In Formula One the road to glory is littered with the corpses of half-baked ideas and the odd malformed chassis. Teams have tried and failed to climb to the summit of the sport, but what about the ones who didn’t even make it to base camp? Or the ones who got there and promptly skulked off with their reputation in tatters?
You can’t start a list of the teams that never were without paying tribute to USF1, the brainchild of IndyCar old hand Ken Anderson and journalist Peter Windsor. The team aimed to compete in 2010 with the slightly madcap idea of being based in a country which had took a long hard look at Grand Prix racing and said “hell no”. Initially the venture seemed serious with one of the 12 year old millionaires behind YouTube providing backing. It didn’t take long for cracks to begin to appear though. Our overlord Bernie kicked it all off when he cast doubt on whether USF1 would make the grid, deadlines were missed, backers pulled out, concerns about the management were whispered by disgruntled employees and when Charlie Whiting visited the team’s facilities and ruled they were in no fit state to compete the dream was dead. Just to add insult to injury the FIA decided to fine the outfit and ban them from ever competing simply for wasting everyone’s time.
USF1 could’ve taken something from Dome, whose failed attempt to enter the sport in the mid 90s didn’t incur the wroth of the powers that be. The Japanese team’s machine, the F105, was constructed and tested before they’d even been granted a spot on the grid. While it was slow, posting a time in testing at Suzuka that would’ve been outside the 107% limit – albeit in the hands of a complete rookie – you couldn’t help but be impressed by their eagerness. Unfortunately Dome’s attempt to enter soon faltered as sponsorship and technical changes left the outfit thinking that F1 may not be for them.
Dave Richards, one of the brains behind BAR, was also the key figure behind the next bunch of nearly men. Prodrive had long been involved in motor sport, most famously with the Subaru World Rally team, so when it was announced they’d been awarded entry into the 2008 Formula One season no one was too surprised. The finance was there as was the experience – it looked like a perfect storm but like Dome they suffered when the regulations bit them on the backside. The team originally decided to run a customer chassis, but a legal challenge from Williams put pay to that. Two years later they reapplied, this time using the Aston Martin name to add weight to their cause but it was a case of once bitten, twice shy for the FIA who passed over their bid and instead gave the spots on the grid to Lotus, Campos, Manor and erm…USF1.
Of course getting on the grid is only half the battle. If your grand plan falls at the first hurdle only anoraks like me will remember. If you get your dog of a machine onto the track only to realise it’s about half a minute off the pace of the medical car your misjudged flight of fancy will be seen by millions worldwide. Lola learned this the hard way. A respectable name in motorsport, they were pressured by their billboard sponsor MasterCard into entering the 1997 season, a year earlier than scheduled. The result was catastrophic for the team, but mildly amusing for everyone else.
Lola turned up at the first race in Australia with a boxy monstrosity of a car which suffered from a lack of testing, two rookie drivers in Vincenzo Sospiri and Ricardo Rosset and failed to get beyond qualifying. In a sport of tenths, hundredths and thousands they managed to be over 11 seconds slower than pole sitter and part time rapper Jacques Villeneuve, falling foul of the 107% rule in the process. Unsurprisingly they dropped out of the next round in Brazil and the championship altogether soon after. This brief foray into the sport put Lola Cars into administration and damaged their reputation irreparably. They toyed with the idea of re-entering the sport earlier this year, but the sound of raucous laughter was enough to put them off. A warning, as if any were needed, that merely taking part is just as difficult as the winning.