Coloni, Eurobrun, Claudio Langes and of course Life F1.