The Sauber team faces an uncertain future as the rest of the F1 teams voted at the weekend not to allow a 14th team on the grid next year.
On Sunday in Suzuka the FOTA teams met to discuss the 14th team issue. Unanimous agreement among all signatories of the Concorde Agreement was required for them to get a slot and Williams and Campos are believed to have vetoed it.
FOTA had made it clear when BMW withdrew that it would do everything in its power to help the team to be on the grid, but the FIA selected Lotus instead. We’ve seen this tactic before used by Bernie Ecclestone when he wanted to enlarge the calendar beyond the agreed 17 races. He would insert a new Grand Prix into the schedule as the 18th race, making one of the traditional races provisional, knowing that the teams will vote to restore the traditional race and thereby enlarge the calendar that way, rather than try to get them to agree a new race from the outset.
In this case it is tricky, because since FOTA voiced its support, it has become enlarged as a group, taking back the Williams and Force India teams and adding the three new teams originally signed up to the Concorde Agreement. And it is Williams and Campos, one of the new members, who are vetoing it.
The team has gone from being insiders to being outsiders. BMW decided not to sign the Concorde Agreement at the time when it pulled out, even though it planned to sell the team. By doing that it not only lost the team’s guaranteed slot on the grid but also some £40 million of TV and prize money income per year, something which Peter Sauber was very angry about at the time. It also lowered the value of the team as a saleable concern.
Sauber has been talking to Ferrari about a supply of engines. I asked Ferrari boss Stefano Domenicali about his feelings on the 14th team and he said,
“My feeling is that we need to have the unanimous agreement of all the signatories to the Concorde Agreement in order to have the 14th team there. I can speak for Ferrari and for FOTA, we would love to have the Sauber team because of the structure and because we know they can deliver a great thing. We are happy for them to be part. But some of the small teams are not in favour of it.
“So now we have to see whether some of the small teams will be able to be there (next season). I can understand for the Sauber team it is a matter of timing. They cannot wait and see whether the small teams will be there. They need to plan they need sponsors and as you know we are discussing a possible supply of engines.”
The FIA is in the process of inspecting the facilities and plans of the new teams and although there are plenty of rumours in the paddock about various teams not being ready, or being short of money the new teams themselves are all making positive noises about being on the grid in Bahrain.
BMW boss Mario Theissen admitted that the situation is looking a little dicey,
“It is certainly a drawback for the team because we need to talk to sponsors, we need to talk to drivers and it only makes sense if you have a confirmed place on the grid. We are waiting for this, and every week we lose is damaging.”
Knowing the way F1 works, some pressure is likely to be applied somewhere soon.