Heikki Kovaleinen and Caterham were at the first F1 test of 2012 in Jerez, 7-10 February. Marussia and HRT, meanwhile, are yet to unveil their new cars

For the second time in three years, HRT will enter the Formula 1 season opener in Melbourne having not tested their new car at any of the sport’s spring tests in Jerez and Barcelona. This year, after failing the last of the FIA’s 18 mandatory crash tests, Marussia (previously Virgin Racing) will arrive in Melbourne blind, too – their plan to run some light testing tomorrow, the day after the final Barcelona test ends, was nixed earlier this week by the sport’s governing body.

2012 is the third season in F1 for these two teams, as well as for Caterham F1 (until recently known as Lotus Racing). And yet, neither are anywhere near being competitive, and the failure to arrive at pre-season testing – a perennial issue for beleaguered and cash-strapped HRT, in particular – is just another indication that neither team has what it takes to develop into a legitimate F1 competitor.

Caterham have made steady progress over their first two seasons, gradually pulling clear of Marussia, and now seem placed to start challenging F1’s established midfield teams – Williams, Sauber, Toro Rosso – for positions and maybe even points. With Vitali Petrov replacing Jarno Trulli alongside the settled Heikki Kovaleinen in this year’s line-up, Caterham continue to recruit experienced, competitive drivers who are driving their programme forward together with the  accomplished Mike Gascoyne.

Their two fellow 2010 entrants, meanwhile, are nowhere near as far along the road to F1 respectability. One only needs to look at some of the drivers who have taken the grid for Marussia (Lucas di Grassi, Jerome d’Ambrosio, new signing Charles Pic) and HRT (a rookie Bruno Senna, Sakon Yamamoto, Narain Karthikeyan). Most of these recruits have been nowhere near as experienced as the Caterham drivers, with only Marussia’s Timo Glock and HRT’s Pedro de la Rosa bringing any sort of F1 pedigree to the squads. Neither outfit took the chance to tap into the experience of Nick Heidfeld or Rubens Barrichello this year, with both drivers remaining unemployed on the eve of the curtain-raiser in Melbourne.

It’s becoming clear that, once again, neither side has any realistic hope of securing that coveted first points finish this season. With Caterham looking impressive in testing and even Williams staying competitive, the two remaining ‘back-markers’ have little cause for optimism.

At some point, hopefully pretty soon, the FIA and F1 autocrat Bernie Ecclestone will have to look at what the future holds for Marussia and HRT. The former, now with ever more involvement from its new namesake, a Russian supercar manufacturer, may see a few dim rays of light at the end of its wind tunnel, but for HRT, with its revolving door of drivers and lack of in-season developmental prowess, there seems little likelihood of the team registering significant forward steps in the near future.

The Spanish outfit has now attended just two of the twelve pre-season test weekends since it joined the sport. Given that in-season tests are no longer allowed in F1, those four weekends are golddust to a team’s chances of refining their car. If HRT can’t get to test events, what chance do they have of producing an on-pace car for Melbourne?

There have been few minnows in F1’s recent history as uncompetitive as Marussia and HRT figure to be in 2012. Minardi, those most beloved of hopeless backmarkers, were able to mix it with the teams above them and score occasional points finishes. Super Aguri, more recently, struggled for a year before accepting their inevitable financial collapse and withdrawing. Marussia may, theoretically at least, have the resources to progress along the lines of Jordan or Force India. Before long, though, HRT may be forced down the Super Aguri path if their results don’t improve fast. I’m not sure how many top-half teams would even notice they’d left.

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