We should really count our blessings that our ‘new’ teams of HRT, Marussia and Caterham/Lotus lasted so long as one new team in 1997 didn’t even start the first race, despite with a considerable amount of backing.
That team was Lola, the famed chassis and car manufacturer who were making their first steps into the sport on their own after seasons of supplying other teams in the top flight of motorsport. They hadn’t much success though partnering with other teams such as Larousse and Scuderia Italia, and quickly realised that to for fill their ambitions they needed to go along.
It started as early as 1995 with a young Allan McNish driving a prototype car, although it wasn’t until the end of 1996 before things really started to move. With money onboard from MasterCard in a new innovative sponsorship scheme where people would belong to an ‘F1 Club’ where the proceeds go towards running the team, the more money they got from Credit Card transactions, the more money they had to spend on the card. With them getting twitchy MasterCard wanted to get its foot in the door the sport. The team had planned to enter in 1998, but following pressure in late 1996 they were forced to start a year early, and hobble a car together for the following year.
With the task of putting together an F1 car in three months meant a lot of leaning on their Indycar programme for it to be built. They had planned to use their own engine in 98, but that wasn’t ready, instead being forced to use an underpowered Ford unit for the first season. There was a flashy launch, as we saw in the 90’s at the Hilton London, helped by the MasterCard backing, although it was hard to predict what a bad situation the team was in.
It wasn’t ideal though with no on track testing, the team went straight to the first race of the season, Melbourne with two relatively inexperienced drivers in the form of Brazilian Ricardo Rosset and Italian Vincenzo Sospiri.
The first race weekend was a nightmare, the car was underpowered with high drag and slow around the corners with it consistently over 13 seconds of the pace of the leading cars. With the new 107% rule coming in at the start of the season, the team wouldn’t qualify for the race. A real disaster, and even HRT managed to work themselves out of that hole most of the time.
With the disaster of Melbourne behind them, testing continued at Silverstone, although the car was still over ten seconds off the pace. MasterCard were not happy and pulled out, convincing the other sponsors of the team to do the same forcing them to miss the Brazilian Grand Prix.
The team would never resurface, and ended that season as ‘unclassified’. The whole affair nearly brought the famous brand to it’s knees, although it was saved.
The name reappeared in the list of ‘new’ teams for 2010, that never went through instead awarded to Campos, Lotus Racing, Virgin/Manor and USF1.