With Prodrive expected to enter the F1 from coming season, it looked that finally F1 can have a full grid of 12 teams and 24 cars. The last time F1 was close to having 12 teams was in 2002, the year when Toyota entered. However Prost went out of business during the winter and Arrows cars were last seen in Germany 2002. With 5 races to go in 2002, the grid that promised to have 24 cars has shrunk to 20.
Now Max Mosley is not convinced there will still be 11 teams in Formula 1 by the end of the 2008 season. When asked whether Super Aguri will appear on the start of Australian GP in Melbourne in little over 6 weeks, he said:
“I wouldn’t like to stake my life on that. I think so, but you can’t be certain.”
But when asked if he is confident that all eleven teams will contest the entire 2008 F1 championship, he allegedly said to PA Sport:
The team in question is no doubt Super Aguri.
They are the only team left yet to confirm their 2008 drivers and the only team yet to announce when their new car is coming. They lost their title sponsor half way through the 2007 season after not getting paid for half the time they actually had the SS United logo taking up the space on their cars. The only significant backer they have is Honda, and the only reason for them to create and back Super Aguri was to keep Sato on the grid (after dumping him to make room for Rubens Barrichello).
There have been rumours confirming sale of the stake in the team to Alejandro Agag (major shareholder in Campos GP2 team, now renamed to Barwa International), but these were swiftly denied by Super Aguri team. In an interview with El Mundo Adrian Campos (the Campos team boss and former manager of Fernando Alonso) himself denied any moves by his team to F1 in the near future:
“The public opinion is that we should make the move into the top category, but right now our main priority is to get in the fight for the GP2 title. There is no doubt that we will look at any possibility that may arise, but it’s not always possible. Formula One is very complicated and right now it’s very closed.”
Many were impressed and happy for the small Japanese team when they scored their first points in only their second season on the grid (when they struggled for bigger part of their first one with 5 years old Arrows chassis). But one has to see that they achieved it by running the race winning 2006 Honda car. Now the legality of such arrangement is under question and casts doubts over the team’s future. They need sponsors or investors other than Honda, but in their uncertain situation it is difficult to see who would splash out the big bucks they need.
Dave Richards recently ditched his F1 plans with Prodrive and does not seem to be ready to revive them anytime soon, unless the customer cars are legalized. He however hints at an option to buy an existing team:
“I haven’t got the time to spend or the finances to invest in a start-up. A start-up will take five years to get right and get competitive, and that is not even winning Grands Prix. I don’t believe that is viable. There might be a possibility of acquiring one of the teams in the future and coming in at that level, but the solution we came to of acquiring a complete package from a team was the only viable solution.”
No matter what, Agag, Campos or Richards say now, they would no doubt at least look into the opportunity to get into F1 should one of the current teams go for sale. But would they consider buying Super Aguri ? What would they gain besides the F1 entry ? When Jordan, Minardi and Jaguar went up for sale, they had the infrastructure and cars. Super Aguri may have some infrastructure, but the team has no car of their own … How different would that be from Prodrive’s situation ?
Are we on for repeat of 2002, season that promised 24 cars grid and ended up with 20 ?