All of a sudden we have a rush of people heading for the revolving doors into F1.
Hot on the heels of the news that Lola is lining up an F1 entry, comes Dave Richards, former head of BAR Honda and before that Benetton.
Richards has unfinished business in F1. His time at the BAR Honda team was cut short after their most successful season in 2004.
He has long been an advocate of cut price F1 and planned an entry with Prodrive which did not materialise because his plan was based on customer McLaren Mercedes cars and the rules on customer cars did not come through as he had anticipated, in fact it became unviable to run customer cars from the end of this season onwards.
Now with the £30 million budget cap having been introduced for 2010, Richards has dusted off the F1 entry folder and has revised the business model and is seriously considering coming in with the Aston Martin brand, of which he is chairman.
Aston Martin is better known as a Le Mans team, as were Jaguar, but Aston did compete in Grands Prix in the later 1950s. I remember when I was a kid in the 1970s and 80s seeing an front engined F1 Aston Martin single seater doing very well in historic events.
The document issued by Richards today suggests that there are perhaps seven or eight parties interested in joining F1 next season.
I’ve always said that I think the budget cap will end up being set higher than £30 million, more like £50 or £60 million, but there is a lot of negotiation to take place before that is all resolved. FOTA will be involved in that, although they have gone very quiet since the budget cap was announced and then the teams had their spat over the double diffuser.
What is happening here alongside what is going on on the track this year with teams like Brawn and Red Bull having their turn at the front, seems to me to be a move away from the elitism which has dominated F1 in recent years.
I noticed that quite a few people agreed with what Flavio Briatore was saying in China about the sport losing credibility if the top names are not fighting it out at the front. That is the elitist view and it appeals to some fans of F1, but it seems to me that behind the scenes forces are trying to change the sport into something more accessible, both for teams and fans.
In part this development is obviously to do with reducing the power of the biggest teams and manufacturers as well as keeping the teams’ share of revenues down, but the teams will surely have their say before it’s too late and it will be very interesting to see what kind of a fight they put up.
The elite drove the costs up in F1 over the past ten years to ridiculous levels and the credit crunch and global car market collapse presents an opportunity for F1, in all sorts of ways, to take a reality pill. But to what extent is the marketing an appeal of F1 based on the idea of the ‘best of the best’, the absolute elite? Certainly the drivers have to be the elite for the series to have credibility, but what about the teams?
Aston Martin is a prestige brand, a car for life’s elite. But they have not wanted to compete with the elite in F1 thus far, because the costs have been prohibitive. There is a certain irony in the idea that a massive democratisation of the sport allows a brand like Aston to get a foot on the ladder…
So far FOTA has presented some ideas for controlling costs and improving the show, but they are going to have to raise their game quite a bit and force the issue if they are to get the kind of F1 their roadmap prescribes. That time is fast approaching.