Friday, April 28, 2006 – FIA president Max Mosley:
“Prodrive have the best combination of financial backing, technical capability and motorsport experience. The team are well known to the FIA through their participation in the World Rally Championship and Richards has experience as a Formula One team principal.”
Fast forward to January 10, 2008 – Dave Richards:
“F1′s new commercial agreement means that Prodrive will not enter the sport in the near future.”
Two years ago there were 22 subjects bidding for the presence on Formula 1 grid. Eleven came from then existing Formula 1 teams, another eleven from F1 wannabies that included among others Prodrive, Direxiv, Eddie Jordan, Paul Stoddart, Carlin Motorsport, Craig Pollock. All the existing teams, including Super Aguri that was yet to make their own F1 debut were granted the entry to 2008 season. The only spot for a new team went to Prodrive.
There is no doubt that such an overwhelming interest in F1 entry was a result of new customer car rules advertised by FIA at that time. The new rules did not materialize, Prodrive had no plan B and so 2001 is still the last season we had full 12 teams / 24 cars F1 grid.
So what now ? With Prodrive now out of the game there is again a room for new F1 entry. It would be interesting to see what will FIA do. With customer cars unlikely to become legal anytime soon FIA can’t expect 11 subjects submitting bids for F1 entry now. I doubt that people like Stoddard or Jordan that were not able to keep their former teams on the grid would bid to enter F1 again under current conditions. FIA will not probably want to repeat the Prodrive fiasco and will not invite anybody to submit any bids until some sort of new Concorde Agreement is in place. Any F1 wannabies will likely also wait for the new Concorde Agreement before putting any F1 plans in place. So, I do not see 12 teams on the grid anytime soon.
At the same time there still is a situation that there are 2 current teams pretty much using same model as Prodrive and racing … Last time Toro Rosso team build their own car was … never … Once they took over the former Minardi, they ditched the Minardi car and began to use Red Bull. In 2006 it was 1 year old Red Bull chassis, in 2007 it was the 2007 Red Bull chassis only fitted with different engine.
Super Aguri entered in 2006 with 2002 Arrows chassis only beacause they were not able to find a way around the rules that quickly and could not run 2005 chassis. They did not bother at all ahead of 2007 season and simply repainted Honda’s race winning RA106. “Surprisingly” they scored points …
It would be ridiculous if these 2 teams are allowed to continue in F1 in this fashion and new ones are prohibited to do the same. Stopping them outright however would put them out of business. Super Aguri would have to go into new season with the latest upgrade of the 2002 Arrows car, Toro Rosso could do a bit better and use 2005 Minardi :-). I am sure even Frank Williams does not want F1 with 9 teams and 18 cars. But something has to be done to make sure that either all teams are building their own cars or anybody can enter with a customer car.
I do not think F1 is a place for customer cars. True, the cost of running F1 team is huge, but Williams vs Toyota comparison is an example that money is not everything. True, it takes time and lots of money to build a new car from scratch, but F1 is about technical challenge. If someone is not ready to face it, better stay home.
So where can some new F1 entries come from ?
1) One of the few big car manufacturers not yet in the game may feel like blowing few hundred million a year. Volkswagen speculations never cease (not matter how strongly and how often the company denies any interest in F1), Hyundai also gets mentioned from time to time. At the moment however there is no sign of any new manufacturers entering F1 any time soon.
2) Someone confident enough will decide to build F1 team from a scratch. Would be difficult job, but as Super Aguri have shown, not impossible. Instead of running years old unused F1 chassis they can work with a chassis builders like Lola for example, get the engines from any engine supplier willing to supply or even get the last Cosworth V8 (still competitive thanks to the engine freeze). The car would not be scoring podiums and wins anytime soon, but that is the situation big spending Toyota has been for years. OK, this is extremely simplified version of a very difficult process, but doable. This actually was the original scenario of Midland, before they decided to buy Jordan and enter F1 that way. I doubt however this was the intention of any of the unsuccessful bidders 2 years ago…
3) Buy an existing team. This would not increase the numbers of teams on the grid but it may be necessary to keep current 11 teams on the grid. Toro Rosso and Super Aguri are the obvious targets, but sooner or later some of the manufacturers may get tired of spending hundreds of millions and never winning anything. But any buyout or serious investment of Toro Rosso and Super Aguri is unlikely until their customer car situation is clarified and resolved. Who would want to invest in a team that may have no or only few years old cars to run …
“The limit of 12 teams was imposed for safety reasons and circuit facilities. So, the number is unlikely to increase.”
These were words of Max Mosley 2 years after 10 subjects lost out to Prodrive. Two years on the number is still unlikely to increase, but for different reasons…