F1 07 review: Spyker

Markus Winkelhock, Lewis Hamilton, Nurburgring, 2007 | Peter J Fox / Crash Media Group / SpykerThe transformation of Midland F1 into Spyker was announced at the Italian Grand Prix last year.

Around twelve months later we learned the struggling Dutch car maker was selling up to Indian billionaire business tycoon Vijay Mallya, and next year the cars will be called Force India F1 Team.

But although from the outside it may look as though the team were merely treading water this year, they actually turned in some respectable performances with only meagre resources.

Spyker performed the role of plucky underdogs with great aplomb in 2007. Lacking the pace to get among the midfield pace and challenge regularly for points, they nonetheless raced with great spirits.

They took risks: on a rookie driver who’d impressed in Formula Three Japan after a mauling at the hands of Lewis Hamilton in 2005, who distinguished himself on several occasions; on a comprehensive car upgrade halfway through the season; and on an inspired strategic gamble at the Nurburgring.

Perhaps it was one of those occasions when the back row of the grid was exactly where you wanted to start the race. Mike Gascoyne certainly had longer to think about the incoming rainstorm than the Ferrari and McLaren strategists did.

It was his call to put Markus Winkelhock onto wet tyres and, as the rain poured down and everyone scuttled into the pits, the German found himself leading at home on his Grand Prix debut – by half a minute!

No one expected it to last but it was particularly disappointing to see Winkelhock’s entire lead destroyed by the red flag period. But his six laps in the lead was one of the highlights for the team – they spent more laps in first place this year than BMW!

Winkelhock’s appearance was a one-off as the team dropped Christijan Albers after nine races. Chief among the reasons for Albers’ departure were his poor performances relative to rookie Sutil, and leaving his pit box at Magny-Cours with the refuelling rig still attached.

His seat was filled for the remainder of the year by Sakon Yamamoto, and if the Japanese driver didn’t completely disgrace himself the fact that the team did not opt for one of their four test drivers was a strong indication of how tight their budget was.

The departure of Albers left Sutil cast in the role of team leader which, given his superior pace in much of the first half of the season, had been his de facto role anyway.

The young German showed flashes of promise mixed with occasional over-exuberance. He was fastest in Saturday morning practice at Monte-Carlo, 2.3s quicker than Albers, which hinted that he might be something of a wet-weather specialist.

He delivered on that promise at Fuji by giving the team their only point of the year, thanks in part to the fact that Vitantontio Liuzzi passed him under a yellow flags and was penalised after the race.

Adrian Sutil, Spyker, Spa-Francorchamps, 2007 | Peter J Fox / Crash Media Group / SpykerThe arrival of the revised F8-VII B closed the gap between Spyker and the midfield. At Spa-Francorchamps both their drivers used an aggressive strategy, starting the race on the softer tyres.

Sutil gained four places on the first lap, then passed Vitantonio Liuzzi, Jenson Button and Jarno Trulli to run 12th. He made a thorough pest of himself for David Coulthard before reality bit and he made his early pit stop. He ended the race a lapped 14th but having beaten both Super Aguris.

Sutil made a habit of these victories over better-equipped opposition. At the Hungaroring he beat Rubens Barrichello’s Honda.

Gascoyne’s stewardship brought more to the team than strategic nous. The careless errors of 2006 (such as their double disqualification at Hockenheim) were weeded out and not repeated.

This is a team with great potential and with the right management, stability and investment it can surely become regular points-scorers once more. Mallya seems attuned to the team’s needs – they haven’t had an experienced driver since Giancarlo Fisichella left when the team was still called Jordan, and already Mallya is looking at bringing his friend Ralf Schumacher to the team.

Spyker have discovered how to make the most of meagre resources. Delivering more with a larger budget is their challenge for 2008.

Photos: Peter J Fox / Crash Media Group / Spyker

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2 comments on F1 07 review: Spyker

  1. Robert Mckay said on 19th November 2007, 16:50

    I was quietly impressed by Spyker this year, and was happy they did get a point and some good performances. Wincklehock leading and Sutil’s terrific Spa drive were good to see. And the team were somehow much more likeable and supportable than Midland ever were. Shame to see them bought out again so quickly, but such is life at the back of the F1 circus.

  2. Yeah, lets hope there’s a bit more funding and stability for Force India. Minardi were able to hang on for a long time, but I think it may have even got harder for tail end teams now with even more money being involved.

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