After the initial rush hammering out articles about who was and was not on the F1 entry list, there was finally a chance to stop for a moment and reflect about what it all means. My colleagues produced an impressive string of Q&As with all the right people and used all the available press releases but there is something which I think sailed over the heads of many people. Lola’s Martin Birrane said when asked about the new teams that: “one of three that has been chosen is worthy in my view. They will have a proper car. The other two – who knows?”
What Martin thinks is not really the significant point. What is key is that two of the teams chosen were a fairly big surprise. More importantly, it is strange that they were picked ahead of other very significant candidates. And one had to ask: how did that happen?
Prodrive has a terrific record in the sport and, according to David Richards, has the funding for the project from Dar Capital. This is a recently-established British-based investment bank, which is controlled by Kuwait’s Investment Dar. To give you an idea of the scale of the company, not long ago Mercedes-Benz had meetings with Investment Dar about a possible joint venture. Investment Dar has been listed on the Kuwait Stock Exchange since 1999 and has close links with the ruling families of the region, it claims to have 800 prominent and respected individuals and institutions mainly from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman as its investors. In other words it has money. It also owns Aston Martin, which gives it a good reason to want to be in F1.
And let us not forget that David Richards’s Prodrive was granted an entry in F1 by the FIA back in 2006, so his organisation clearly met the criteria then. So why not now?
Take a look at N Technology. This is not some back street garage operation in Catania, but rather a highly professional organisation that grew out of a merger between Alfa Romeo’s sporting department Alfa Corse; Fiat’s Abarth competition department and Nordauto, an independent team that enjoyed an impressive record of success in European touring car racing. It operates the FIA World Touring Car Championship and the International Formula Master series and I think it is fair to say that it would not have made an entry if it was not 100% certain that it would be accepted by the FIA. Why would the FIA reject such an ally?
It does not make sense, does it?
Lola. Here is another one. Birrane says that he is underwriting the whole thing himself, but of course he will offset that by finding sponsorship. He has a lot of property in Ireland and Lola is now a very successful company with defence contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Yes, Lola has recruited an entire F1 design team and has everything it takes to enter F1. So why would you choose small fry over Lola?
Then there is Epsilon Euskadi. Take a look at its facilities here and wonder why this team was not included on the list, particularly when team boss Joan Villadelprat has openly said that he has secured the necessary budget for the next four years. From what I hear much of that is from the government of the Basque Autonomous Community, one of the wealthiest regions of Spain. Why would this team be refused an entry when Manor Grand Prix gets its ticket to F1?
Applying logic is not necessarily something that is widespread in F1, but when you look at the current situation the only sensible conclusion that one can draw is that the FIA is simply NOT going to reject such strong candidates. They will end up being on the list because they are stronger than some of those that have already appeared.
Then apply a little mathematics to the situation. We have two committed established F1 teams (Williams, Force India). We have three new teams with an entry confirmed (USF1, Campos, Manor). We have four new teams that seem better on paper than the trio that have been chosen (Lola, Prodrive, Epsilon Euskadi, N Technology). And we have four FOTA teams that are dependent on F1 for their existence (Brawn, Red Bull Racing. Scuderia Toro Rosso, McLaren). Two plus three plus four plus four. Thirteen…
But that does not include Ferrari. Nor the manufacturer teams from Toyota, Renault or BMW.
Now if Ferrari suddenly wanted to return to the FIA fold, no doubt an arrangement would be made. But who is going to get the stray bullet? It is a pretty good incentive to get one of the smaller FOTA teams to jump, isn’t it?
Max Mosley is many things (and best we do not go into all of them) – but no-one ever accused him of not being clever…