It has long been rumoured but now it’s official – Jean Todt’s son Nicolas is launching a bid to run his own F1 team, taking his highly successful GP2 team ART GP into the sport’s highest category.
As with last year’s applicants, teams will be subjected to a financial stress test and have their facilities and business plans analysed by the FIA.
His son’s application presents something of a conflict of interest for Jean Todt as FIA president, so presumably he will remove himself from the panel which makes the final decision.
“Many people will say that we are favoured,” said Todt Jr, “But in fact it’s an added handicap. It’s up to us to come up with such a strong bid that the choice of the FIA cannot be in doubt.”
Todt Jr has been very successful in GP2, winning the title with Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton and taking many race wins. He currently runs Ferrari junior driver Jules Bianchi in GP2 and manages his career. He is also the manager of Felipe Massa. ART GP has three principle shareholders, Todt, Frederic Vasseur and Mumtalakat, the Bahraini investment fund which is also a major shareholder in McLaren.
One of the crucial points about F1 nowadays is that we have the British teams, the very famous and not so famous Italian team, the German team, the Austrian team, the Indian team, the Malaysian team, the Spanish team and so on. It’s become like a world cup of motorsport. Renault sort of represents France, but it is in fact owned by a Spanish internet entrepreneur. In the old days you had Ligier, Larousse and so on. France needs a strong presence in F1 and vice versa. It was the birthplace of the sport after all.
The return on Michelin and the arrival of a new French F1 team looks like a plan to me.
Todt Jr has been linked in the past with various possible routes into F1 including a buyout of Toro Rosso and an application to join the new teams in 2010. His partner in ART GP, Frederic Vasseur, told L”Equipe newspaper today that they thought about having a run at it last year, but decided against it. Now they feel that the timing is right,
“We thought about it (last year), but it was too early. It’s impossible to jump into that big bath without preparation. With a year to reflect upon it, the moment is right. We’ve had a chance to see how the new teams fit into the scheme of things in Grand Prix. I know I don’t want to see our cars being six seconds off the best. That’s not how I see us climbing F1.”
They have registered their interest in the 13th slot with the FIA and now are working to put together the chassis and engine package. They are looking for a partner to build the chassis, as they do not have the facilities at their base in France. As for the engine Voissard says, “We’ve been in the sport a long time (since 1991) and we’ve had the chance to develop some very good relationships with manufacturers.”
Mercedes has long been a close ally. In partnership with ART they have won the Euro F3 series six years in a row, including one with Lewis Hamilton. They have also brought Sebastian Vettel, Kamui Kobayashi, Adrian Sutil and Sebastien Buemi through the ranks.
A fast track would be to strike a deal similar to the Force India deal whereby the whole back end of the car, engine, gearbox, hydraulics is produced by McLaren and Mercedes. This has transformed Force India into a top ten runner. ART could put some pressure on that deal, I would imagine.
“We have six weeks to pull it all together, “said Vasseur.