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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.

Spyker

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 Pays the Piper

I see that Spyker’s protest against the legality of the Toro Rosso cost the team $2,000. That seems a bit steep for saying, “Oi, we don’t think that’s legal!” and makes me wonder about the wisdom of Spyker making a fuss about the Toro Rosso and Super Aguri cars at all. No wonder Williams is sitting quietly at the moment, allowing Spyker to shoulder the burden of the costs involved.

Spyker

Once they get to arbitration, the price to be paid will increase dramatically, of course – lawyers don’t come cheap these days. And what will Spyker gain, even if they win the case? TR and SA would have to stop using their 2007 models and that could easily mean they have to drop out of racing, at least for a time. Which would leave Spyker still at the back of the grid but with a bigger gap to bridge to the teams above them – at least TR are within reach at the moment.

It seems to me that Spyker would be wiser to spend the money on development rather than legal fees. Neither SA nor TR are going to get anywhere near the Constructor’s Championship this year, so it seems pointless to mutter about it being for constructors only. Customer cars will be legal next year anyway and any victories in court achieved this season will become meaningless. By then, Colin Kolles might well wish he had the money rather than a judgment in his pocket.

Okay, you can say it’s a matter of principle – TR and SA are probably breaking the terms of the Concorde Agreement for 2007. But the FIA aren’t interested, understandably since they ignore the agreement anytime they want to, and the other teams are only prepared to shake their heads and give Spyker moral support. The principle could cost Spyker a lot of money and distracts them from the main task, which is getting their car competitive with the others. Consider how much good it did Shadow in winning their case against Arrows in 1978; by the time the judgment came through, Arrows had another design ready and Shadow had dropped to the tail end of the field.

Maybe I’m missing something, but it seems to me that Spyker have nothing to gain and a lot to lose in this whole business. Ultimately, their aim has to be to build a car that can beat all comers, so what does it matter if TR and SA have stolen a temporary advantage by bending the rules? In the long run they will have to compete with the likes of Ferrari and McLaren if they don’t want to remain as perennial also-rans. And a season or two at the back of the grid is part of the apprenticeship that has to be served if they are going to learn enough to move upwards.

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Williams and the Future

The customer car row continues to heat up, with Frank Williams pointing out that the concorde agreement for 2008 is not yet a done deal and Gerhard Berger promising to fight the matter in the courts if necessary. One can understand Frank’s point of view – as the last truly independent constructor in F1, he sees his future as threatened by the arrival of customer teams that will be, in effect, B teams for the manufacturers.

FW29

Williams FW29

It does seem that the FIA have chosen to take the B team route and abandon the independent constructor by doing so. This quote from a Reuters article is very telling:

“We’ve signed a Concorde Agreement for 2008 and while it hasn’t been clarified, we’d never been told that customer teams would be included in it,” said Williams.

“That was until (International Automobile Federation president) Max Mosley very charmingly said to me over lunch in December: ‘You do realise, Frank, that your business model is history now?’

“I said ‘What do you mean?’ and Max said: ‘From now on, it’s manufacturers and B teams’.

That makes it pretty clear where Max’s thoughts are heading and he usually gets what he wants. And Prodrive’s Dave Richards agrees that this must be the future:

“Frank is talking this up for one reason only,” the former Benetton and BAR boss told the magazine.

“He can see that his business model — employing 600 people to build a racing car without manufacturer assistance — won’t stack up in the future.

“The business is changing. We need teams at the back given the same cars as Ferrari and fielding promising young drivers. That’s the spectacle we want to see.”

It seems that Frank is swimming against the tide and can expect no help from the FIA in his argument with Toro Rosso and Super Aguri in 2007. Spyker are in a similar position in spite of being owned by a manufacturer; the company is small and has to buy in engines from Ferrari so it looks likely that they too will be defeated by the costs at some time and have to throw in their lot with one of the big boys.

Like it or not, we are seeing the last days of the independent constructor. Unless the FIA changes its mind, the manufacturers and their sidekicks will be the only teams in F1. Frank and Spyker’s Colin Kolles will fight to the last, no doubt, but, even if they win in the courts this year, in the long run they will lose.

It may well be that Williams’ best hope for survival is the one I suggested way back in July 2006 – to become Toyota’s B team. If the new Williams FW29 maintains its impressive form into the 2007 season and they continue to beat the Toyota factory team, it would make a lot of sense for the Japanese giant to merge the teams and save itself a lot of money and embarrassment.

What Spyker will do, however, is anybody’s guess.

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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.

F8-VII

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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