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Spyker Bucks the Trend

Spyker is a funny little team. In some ways they seem so professional and in others a bit chaotic. Every week they seem to gain a new sponsor yet we hear continually of how they haven’t the funding to test as often as they should. They paint the cars orange and then decide it’s not orange enough and re-design with a new color. The website is very slick and the team produces a glossy online magazine that is well worth subscribing to – in fact, some of the larger teams could learn about presentation from them.


Christijan Albers in the Spyker F8-VII

This jumble of conflicting impressions makes it quite hard to assess the team. Are they more fanfare than substance, destined to remain at the back of the grid until the money runs out? Or is the gloss a sign that they are going places and will become competitive in time? I would like to think that the second is true, that they will demonstrate that it is still possible to enter F1, design your own car and have a chance of winning. It does look as though F1 is changing in ways that will prevent this, however.

The row over customer cars shows that Spyker know full well how difficult their life will become if they have to compete against teams that just buy in a chassis. And one has to cheer for them in their decision to build their own. Variety is a part of the spectacle of F1 and the more chassis constructors, the better. But it will be hard for Spyker to find the funds necessary to remain independent in the future.

Hopefully, Mike Gascoyne will be able to design some good cars for the team and they will progress up the grid through quality rather than sheer financial muscle. Of their drivers this year, Christijan Albers is known to be fast enough and Adrian Sutil shows much promise. If Gascoyne can develop the car to its potential, they could move up the grid a little. Scoring points is unlikely, however.

Spyker remain hard to assess, therefore. I like their “Dutchness” and the fact that they are different, but cannot see them having much success for a few years at least.

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Spyker Unveils Their F8-VII

It seems that as time goes on, new car launches become less and less hyped; Spyker unveiled theirs today amidst very little fanfare. The team is being careful in claims for the future, too, and are aiming to be in a position to win races in another five years’ time. That is refreshingly realistic.


Spyker F8-VII

I am starting to like this team a lot. Admittedly, that has something to do with their being Dutch and going with the national color, orange, for the car, but they also get on with the business at hand without making wild claims for the future. Colin Kolles is shouting the odds a bit over Toro Rosso’s and Super Aguri’s customer cars, but that is understandable, given the fact that Spyker are likely to suffer more than any other team if TR and SA make spectacular performance gains in the coming season. Nobody wants to finish last, after all.

In Albers and Sutil, the team has a good driver pairing as well. Albers is experienced and quick, Sutil potentially a star. If the car is as good as it looks, these two could cause some upsets in midfield. And the Ferrari engine was a pretty good choice, too.

Spyker have gone for development rather than innovation and the F8-VII is a fair example of standard thinking in F1 today. At this stage, that is the right way to go – once they have established a solid base of sound design and reliability, then will come the time for experimentation to gain a performance advantage.

Mike Gascoyne seems much happier with Spyker and his influence will be felt increasingly as the year rolls on, no doubt. It would not surprise me if the Spyker cars were beginning to get amongst the midfield runners by the time the revised car debuts, perhaps at the Turkish GP.

In fact, it’s just as hard to see who will make up the tail end of the grid in the 2007 season as it is to predict the winner. Everyone has a good engine now, all the chassis will be reasonably good (if TR and SA get their way), and all the drivers are competent. So who will be running last for most of the races?

I don’t know but, if I were David Coulthard or Mark Webber, I’d be pushing hard to get that RB3 sorted out quickly now…

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Spyker Takes Sutil

Colin Kolles has announced the signing of young German driver, Adrian Sutil, to be Spyker teammate to Christijan Albers in 2007. This is slightly surprising, since most had expected that Tiago Monteiro would continue as Spyker’s second driver.


Tiago Monteiro in the Spyker

But it does tie in with the sudden fashion for giving rookie drivers a chance. With Lewis Hamilton at McLaren, Robert Kubica at BMW, Heikki Kovalainen at Renault, Anthony Davidson at Super Aguri, and now Sutil at Spyker, F1 is filled with fresh new faces. I cannot recall a previous season in which so many first-time F1 racers entered the sport.

There are two reasons for this, I think. Clearly, the instant success of Robert Kubica at BMW made team managers realize that there were discoveries to be made within the ranks of hopefuls graduating from F3 and GP2. As the GP2 Champion of 2006, Hamilton was an obvious pick but there were others who seemed just as talented. Two who made it into test driver seats are Sebastian Vettel and Gary Paffett, both of whom look to be just as quick as any of the new drivers.

And then there came the retirement of Michael Schumacher. Somehow his disappearance has created a lot of space in F1 and allowed teams to be more adventurous in their choice of drivers. It may well be that memories of Michael’s debut at Spa in 1991 were stirred and the hunt for the next Schumacher has started. The weight of expectation falls heavily on the shoulders of Hamilton and Kubica but the others too will be watched closely for signs of greatness.

Every year we hope for a really good season to come but the changes and shake-ups of 2006 point to a fascinating 2007. So many imponderables have been thrown into the mix that there are bound to be surprises in the forthcoming races. Out with the old, in with the new!

So how good is Adrian Sutil? He finished second to Hamilton in Formula 3 Euroseries in 2005 but otherwise his reputation rests on the potential he showed in his few tests for MF1/Spyker this year. Colin Kolles has made it clear that he was impressed by Sutil’s performance and that is why he was given the nod over Monteiro.

Personally, I applaud Spyker’s decision. Monteiro is a known quantity and the team have nothing to lose and everything to gain by letting Sutil have a go. Albers is competent enough to ensure that the Spyker car will at least achieve its potential and Sutil offers the possibility that it might do even more.

It all adds up to a great season to come. I don’t know about you, but I can hardly wait.

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Japanese Grand Prix Thoughts

I said it would take an engine failure for Michael to lose this one to Alonso. That was sticking my neck out a bit, considering Michael’s Ferrari engine hasn’t let go since 2001. Not that Ferrari have been totally reliable since then – the number two drivers have had their share of engine-related retirements. But, until yesterday, Michael’s luck had ensured that he would not be the one to suffer.


Alonso celebrates his victory

There was plenty of angst over Michael’s sudden departure from the race but the man himself took it very well, it must be admitted. Perhaps he, more than the rest of the Ferrari team, understood how it went some way towards evening up the score for Alonso’s engine failure at Monza. And, although Michael himself has owned defeat in the championship, anything can happen in motor racing and often does; there is one scenario left that could allow Michael to be champion this year. I refuse to name it for fear of jinxing the Brazilian race.

Alonso looked very good in this race. After hauling the Renault into second place, he drove with confidence and precision, never allowing Michael more than a few seconds lead. I doubt that he could have passed the Ferrari if fate had not intervened, but he was certainly keeping his title hopes alive with such a masterful drive.

Jenson Button had another unspectacular but very competent race to finish fourth. And Kimi Raikkonen did wonders with the off-form McLaren to grab fifth spot. But let us not forget that these two and Fisichella owe their good finishes to the Toyota team, to some extent, at least.

The Toyotas are an enigma – how do they manage to throw away so many good chances so consistently? At what point in the Suzuka race did they go from serious contenders to also-rans? Sixth and seventh are poor returns after having stayed with the leaders for the first stint.

Part of the answer is that they were running light and so had to pit before the rest, thereby losing their track positions. And their second set of tires was not as effective as the first. But they seemed to give up without a fight and let themselves be passed by poor strategy alone. In the end, it was another story of bright promise in qualification fading away in the race itself.

Heidfeld got the point for BMW Sauber but it was Kubica who looked good. After the Pole had recovered from his little trip across the gravel, he closed inexorably on his team leader and seemed quite capable of passing him, had he dared to risk it. The fact that he slotted in responsibly behind Heidfeld is another point in his favor; considering the praise that has been heaped upon his shoulders in his short F1 racing career, it is good to see that he is maintaining such a level head and sense of team effort.

Overall, the race proved that there is less to choose between the dry Michelins and the Bridgestone tires than we thought after qualifying. And that is how I like it, with everyone being on pretty much equal rubber so that we can see the true state of competition between the cars and drivers. The result was a race that may have lacked a little overtaking drama (well, let’s face it, we’ve all seen engine failures before) but held us spellbound even so.

And oh, Christijan Albers treated us to an explosive driveshaft failure on his Spyker. Now that’s something of a rarity these days – takes me back to the sixties, it does…

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