David Richards, the former team principal of BAR-Honda and Benetton, believes the performance of the new teams which joined Formula 1 this year has made it harder for other entrants to raise the money to take part.
Richards’ engineering ﬁrm Prodrive was granted an F1 grid slot in 2008 but could not compete after the FIA failed to approve rules allowing teams to share car chassis. Last year Prodrive applied again for a slot but was rejected in favour of Lotus, HRT, Virgin and USF1, which failed to raise the funds to race. As Motor Sport went to press Lotus, HRT and Virgin had yet to score a point.
“They have disillusioned anyone of the idea that you could be competitive and it has prejudiced raising funds,” said Richards. Prodrive raised £40 million last year for its F1 bid, but according to Richards it would not be able to repeat this as a consequence of the new teams’ form. “Everyone had a dream – I’m sure Richard Branson had a dream a year ago – that starting a new team would challenge the establishment. We never believed that.”
Richards says the close competition at the head of the ﬁeld has taken attention away from the new teams, “otherwise we might have by mid-year started to see the recriminations and people questioning what is going on”.
He said the new teams have been blighted by the FIA’s failure to introduce a £40m budget cap, which would have levelled out the competition. Accordingly, Prodrive is not applying to take up the slot left vacant by USF1. Richards said he had “concluded that raising funds would be difﬁcult”.
But he added: “I don’t rule out Prodrive returning to F1 in the next ﬁve years,” and explained this would be through an acquisition rather than setting up a new team. Last year Prodrive had talks with Renault about taking over its F1 team. Richards said it came to nothing because “we had a clear business model and they chose a different route. When opportunities come along we will look at them.”