Drivers have been a central focus of Formula 1, but the fact is that the Drivers alone aren’t the driving force of the sport. Of the numerous departments in Formula 1, Team Principals have a tough job in coordinating those several departments, and also have to adhere to the demands of the drivers, and also face the scrutiny from the team bosses if they fail at their job. Although, Mercedes and Toto Wolff would claim that the Team Principals are a thing of the past and it’s easy to forget the role played by the team principals especially those at the back of the field, if those personnel's miss their job, the destiny of several of these backmarkers could have been so different.
One of those forgotten men is Colin Kolles:
Plenty of people could have stopped reading this article at the mention of Kolles, but then Kolles is probably the most underrated person of this sport, and also one of the most hated personality, probably in the league of Sebastian Vettel. Kolles has been the controversy’s favorite child. His recent controversy being the case of alleged blackmailing of Mercedes Chief Toto Wolff.
Kolles is a qualified dentist, and that’s his family business. He became a part of the racing fraternity in 2000 when he along with his father founded the Kodewa racing team, the company that took part in German Formula 3 before moving to F3 Euro Series in 2003. Kolles was then called up by the Midland Group and was appointed as the Managing Director cum Team Principal of the venture. Kolles held his position until 2009 and oversaw the transition of the team from Midland to Spyker and to Force India. Kolles was then ousted by Vijay Mallya in 2009, and he left the sport to look after Kodewa racing team which was now taking part in Le Mans. Kolles made a comeback to F1 in 2010 when he was asked to rescue the struggling Campos Meta which was later known as Hispania Racing and HRT. Kolles was appointed as the Team Principal, and he held his position until the start of 2012.
Unlike other prominent names of his cadre, Kolles approach was more realistic to say the least. His name was prominent in APAC region, but after his tiff with Narain Karthikeyan, people’s opinion changed massively. Narain reported that Kolles had asked a fortune for a seat in Midland for the 2006 season. Kolles denied the allegations, and issued a statement of his own.
"Narain has lost out because of his management, A pro driver has professional management but we didn't see that in his case. Narain was just not available for us. He had a very fair offer from us and it was much less than what he said. Money is not really the problem. To succeed in formula one, one needs a lot more. The benefits for us were zero, It did nothing for Jordan." - Kolles
Time can heal the wounds. Narain Karthikeyan was approached by Colin Kolles for a drive in his team’s venture in Le Mans. Although Narain didn’t take part in the renowned 24 hour race due to a dislocated shoulder, his relationship with Kolles seemed to have overcome the fractures.
It’s really amazing at the level of salvage operation that Kolles has carried out during his stint at the pinnacle of the motorsports. Kolles was responsible for the Spyker deal, after Michiel Mol showed interest in the Midland Team. Kolles spent over 6 months to ensure the team changed hands, with Michiel Mol said to take over of the parent company of Spyker cars. Michiel Mol succeed in taking over Spyker and Midland F1 was sold to the Dutch Family, and Christijan Albers was brought into the team. Kolles meanwhile brought in several technical changes by recruiting small but talented people including the likes of Mike Gascoyne and James Key, and also was firm on not taking a pay driver for the sake of it.
Personally how do you feel now that the deal is finally official – can you relax a little bit?
A relatively unknown Adrian Sutil was hired as the test driver for Midland F1, and was promoted to the race seat with the transition of the team. Kolles was heavily into this lad, and he ensured that Sutil retained his seat even after Force India took over. 2014 will be the first year for Sutil to see a team other than Midland/Spyker/Force India. Sutil did more justice to his role than most of the drivers that were signed during the stint of Kolles, and it has to be said that the connection between Sutil and Kolles did help the German initially.
2010 was perhaps the most remarkable year for Kolles. As FIA teased a budget plan, and intensive RRA for Formula 1, new teams were invited. Adrian Campos filed an application, and his team was selected, and the team gained significant shareholders from Spain due to the presence of Meta Image. However, Campos Meta ran into financial troubles, and the team was musing over the potential Tony Teixeira deal which was met with stiff resistance from established teams. One of the shareholders José Ramón Carabante took full control of the team, he replaced Campos with Kolles on 19 February 2010 with only few weeks before the first Grand Prix. The Dallara designed car was powered by Cosworth and with no pre season testing, the car was heading into the first race with massive tasks. Bruno Senna performed the initial shakedown at the Free Practice sessions, and Karun Chandhok’s initial shakedown was at the qualifying. The team stated that the first four races were to be seen as the extended test sessions, and the team suffered numerous issues with reliability. The team further went onto add two more drivers to the group with Bruno Senna taking part in majority of the races while others juggled around the second seat. Meanwhile, the technical changes were happening at full force back in the factory. Kolles ensured that the team survived right through their maiden season by hiring Yamamoto, and later hired Klien to make some progress with the car. It wasn’t a secret that Hispania were running out of cash, but it was a very tall effort by them to compete in all the Grand Prix with no pre season testing, and the technical team being located across multiple locations on the Globe was to be seen as a thorn to their efforts. The team parted ways with Dallara, and was supposed to use the Toyota Chassis for 2011 but again the cash crunch meant that the team had to continue using the 2010 chassis with major modifications for one more season. Two drivers were recruited, and the team tried to settle under one new roof, as Thesan Capital brought a controlling stake from José Ramón Carabante with the aim of making the team more Spanish. Kolles was replaced by Luis Perez-Sala for the 2012 season with several media reports claiming that Kolles was sacked due to the differences with the new owners.
Kolles already made a strong impact and set the base for the 2012 season. The team was starting to come under one roof. Kolles insisted on a new livery for the 2011 season which had the famous words “This Could be You” across the car, and it perhaps didn’t attain major sponsors but the Daniel Simon designed livery raised few eyebrows. The Dallara designed car under the helms of Geoff Willis outclassed Virgin/Marussia by merit for two seasons, despite having a far inferior infrastructure as compared to its nearest rival. Kolles continued to run the team despite the liquidity crunch, and found ways to raise eyebrows. Presumably with an undisclosed financial backing from Red Bull, the unknown Daniel Ricciardo was roped in to drive for some odd rounds over the course of the 2011 season. There were only a handful of staff, but they were working under a tight budget, and were thus more efficient as they had significant pressure to perform. Kolles further signed deals with Mercedes for windtunnel programme, and set the course for the 2012 season.
It can be argued that Kolles can only survive a team which is under liquidity crunch, and cannot take the team further up the ladder. But it has to be remembered that Kolles was never given an opportunity to continue his progress, and he was cut short when there was a guaranteed sign of movement. It takes a considerable time to move up the ladder as in the case of Red Bull and people forget this evolution. His stints at Midland/Spyker/Force India set the stone for the team’s growth as to who they are now.
"The team has made good progress this year. Do you now have the backing to really move forward?"
Arguably, One of Force India’s best season was 2009 which was the last year of Kolles involvement. The foundation stone for that season where the team grabbed a podium on sheer merit and was the fastest car on low downforce circuits was a result of the work involved until that year. The team was rich with several high profile technical staff including the likes of Mike Gascoyne, James Key, and Mark Smith. Kolles built a brigade of excellent technicians, and as Kolles himself stated, Gascoyne and others were a significant future investment. That particular 2009 season was the team’s best after their glorious Jordan era. Unfortunately, due to some unknown internal tiff, most of the technicians including Kolles left the team or were sacked. With the rate of progress that Force India showed, it would have been interesting if that particular brigade of staff along with Kolles stayed on for a couple of seasons more. The contribution of Kolles to HRT was even more significant. The team ran on a narrow rope, and its fate was always questioned. Never in the recent history of the sport was such pressure being exercised on a team to survive and to perform miracles. HRT under Kolles battled odds, and performed exorcist steps, and survived. The technical difficulties were massive, as several technicians were scattered across the globe and were struggling to come under one roof. Yet, the car was reliable, and it didn’t fall off when they were expected. Best of all, HRT didn’t take a leaf from the books of Mastercard Lola or the great Andrea Moda. Compared to the likes of Coloni who didn’t even make it to the finish line in 14 Grand Prix of the 81 GP entries, HRT did far better during the 2010 season campaign.
“My role is to clean up the chaos! They had basically nothing, only chaos. The only department which basically exists is a software department, with eight guys who never saw an F1 car in their lives, and who are doing software simulation programmes. Then there are two or three engineers with F1 experience, and that's it. The real story is a crazy story, you understand. We will have two cars in Bahrain. I don't know how we will have them, and I don't care, but we will have two cars on the grid. If this is going to be achieved, I think this is one of the most amazing things, I tell you. They had nothing. They had one empty workshop with nothing inside…” - Kolles
It’s high time for Kolles to get one last chance for redeeming his pride. Strong signals coming out of the FIA camp indicate that Colin Kolles is one of the likely aspirants for the 2015 entry slot along with Stefan GP and Stewart-Haas team. Unlike his other stints in Formula 1, this 2015 entry will do justice to his own merit, as he starts from the scratch and doesn’t have to answer to anyone. Kolles has done it all in Formula 1, he has even used his dentistry skills on two occasions. Ahead of the 2005 Turkish Grand Prix, Kolles performed a dental operation on Tiago Monteiro, and performed a similar operation on Christijan Albers in 2006. In the recent past, it was also reported that Kolles was set to take over Sauber but the deal failed, and it would have been a different story if Kolles took over an established team and worked his way to the top. Kolles is truly an Intellectual Savior, but if his name has to be placed in the history books, he probably needs to raise from the ashes, and has to carry a team to the glory.
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