The bitter end of HRT?

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As I walked pit lane at the USGP in Austin Texas, I couldn’t help but notice a lot of drawn faces at the HRT hospitality area. Narain Karthikeyan stood out front and looked dour. The team members were bedraggled and frayed as they sat quietly in metal chairs on an astroturf-laden deck. It was not a good sight and as you walked further down the grid, smiles were broader, crowds were bigger and no doubt budgets are bigger. The pall on the end of the grid was tangible and one could cut it with a chainsaw.

Little wonder that the mood was somewhere south of depressed at the HRT area as the team is said to have laid off the workers, mothballed the office in Spain and closed up shop. Spanish paper Marca had originally reported that 60 people were given redundancy notices (pink slips as we call it in the States) and now James Allen is hearing the operation is done ahead of this weekend’s Brazilian Grand Prix. It seems the grid will have 11 teams unless something of a miracle happens.

HRT had announced that they were looking for a buyer and its current owner, Thesan Capital, is not keen to continue the operation. What started as Campos Meta 1 has been sold twice and now Thesan Capital is looking for a way out. An sad end to what Adrian Campos had originally envisioned back in 2010. HRT was one of the “new” teams ushered into the sport ont he promise of a budget-cap of approximately $60m by then FIA president Max Mosley. HRT fielded a car and rac for three seasons which is more than the still-born USF! team could muster as they too were victim of a dream of low-cost Formula One that never came true.

Thesan Captial moved the team in 2011 to Madrid but it didn’t stave off the economic depression and lack of results for the team. As of this writing, HRT’s official website is still up but Thesan Capital’s doesn’t seem to be working. The teams official announcement on November 12, 2012 was:

The current owners of HRT Formula 1 Team, TC II S.a.rl., would like to confirm that they are currently in talks with a number of groups interested in buying the team. HRT Formula 1 Team’s current management hopes to conclude the sale in the upcoming weeks and, with it, enable the team to continue progressing and become a reference in modern-day Formula 1 after the important achievements already accomplished in this 2012 season. HRT Formula 1 Team hopes to communicate the name of its new owner in the upcoming weeks.

According to the HRT Formula 1 Team management, “we believe the moment to let new investors come through for HRT Formula 1 Team has arrived. We’re very proud of the work done by the entire team and of the excellent sporting evolution achieved but the time has come for the team to continue growing with new financial backing. We’re convinced that the sporting potential of the team is huge and that the presence of new investors can give it a big boost”.

It is a sad day and while the country of Spain is reeling with the economic depression, so too is the HRT program. Little respite in the fact that Pedro de la Rosa has been doing well in the car and that a team such as HRT could be a launching point and FIA license to race in Formula One. That license is very expensive and hard to get. HRT even positions itself as a “reference” which I have to take as a starting point for a group who has strong desires to acquire a baseline and grow in F1.

HRT have released aBrazilian GP preview and look as if they are planning to be at the race. They are contractually obligated to be at all the races per the agreement with F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone’s contract. There could be another twist on this and that is the notion that the team may be closing its HQ and laying workers off as they are trying to sell the assets and there is little reason to have them toiling away on the 2013 car if they are going to sell or close. They may have enough cash to complete the season in Brazil and get the assets back to Madrid and that’s it. Close it up and complete a sale.

The team say they have potential buyers and for the sake of all involved, I hope they do. The off-season is coming and the holidays not far behind, there are good folks at HRT and while their performance on track has not been what they would have liked, their staff off track has been a delight to deal with and always timely with news, reviews, previews and media information. We wish them well and should they come to pass, the grid will miss their efforts and dreams.

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