On the first day of Christmas, Ben Sweeney gave to me…. Hispania.
Hispania had new owners, a new livery and a fighting spirit coming to the season opener in Australia, but this could do nothing to stop them missing the race. Both drivers qualified outside the 107% qualifying rule and so race director Charlie Whiting refused them access to the grid on the Sunday. The disheartened team began a miserable pack up before heading to Malaysia for round 2, and what would hopefully be a better weekend for the team. Indeed, they managed to qualify for the race at the second time of asking and lined up on the Sunday for a drenched race. Narain Karthikeyan took full advantage of the slippy conditions to sneak into 7th place before a red flag was waved because of the dangerous conditions. But when the race was restarted he was not as fortunate, tangling with both Sebastian Vettel and Jenson Button in two separate incidents, later being branded a ‘cucumber’ by a very angry Vettel.
The team had pretty run of the mill races in China and Bahrain while Pedro de la Rosa finished his home Grand Prix for the first time since 1999 in Catalunya, unlike his team-mate who retired from the race. Monaco saw Narain Karthikeyan finishing 15th which was last of the finishers, while his team-mate de la Rosa got caught up in the first lap pile up caused by Romain Grosjean.
Canada saw a massive downturn for the team when they purposefully sent their cars out on the Sunday, knowing that the brakes would probably fail, which was particularly poignant as Montreal is the hardest of all the circuits on the brakes.
Narain Karthikeyan’s brakes failed very early on in the race, sending the Indian pirouetting out of the race while de la Rosa was forced to pull into the pits later on in the race when his brakes began to fail at the fastest point of the circuit. miraculously his brakes didn’t completely failed and he managed to slow himself down enough to come into the pits.
The team continued on, not really making a noise in the paddock, just consistently running at the back with 17th being their best finish, in Valencia.
Narain Karthikeyan’s steering failed in the closing stages of the Hungarian Grand Prix this year, and he crashed into the barriers at turn 4. This could have been worse, and the Indian was rather lucky not to have had a serious accident.
Belgium brought a loose wheel sending Karthikeyan into a barrier and out of the race. He was ok after getting slowed down in a gravel trap, and in all fairness, pit-stop problems haven’t been restricted to HRT, blighting Mercedes and McLaren in the earlier part of the season.
Monza a week later brought 18th and 19th for the team while de la Rosa finished one better in Singapore with 17th, Narain hitting the barrier in the tunnel mid-race. In Suzuka, de la Rosa once again finished 18th while Karthikeyan retired with a frustrating engine failure.
Korea was a worrying race for team. Karthikeyan didn’t set a time in Qualifying after a strange incident in the opening minutes of Q1. His brake disc broke, sending him into a spin and narrowly missing the Force India of Nico Hulkenberg as he raced the wrong way down the straight into Turn 3. Then the next day, the opposite thing happened and his throttle broke during the race, forcing a retirement.
The next Grand Prix was Narain Karthikeyan’s home Grand Prix and he finished in 21st place. De la Rosa on the other hand wasn’t so lucky. His brakes failed, just like in Canada. This time, he couldn’t make it safely back to the pits and when he tried to brake at the fastest point of the track, he was sent spinning and into the barriers at high-speed. Luckily, the Spaniard was not injured and was able to climb out of the car, shaken but okay.
The most worrying crash of all, was at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. On Lap 9, Narain Karthikeyan’s steering failed, In an identical incident to Hungary. Thanks to the massive run off areas in Yas Marina, he was able to slow his car and stop himself going into the barrier. Nico Rosberg wasn’t so lucky and while chasing Karthikeyan, he was caught out by the massive difference in speed, hit the Hispania and was launched into the air before smashing down to the ground and hitting the TecPro barriers. The world held its breath as it waited to see if he was ok, but he clambered from the car as soon as it came to a stop.
It was a disgraceful failure; the failures were becoming far too common. It also marked the beginning of the end. Despite the owners buying a massive new factory in Barcelona before the season, they now admitted that they had lost interest in F1 and the team was up for sale.
The inaugural Austin Grand Prix was next on the calender and both HRT’s completed less than 10 laps during practice while it was expected that they would both purposefully qualify outside the 107% rule so that they would be exempt from the race, as they were legally bound to turn up to the events.
Yet, they made it into the 107% and they both made it to the checkered flag, for the first time since Italy, even though they finished right at the back and were a full one second per lap behind their closest rivals – Caterham and Marussia.
And so they headed to their final Grand Prix at Brazil. There was yet more speculation about the team and it was nearly 100% certain that they would not be on the grid for the 2013 season. What will possibly be their last race was nothing special. During Qualifying, Romain Grosjean stuck his nose between de la Rosa’s HRT and a barrier and was knocked out in the first session. Apart from this, there wasn’t much heard off them and they had a pretty monotonous race, yet they did manage to finish the race again, albeit last of the finishers; Karthikeyan 18th and de la Rosa 17th.
Season in a paragraph: HRT started off no differently than they did to 2011, failing to qualify for the Australian Grand Prix. They looked promising in the wet at Malaysia but fell back to the back then. They seemed to do nothing much until Canada when they seemed to have pace on the friday, and de la Rosa out-qualified the Marussia’s. Then they lost some support in what was a bad call to send the cars out with bad brakes. They returned to normal; finishing the races but always at the back until from Hungary they began to experience mechanical failures. From Hungary onwards, they would only have three races where both cars would reach the checkered flag. Their performance dropped and they began the steady decline to the end of the season.
Will we see them in 2013? I don’t think so.