These four teams ended 2008 propping up the constructors’ championship table. One of them had gone bust so long ago many had forgotten they were ever there.
Where did it go wrong for Williams, Honda, Force India and Super Aguri in 2008? And will things be better for the three that remain in 2009?
Nico Rosberg stood on the podium after the first round at Melbourne and it looked as though we would have to get used to seeing him there. But the team’s struggle at Sepang a week later was a reality check. Throughout the rest of the season Williams conspicuously failed to deliver on the promise it showed in pre-season testing.
At times it seemed as though inexperience in their driver line-up was holding them back. At races where the team might have capitalised on wet weather to grab some points Nico Rosberg too often appeared with his front wing missing early in the race. Kazuki Nakajima spent his rookie season trying to get near his team mate’s pace, and his continuation at the team next year is not necessarily a vote of confidence that he has achieved it.
In the second half of the year work on the FW30 slowed markedly as the team focussed its efforts on 2009. But alarmingly this historic team is showing the classic signs of decline: having lost its manufacturer partner (BMW) several sponsors followed, resulting in lower car development than their rivals, making them less competitive, so their results become poorer making them less attractive to sponsors and so on.
It’s not too late to reverse that trend, but finishing eighth in the constructors’ championship for the second time in three years shows the depth of the trouble Williams are in.
Honda has made an enormous gamble. New team principal Ross Brawn focused their efforts on 2009 – to the obvious detriment of their 2008 contender.
The result was a 2008 championship that was almost as bad as last year, but for Rubens Barrichello’s inspired podium at Silverstone. He might have done even better at Singapore where he, like Fernando Alonso, was poised to take advantage of the safety car, until a car failure halted his progress.
Better to get those problems out of the way this year than next, when they absolutely must be fighting at the front end again.
The team which, as Spyker, scored a point in 2007, ended 2008 point-less. But that deceptively simple statistic is misleading. Force India was a stronger and more credible outfit this year than last.
Reinvigorated by long-overdue budget injection, the team quickly developed the VJM01, catching up with trends in a aerodynamics (shark fin) and mechanicals (seamless shift gearbox).
Reliability remained a problem, however, particularly for Adrian Sutil, who lost six finishes due to car failure.
Owner Vijay Mallya’s initial hopes of getting cars into Q2 more than once and picking up the minor points were not realised. But news of the team’s supply deal with McLaren-Mercedes for next year shows Mallya is in it for the long run.
What killed Super Aguri? Lack of sponsors? The FIA’s U-turn on customer cars? Nick Fry?
Super Aguri limped into the 2008 championship and contested four Grands Prix but were living a hand-to-mouth existence. Before the Turkish Grand Prix Honda announced it would not continue to support the team and that was its death knell.
But the patient had been sick for some time. When Honda created Super Aguri in 2006 it envisioned being able to run a team at greatly reduced costs by using the parent team’s chassis. But as the FIA’s attempts to bring in rules permitting customer cars failed, Super Aguri increasingly looked like an un-viable team, whatever giant-killing feats it had achieved in 2007.
Honda have problems of their own but all the same in light of the McLaren-Force India deal they might have made a mistake in letting Super Aguri go to the wall.