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Spanish HRT team driven to improve in F1

Updated: November 22, 2011, 13:39

MADRID(AP) Invigorated by the arrival of Spanish driver Pedro de la Rosa, Hispania Racing Team is driven to improve as it prepares to take part in Formula One preseason testing for the first time next year.

The 40-year-old De la Rosa will be with HRT for two seasons starting Jan. 1, and the revamped team is excited by the wealth of experience the former McLaren test driver will bring.

HRT chief executive Saul Ruiz de Marcos said earning a first point isn't an objective before 2013, but optimism was abundant Tuesday despite the economic crisis swirling in Spain as the team was reintroduced following its acquisition by investment firm Thesan Capital in July.

HRT chief executive Saul Ruiz de Marcos said the team should be ready for testing but that loftier ambitions remain of challenging Lotus and Virgin, two other F1 outfits which also joined in 2010.

"When we took over the team it was a disaster,'' Ruiz de Marcos told the Associated Press on Tuesday. "We only started making next year's car in September. Next year, we'll have it started by May. For testing, it will all depend on January's crash tests. But we're confident we'll at least reach the second preseason test.''

While Thesan's offices are located in Madrid, the team has moved base from Murcia to Valencia while it decides on a permanent home. Plans have been made to relocate its manufacturing plant from Greding in Germany to Spain as part of a bid to challenge two-time world champion Fernando Alonso as the defining Spanish F1 symbol.

Not only yet to earn a single point, Hispania Racing Team has only just managed to make it off the starting grid in the opening race of both seasons.

Ruiz de Marcos said changes to the car will be apparent from 2012, and the team is banking on attracting numerous sponsors instead of a couple of big-name brands. Ruiz de Marcos showed no anxiety over securing financial backers despite the economic crisis.

"We prefer to deal with small sponsors where we can secure 1 million ($1.35 million) in investment here and there. These are advertisers who will feel that they are part of something,'' Ruiz de Marcos said. "When it comes to attracting big-name brands like Telefonica or Repsol, we want our package to be ready. We don't want those companies to feel like we're using their money to build the team.''

Ruiz de Marcos said there has been plenty of support within the paddock since Thesan became the majority shareholder, especially from F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone.

"The first time we met he told me to be vigilant because people inside the paddock will try to take advantage of you if they can. He told me if I had any problems then I should go to him,'' Ruiz de Marcos said. "It reminded me of 'The Godfather.'''

De la Rosa labeled the team's ambitions to improve compared to the more established teams as "David versus Goliath.''

"It's a beastly challenge. I'm a much better driver than in 2003, however,'' said De la Rosa, who has driven in 85 F1 races since his debut for Arrows in 1999, although much of his career has been spent as a test driver.

The team wouldn't say who will partner De la Rosa. This year, drivers Tonio Liuzzi and Daniel Ricciardo will finish the season at Sunday's Brazilian GP.

In the end, the team is certain it can more easily challenge Alonso off the track than on it to in vying for Spain's affection.

"On the grid, such a thought is totally out of mind,'' De la Rosa said of the Ferrari driver. "Off of it, yes, I think we can compete with Fernando.''

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