HRTF1 Team Principal Luis Pérez-Sala knew his outfit would have a mountain to climb at its first race weekend of the season. The team’s F112 challenger was late in arriving and has little testing; meanwhile, the team is in the process of relocating to new headquarters in Spain. To say that the last four months have been chaotic would be a masterstroke of understatement.
For 2012, it’s another year of rebuilding for HRT. The team has undergone so much upheaval – new owners, management and technical leadership – that it’s easy to understand why the team is in the position it’s in.
Some might say the prospects look dire, but within this little cheerful team there’s a sense of optimism. Failing to qualify for the Australian Grand Prix was a huge, but not unexpected, hit and the team will need to get on an upward trajectory pretty quickly.
For the Spanish team, the rebuild must start now – it cannot afford to hit the reset button again in the off-season. And team boss Luis Pérez-Sala has been brought in to bring a steadying, calmer hand to the entire process.
And he spoke to RichardsF1.com to talk about the challenges the team faces in the year ahead…
How do you define your role in the team?
Since being appointed to be in charge of the team, my role is to lead the team to perform as well as possible, and to put the steps in place to help the team grow into the future.
What state was the team in when you came on board at the end of last year?
The team had no clear situation. We were without a proper facility. we had a [manufacturing] facility in Germany, but only a small one. We also had operations in Spain, the UK, and all over Europe. This was not the most efficient way to work; we would be more coordinated under the same roof.
As someone who had previously driven for the Minardi team – a team that was similar to HRT, in terms of budget and size – are you able to draw on some of your experiences and apply them into what you’re doing today?
Yes, although Minardi was a bit different because it had a single facility and it was more coordinated. From that point, there’s was a better starting point than ours. We’re having to start from scratch; 80-85% of the team is brand new, we’ve had to change facilities from Germany to Spain. In many ways, this is more stressful and difficult than just creating a new team.
You’ve enjoyed a long relationship with Pedro de la Rosa. How instrumental was that in your decision to bring him into the line-up, and how do you see him as a leader of the team, particularly as a mentor to [reserve driver] Dani Clos?
I consider these as two different things. Of course, I’ve had a long relationship with Pedro. But I also consider him to be the best person for the team, the right person at this moment to help us to grow, give us feedback, and to help us improve in a short period of time.
You also made the decision to keep Narain Karthikeyan on board for a second season with the team…
For us, he knows the old team and the old car. His appointment will ensure we have some continuity from last year.
He made very few mistakes last year, and when he returned at the Indian Grand Prix, I think he drove very well. He is the right person for our team given our situation, and he has the experience we need.
And tell about your decision to sign Dani Clos as your official reserve driver?
I have known Dani very well for a long time. I used to be one of the driver trainers at the Circuit de Catalunya, and he was one of my students, so you could say that I know him very well!
He is a very good driver. Last year, he drove for us at the Abu Dhabi Young Drivers’ test, and he did pretty well. He will have some outings for us over the course of the season, and if can continue to have some drives in GP2, then he will do very well. This will help get him ready for Formula 1, and keep him sharp.
The Spanish economy is struggling at the moment. The From next year, we will have only one race in Spain. What challenges do you see facing the team in securing sponsorship and staff from within Spain?
Given the climate, we are going to need to be more efficient, maximise our budget and be competitive given our resources. Importantly, we must balance the budget.
Of course, we are looking for more sponsorship support – as is every team on the grid – but I am confident. We can do a lot as a small team, and I believe we could still be competitive even on a smaller budget than we currently have.
My big concern will be in ensuring that we can be competitive now and into the future. We needed a lot of luck this weekend, for the remaining weekends this year and into the future.
Images via Corbis Images and Flickr