F1 seeks new entrants
Fresh interest sought as existing teams struggle, By Adam Cooper
The FIA has laid the groundwork for new teams to enter the World Championship in 2015 by opening up a formal tender process.
The news came in the wake of plans for what the governing body calls a ‘cost cap’ to be introduced from the start of that season. A working group comprised of representatives of teams, the FIA and the commercial rights holder will be formed to discuss the rules, with a view to confirming them in June 2014.
Previous attempts to put a lid on spending have inevitably proved contentious, but the signs are that Jean Todt – recently elected unopposed for a second term as FIA president – is serious about attacking the cost issue. Many current teams, notably Lotus and Sauber, are heading into the new season facing an ever tighter financial squeeze, and the extra costs imposed by the change of regulations has made life even more difficult.
The rules have always left the door open for teams to enter, but with the prospect of one or more teams collapsing, the FIA has seemingly acted to ensure the best chance of finding potential replacements. It also opens the possibility of a new team rising from the ashes of one that has failed. Under Concorde rules, if a team goes into liquidation it loses its historical commercial rights, and has to restart as a new entity. Should Lotus or Sauber face that situation they could in theory emerge with new owners and/or identities, although if debts to key suppliers remain it might not be straightforward. In the case of Lotus, the key debtor is owner Genii.
If the cost cap can be made to work, it will at least make finding new entrants a more realistic possibility. However, the FIA has not allowed prospective candidates much time, which suggests that one or more are already waiting in the wings. They have to register their interest by January 3, and submit a full application by February 10. A decision is anticipated shortly afterwards.
Meanwhile, the saga of the Lotus drive is a case study in how even those in a position to challenge for race wins have been struggling to make ends meet. The team indicated that Nico Hülkenberg was first choice to replace Kimi Räikkönen, but given that the German has no backing of his own, his signing was dependent on the arrival of funds from the Quantum Group, announced as an investor back in June.
That has still failed to materialise, and with his strong Venezuelan support Pastor Maldonado emerged as a prime candidate for a Lotus seat, while also pursuing the possibility of moving to Sauber. His sponsors were concerned about the debt situation in both camps, but ultimately they and the driver agreed Lotus was the way to go.
He joins incumbent Romain Grosjean, who is himself supported by Total. Hülkenberg signed a contract with Force India some months ago, although until the end of the 2013 racing season he still had the option to withdraw, and take up a drive elsewhere. With the Lotus opportunity slipping away, he agreed to return to the team he represented in 2012, before heading to rival Sauber.
He is joined at Force India by Sergio Pérez, who brings funding from Mexico. After Pérez was dumped by McLaren, his mentor Carlos Slim stepped in and personally negotiated with team boss Vijay Mallya.
Adrian Sutil, who had an ongoing contract with Force India, was thus left to pursue a berth at Sauber. As Motor Sport closed for press, the Swiss outfit had yet to confirm any drivers for 2014, an indication of just how close to the edge the troubled team is as it tries to stitch a financial package together.
The Mexican sponsorship deals that were attached to Pérez and, latterly, Esteban Gutiérrez ran out at the end of the season. Meanwhile, the arrangement to run Russian teenager Sergey Sirotkin was put on hold when his finance failed to come through, and missing out on Maldonado was another major blow. The team has also talked to both Marussia owner Andrei Tsheglakov and the equally struggling Caterham about possible collaborations, although clearly any merger would see a team disappear from the grid.
Vettel joins F1 rule backlash
The FIA caused a stir in December by announcing that henceforth the final Grand Prix of the season will be worth double points in “in order to maximise focus on the championship until the end of the campaign”.
The plan, agreed by the teams through the F1 Strategy Group, brought an immediate negative reaction from fans on social media.
Speaking to German newspaper Bild Sebastian Vettel called the decision “absurd,” adding “I respect the old traditions in F1 and do not understand this new rule.”
A less contentious outcome of the Paris meeting is confirmation of a move to allow drivers to choose a race number between 2-99 that they can keep throughout their F1 careers. The World Champion will still have the option to run as number one, if he so wishes.
The furore caused by the double points rule overshadowed the announcement of greater significance, the cost cap introduction from January 2015.
Axed GPs delayed, not dead
New Jersey and Mexico are both targeting spots on the 2015 F1 calendar after failing to be ready for next season.
The FIA has now formally confirmed that, as noted in Motor Sport last month, they have been dropped from the final 2014 schedule, along with Korea. Their absence leaves 19 GPs, with Russia and a return to Austria the two novelties.
The New Jersey organisers have insisted that their event is still a runner, and in a statement Bernie Ecclestone was quoted as saying: “New races can take many years to get started, but there is significant momentum and we are close to realising a New York City F1 race.”
Meanwhile, Mexico is aiming for a June date, assuming that work on rebuilding the track can commence early next year.
India is also due to return in 2015, which could potentially create a busy 22-race calendar.
Brawn bows out… for now
An era will end when Ross Brawn leaves his job as Mercedes team principal on December 31, after some six years at the helm of the Brackley team.
Brawn (right, above, with Toto Wolff and Niki Lauda) joined in November 2007, when it was still owned by Honda. Just a year later he had to pick up the pieces when the Japanese manufacturer pulled out – and having found a way to keep it going under the Brawn GP name he led the team to a 2009 World Championship double.
The subsequent sale to Mercedes netted him a huge personal fortune.
Brawn’s future had been in doubt since news of Paddy Lowe’s head-hunting by Mercedes broke early last year, which followed the arrival of Niki Lauda as chairman of the board. He was not willing to move sideways and relinquish full control, and preferred instead to cut his ties ahead of 2014’s major rule changes.
He will be replaced by a two-man ‘committee’. Toto Wolff will have the title of executive director (business), while former McLaren man Lowe will be executive director (technical).
Brawn’s name has been linked with new roles elsewhere, but he says that he has no immediate plans and intends to take some time off.