Will Gray

Team by team previews: HRT

Will Gray

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After a turbulent winter of big changes, HRT is another team in transition — and having finished ahead of Virgin last year it will be tough for the Spanish squad to hold onto that spot this time.

The departure of two key figures - team principal Colin Kolles and technical director Geoff Willis — is a significant loss as both are extremely experienced and Kolles' schooling at Jordan and Midland gave him a real strength in getting the most out of a frugal budget.

New team principal, former driver Luis Perez Sala, is a rookie taking the reins and he has already admitted that 2012 started with the team in worse shape than 2011 — albeit but with, he claims, brighter long-term prospects.

LONG TERM AIMS

The term 'building year' is used a lot — but it perfectly describes where HRT are this season.

Sala says the team is "taking a step back so that we can take two forward" and this year's aim is simply to come out the other side with a more settled team and a more stable situation in 2013.

Since the team was born in 2010, many of its staff have been in place as contractors, rather than permanents — even technical director Willis was on a short-term contract - and that short-termism has held them back.

If this season can see them end up with a more settled set of employees then that will be one step on the long road to success — and the key to achieving that could be the decision to move lock-stock to Spain.

With part of the team currently based in Valencia while the car is built in Greding in Germany, near Munich — not to mention the engine supply coming from Cosworth in the UK — the team's multinational nature has brought with it significant limitations.

The team will move to Madrid's Caja Magica, a sports structure in Spain's capital, this year and while the move will cause disruption of its own, taking the eye of the season at hand, it is a sensible shift for long-term gain.

THE CURRENT SEASON

While the long-term focus is important for the team's survival, however, there is also the small matter of racing all season — and having performed on a level with (and sometimes ahead of) fellow back-of-the-grid team Virgin (now Marussia) there is a platform to build on.

With the key men who got the 2011 car into that position now gone, however, along with the departure late last year of Jacky Eeckelaert, the man who led the design of the 2012 car, there is a big knowledge hole for the season's start. Chief designer Jean-Claude Martens is now in charge, having only joined the team in late 2011.

The car, too, is completely different to the one raced last year, with virtually no carry-over from the 2011 model, which itself ran with a chassis from 2010.

Narain Karthikeyan, who drove for the team last year and is in one of the seats again this season, says it is a definite step up from 2011 — but he has little to base that opinion on.

The team failed the mandatory crash tests, making them miss all of the pre-season running and a filming day in Barcelona, with just a few laps at the end of the day on demo rubber, was all they managed to run before Australia.

On a positive note, though, that's actually more than they have ever achieved before, as they have never yet to run a new car in an official pre-season test. As in previous years, they used a year-old car in one test this winter to get some understanding of how the new tyres work, but it is not ideal preparation.

In theory, the Williams gearbox and Cosworth engine will at least be reliable — and with the team in a position where simply reaching the end of the race can pay dividends it's not a bad place to be.

The car is very basic so there is plenty of room for improvement if there is budget available — and in Karthikeyan's team-mate Pedro de la Rosa they have an experienced McLaren test driver to help them out.

De la Rosa, now 40, is on a two-year deal and last raced for the Sauber team in Canada last year, replacing the injured Sergio Perez. And his experience — along with his passion to help build an all-Spanish team - could give the team a shot at avoiding the wooden spoon again.

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