A New Era Begins for a Rejuvenated F1 Team Heavily Backed by Canadians
SportPesa Racing Point F1 Team unveiled its 2019 livery in Toronto.
The pink shall endure.
The Formula 1 team formerly known as Force India formally completed its transformation to its new name and ownership today by revealing its 2019 livery under its new name, SportPesa Racing Point F1 Team, with the legacy pink hue featuring prominently and surviving the transition.
Canada is now heavily integrated into the team as it has received renewed financial backing from a consortium of partners – including Montreal-based investment magnate Lawrence Stroll – and its long-time driver Sergio Pérez of Mexico is joined by Canadian driver Lance Stroll as he makes the move from Williams F1. As a result, the team opted to hold its inaugural unveiling as a new organization at a Canadian venue, marking the first time ever that any Formula 1 team has launched a car in North America.
The cover was removed from the car by Pérez and Stroll on the stage of the John Bassett Theatre at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre in downtown Toronto, kicking off the opening media days for the Canadian International AutoShow that opens to the public this Friday, February 15.
In front of an audience of more than 700 invited guests, media, and fans, team principal Otmar Szafnauer – who was raised in Detroit and announced to the delight of the gathered crowd that he spent so much time in Windsor as a youngster that he considers himself to be “at least half-Canadian” – and technical director Andrew Green spoke repeatedly and extensively about the new era that the team’s new backing has allowed to unfold.
“The buzz in the factory is incredible,” Green said. “There’s a real sense that we can show people what we can do now, and they’ve given us the tools to do that.
“We can start to bring (new) parts to the car when we need them rather than having to wait until we’ve got the money. It’s a different mentality and a different way of thinking.
“It’s not a new chapter in the history of this team. We’re in a new book.”
In a video statement shown before the unveil, Lawrence Stroll said that the decision to invest in SportPesa Racing Point was more than a financial one.
“This is not about buying assets or machinery,” he said. “It’s about buying heart and soul.”
The team’s stated goal for this season is to finish fourth in the constructor’s championship.
Following the announcement, an exclusive Q&A session was held on stage with Lance Stroll, Pérez, Szafnauer, and Green, some excerpts from which are below (edited for length and clarity).
Do you wish to see greater effort to brand F1 in North America? Do you want to see some more races on this continent?
Szafnauer: Absolutely. There’s passion for racing in North America. There’s passion for racing in Canada. I bought my first racing car from a fellow in Montreal. The U.S., too, could use another Grand Prix. It would be great to have more races in this time zone.
With modifications in the regulations to the front and rear of the cars for 2019, has F1 done enough in the short term to improve the possibility of following closely to the cars ahead?
Pérez: I really hope that with the new regulations, with bigger rear wings, we can be able to tow a bit more. If we are able to follow each other more, racing will be a lot more fun.
Stroll: Hopefully we’re not going to be following too many cars. That’s the plan. But for sure, we want to see better racing for the fans, for everyone watching on Sunday afternoons. We want to see drivers going wheel to wheel. We’ll see what Australia brings.
How will the new ownership improve this team? Can you challenge the top teams?
Szafnauer: The new ownership has improved the team already. This will be the first year where we will hit the first race and the developments that we’ve actually discovered through our experiments will actually be on the car (for) one of the first times ever that I can remember. In the past, we’ve always had the trade off of if we make the first car what it can be, then we don’t have money to continue developing throughout the year. This year, we can do both. We’ll hit Melbourne with the best car we’re capable of, and then throughout from the year we’ll have a really high development rate and curve. Once we’ve put the tools in place such that we can use those tools to improve performance even further, that’s in the midterm. The consortium are dedicated for us to be able to have those resources and tools in place such that we get closer to the top three if not break into the top three.
Where is the development war going to be won and lost this year?
Green: With the size of the regulation change around the front of the car, there’s going to be a significant amount of work around that. But all that means you have to develop the rear of the car to complement the front, so it’s going to be everywhere. The front and the middle of the car is going to be a huge playground for development. We’ve seen that already. There’s a huge amount of performance to be unlocked there. Then, that leads into the rear of the car, and you have to unlock that potential that you’ve just released in the middle of the car. It’s a bit everywhere, and that’s why we’re seeing that the development slope and the increase of performance is really steep.
Does your inherent desire to let your drivers race against each other continue this year with Racing Point?
Szafnauer: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, every team has this dilemma. We need to let them race. However, they both need to understand, like I’ve always said, the team comes first. They’re one of 425 of us. The guys and girls back in the factory put in an immense amount of time and hours, and we have to respect their efforts, even on track. When we’ve got great potential for both of them to finish high in the points, we’ve got to make sure that they do finish high in the points, and that comes first and foremost. In the past, and Sergio will attest to this, whatever teammate he’s had, we have worked together because working together as drivers and as engineering teams and as strategy teams lifts the whole thing. And that’s one thing we’ve been good at, and that’s one thing that I and Andrew will make sure we don’t lose.
How has Stroll’s transition to the team gone so far?
Szafnauer: It’s never easy spending an entire season in one car, getting used to it, knowing it, and then jumping in another car (that’s) totally different (and) at a different level in a test, which is what Lance had to do. Sergio, myself, and Lance’s dad were watching. I kept saying to Lawrence – I’ve got a son, too, so I understand the dynamic – we’ve got to just make sure Lance gets used to our car, gets used to our engineers, and gets used to our way of working all weekend because it’s going to be totally different for him, so let’s not worry about the lap time. We had this agreement all weekend. The lap time will come. Three or four laps into it, Lawrence said, “Did you see the lap time?!”
(Lance is) a talented youngster. We forget he’s only 20 years old. He has a podium, he’s been on the front row, and the thing I’m impressed with is he’s been on the front row in the wet at Monza, not an easy track. Between the two of them, we’ve got a great combination of experience. Sergio on a Sunday is clinical, and (Lance has) great potential, which he’s shown already. This is his third year with a team around him that will take him to where Lance can be. And for all you Canadian fans, you’ve got a Canadian on the grid.
How proud do you feel as a Canadian racing driver today?
Stroll: It’s indescribable. It’s a dream come true. We’re doing all this talking, but I can’t wait to jump in the car and get the ball rolling.
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