One week to go and everyone is itching to get started again. The winter months are always long ones for the F1 community and its fans. Everyone will be glad to see the back of it and keen to get going, especially new World Champion Jenson Button who nearly skidded into the McLaren sign in the snow and ice on his first day. What a start that would have been.
F1 wouldn't be the same without some sort of fiasco and the past few weeks have proved no exception. Last season both BMW and Toyota decided to quit the sport, mostly owing to the dire financial situation the motor industry currently finds itself in. However poor performances must also have been a contributing factor to the board members. Germans don't tend to greet failure favorably, let's not forget that 2009 was the year earmarked for championship glory; BMW produced an awful car and deserved no more than their 6th place in the table. Toyota were always likely to pull out, even if their announcement came very suddenly. Renault will continue into 2010, albeit in mostly name alone. 75% of the team has been sold on, even of the marque remains for the time being.
So to the fiasco. Normally it takes about 15 months to build an F1 car, from initial conception to final testing. Typically the FIA messed everyone around with their proposals for budget caps and the entry list was not confirmed until the middle of summer, leaving the 3 new teams a very tight schedule. While the governing body were correct in predicting the exodus of the car manufacturers, their inability to nurse them may have contributed to their departure. Of the 3 new teams initially granted a place, Manor were quickly bought out by Richard Branson's Virgin and look set to start at Bahrain. Lotus, who were given a late entry after Toyota pulled out, remarkably have managed to build a car in 5 months and look all set - leaving traditionalists both elated and perhaps bemused by the re-invention of the classic brand. Campos Meta looked doomed until the last minute, being bought out by Jose Carabante and re-named Hispania Racing (HRT). Their Dallara built car will arrive at first practice farcically without having turned a wheel.
So that leaves poor old USF1, with all the vision of a YouTube-backed team that would relaunch F1 in the States to a massive audience. After a sponsor supposedly reneged on a payment the operation stalled despite having signed Jose Maria Lopez to drive for them with massive backing from the Argentine government. The cars were nowhere near completion and the team has had to bail out well before it got close to racing.
All F1 fans want to see grids as full as possible. Logistics today restrict entries to a grid of 26 cars. However this blog reminisces fondly of the days in the early 90s when 40+ cars turned up to each event, with pre-qualifying standard early on a Friday morning. Today it has not been deemed feasible that a team may not qualify for a race having travelled so far, this is probably fair.
The days of the manufacturer era appear to be over, with only Ferrari and Mercedes now being truly totally backed by a car company. Although there will now be a much bigger disparity in the timesheets from front to back - last season the whole grid tended only to be separated by 1.5secs - it may not be a bad thing at all. For the majority of F1 history it has been the case that teams have been purpose-built as racing outfits. They are the enthusiasts and are there for the thrill, just look at Williams. Their raison d'etre is to race. Long may this continue.