It would be nice to see a second F1 team flying the U.S. Flag, but it takes rather more than a rumour about Tavo Hellmund, the Mexican-American who played a role in setting up the U.S. Grand Prix in Austin and more recently has been involved in the revival of the Mexican GP, an event his father promoted, to really get the juices flowing.
Hellmund raced in British F3 in 1996, without much success, but in the field with him was a James Carney, an American, who is unlikely to be unrelated to the financier so-named in the stories about a possible purchase of Manor Marussia.
I cannot say that I’ve heard anything about Stephen Fitzpatrick wanting to sell the team, indeed my experience thus far has been that he is keen to invest and understands that success in F1 takes time. His ambition is to build a great team.
One needs to be a little careful of any stories floating around about Manor, as it is not flavour of the month in the land of Bernie Ecclestone, for reasons that are not entirely clear. At the same time, the F1 magnate is supposed to have bounced young Hellmund on his knee when the kid was growing up and so one tends to see any Hellmund-related stories being things that BE wants to see out there.
Manor Marussia is also the least likely target for anyone with money because there are far better options available at the right price. If Bernie was giving advice to his old pal Hellmund, you can be sure that it would be to do something else…
The problem with the name Carney is that New York is filled with the descendants of Irish immigrants bearing the name and so it is hard to track down the individual in question. Having said that if someone has enough money to consider buying an F1 team, generally they are pretty easy to find. To be fair, the stories suggest that Hellmund and Carney are fronting a consortium, so there could be other more famous names behind them, although it is hard to see the logic of buying an F1 team in the current environment. We are in a time of change and while teams may be cheap as chips on paper, we are not seeing much changing hands, because it is akin to proposing to write your own massive bills, when the future of the sport is anything but stable. No one sensible came forward when Caterham needed a buyer, so it is clear that the risks involved are currently driving away even the bravest of brave investors, except the passionate Mr Fitzpatrick. Most of those who are interested are standing on the sidelines waiting to see what will happen in the next couple of years. This tends to happen when you have 85 year olds in charge of anything… And when private equity vultures are flapping their wings, looking to fly off to find a new golden goose to fleece.
Thus one needs to ask why such a story is out there and what it might be trying to achieve. Manor’s value is that it has prize money to the tune of around $60 million each year, which it will enjoy in 2016 and 2017. But it will cost more than that to run the team and will require additional investment if the infrastructure is to be built up. In 2018 the new Haas F1 team will be able to pick up prize money so Manor needs to be strong in 2017 to ensure that it is not pushed back into the role of being the 11th team, as the benefits drop off considerably outside the top 10. Indeed it is not even clear whether there is actually any prize money for an 11th team. We don’t know these things because the sports financial structure remains secret, which is not awfully smart in the post-FIFA era where people want to see more transparency in sport.
I’m all for as many US teams as possible, but in order to be any real use to the sport they need to be more than re-flagged British operations. No-one really thinks of Mercedes being a German team, nor did we ever think that Marussia was Russian, so badge-engineering an American team is not going to be that helpful.
Now if behind this story there was a Penske, a Ganassi, an Andretti or a Rahal then it would be a fabulous step forward for F1, but if that were the case one would expect the connection to be used when the news was leaked… Secondly, these teams have become big in the U.S. by NOT biting off more than they can chew.
Time will tell how real this project is, but in the interim it is best be cautious and not get excited about a U.S. invasion of the sport.