There’s gold in them thar hills! Takeover fever saw prospectors mine a rich F1 seam in ’05
One of the most extraordinary aspects of 2005 was an unprecedented wave of team takeovers that shook up the sport. Following Red Bull’s purchase of Jaguar in November 2004 we saw the sales of Jordan to Midland (January), Sauber to BMW (June), Minardi to Red Bull (September) and finally BAR to Honda (October). All the original team names are now consigned to history, with the exception of Sauber, which has been absorbed into the new title.
What made this activity so unusual was the uncertainty that lies beyond 2008, when the current Concorde Agreement runs out. A lot of people have been playing poker hands, convinced that they know which way the wind is blowing. It remains to be seen whether Eddie Jordan, Peter Sauber and Paul Stoddart got their timing just right and cashed in when the market price was high.
In the autumn there appeared to be a gold rush as every week brought more stories about potential start-up teams. A lot of nonsense was talked, but there were some serious players. Eddie Irvine does have a wealthy Russian backer who came within an ace of buying Minardi, Midland and then Minardi again, only to be gazumped by Red Bull at the third attempt. And Ron Dennis does have a ‘McLaren B-Team’ package available for anyone who can put up the cash.
Then there was the bizarre story of the Honda customer team, revealed by the company’s top management after the big boss was humiliated by angry Takuma Sato fans at the Tokyo Motor Show. By making the news public the firm wanted to reassure local punters that their hero might still have a job for the 2006 season.
This left even the best-informed F1 insiders grasping at straws, because it seemed that nobody could seriously consider starting a project in October and get onto the grid in March. But gradually the pieces fell into place and it emerged that Aguri Suzuki was the man with the plan. He even found himself an F1 facility (the former Arrows base at Leafield) and a readymade design department in the shape of an organisation built up at Silverstone by Mark Preston, who had been pursuing his own project.
What he didn’t have on time was a bespoke chassis, nor apparently the necessary $48m deposit, and thus it was no great surprise when his name did not appear on the entry list published by the FIA on December 1. He’s still trying to make 2006, and if he fails he has 12 months to get his act together. But so do other contenders, such as Irvine, who feared that the last two opportunities to join the club might disappear this winter. It’s going to be interesting to see if anyone makes it.