During the Monaco Grand Prix, Luca di Montezemolo denigrated the new applicants for the 2010 Formula One season, saying that the series should be called 'Formula GP3'. This article takes a brief look at each of the new teams known to have lodged applications for the 2010 season, and assesses their chances of making it to the grid for next year's Australian Grand Prix.
Without further ado, let's consider the candidates, starting with the strongest applications first ...
Prodrive was the first team to publicly show interest in setting up a F1 team for 2010; the team boss David Richards -- who is also the chairman of Aston Martin -- certainly has some unfinished business in F1, having managed first Benetton and then BAR-Honda, achieving second place in the 2004 Constructors' Championship. Prodrive and Aston Martin Racing have an impressive record with six WRC titles, five BTCC titles and three Le Mans class victories.
Backing: In addition to the Aston Martin works support, Prodrive has signed investor Dar Capital -- the investment banking arm of Aston Martin 50% owner Investment Dar -- to help them raise the finances they need for F1.
Technical Capabilities: Prodrive has excellent design and manufacturing facilities; the team's main base is located in Banbury in the UK, with the capability to produce all kinds of parts, from electrical systems to composites and body shells. The cars will be built at Banbury and will have Aston Martin-badged customer engines obtained from a third party. Although Richards refuses to reveal the name of the engine supplier, Mercedes is widely expected to be the team's selected partner.
The verdict: Without a doubt Prodrive is one of the most serious applicants for the 2010 season. With the experienced Richards at the helm, and the strong financial and technical resources, they could be a very successful Formula One team, capable of winning races, and therefore should be one of Max Mosley's favourites. The prospect of the return of Aston Martin -- the team plans to rename itself as a full works effort for the 2012 season -- also appeals to many people.
While di Montezemolo sneered at the F1 applicants, Lola's credibility and pedigree are actually far more impressive than that of a minor Italian aristocrat: the team first entered Formula One racing in 1962, and the company is currently the largest manufacturer of single-seater racing cars in the world.
Backing: The strength of Lola's motor racing business is unquestionable, and the company also has additional business in carbon fibre composites. No commercial backers have been announced; while the personal fortune of owner and executive chairman Martin Birrane is reputed to exceed ?125M, he is unlikely to want to finance the entire venture personally.
Technical capabilities: Over the years, Lola has built not only F1 cars, but also Champ Car (CART), F3000, FNippon, F3 and a variety of top-level sports cars such as this year's Lola B09/60-Aston Martin challenger for Le Mans 24H. The team has a 50% wind tunnel, CFD capabilities and a seven-post dynamic chassis rig in their comprehensive facility in Huntingdon. And, of course, a supply of Cosworth engines for 2010.
The verdict: With its name recognition (amongst racing fans), history and technical capabilities, Lola has to be one of the two front-runners for the available entry positions. The key question may, rather, be whether Lola chooses to accept the entry in the end. "It is imperative that performance breaks be afforded to new cost-capped entrants who will have a limited period in which to form teams, design and manufacture their cars," said the team's press release. "With these breaks Lola looks forward to competing with the existing teams who enjoy decades of experience." Whether the final FIA-FOTA compromise will satisfy Lola remains to be seen.
Epsilon Euskadi is an established racing organization led by Joan Villadelprat, currently participating in the Le Mans Series, World Series by Renault 3.5 and Formula Renault 2000. Villadelprat is an F1 veteran, having most recently managed the Benetton F1 team, and previously worked with McLaren, Ferrari, Tyrrell and Prost.
Backing: Villadelprat has not named a backer or sponsor, but states that he has confirmed sufficient backing for four years, based on a total annual budget of around ?75M (US$125M).
Technical capabilities: Epsilon Euskadi's engineering director is Sergio Rinland, a former F1 chief designer at Sauber and Arrows, and the team's LM P1 challenger was designed and built in-house. The team has extensive facilities at Azkoitia in the Basque region of spain, including a wind tunnel and autoclaves, as well as engineering and driving schools.
The verdict: Epsilon Euskadi seems to have it all, almost: financing, experienced key staff, a strong organizational base, a recent top-level design for LM P1, a driver ladder program and extensive facilities -- the only thing lacking is the name recognition. Still, it would be difficult for the FIA to decline this team's application in favour of another application that exists largely only on paper.
iSport International was founded in 2004 by Paul Jackson, Gavin Bickerton-Jones, Richard Selwin and Charlie Cooley to compete in the Formula 3000 championship. The team has subsequently won titles in both F3000 and it successor, GP2.
Backing: iSport has backing from tool manufacturers Facom and Universal Air Tools, safety equipment manufacturer Sparco and paint supplier Movac.
Technical Capabilities: Team manager Paul Jackson and race engineers Gavin Bickerton-Jones and Richard Selwin have plenty experience in motor racing, though not at the Formula One level. At this point there is no word on design staff for the team.
The verdict: With the successes iSport had in F3000 and GP2, they are certainly a serious candidate for Formula One. They might need some more financial backing, but with the results they have scored so far it shouldn't be too difficult to attract new sponsors. However, iSport did state that a budget cap for 2010 would be necessary for them to compete in Formula One next year.
Campos Meta 1
Former Minardi F1 driver Adrian Campos has started a new venture, Campos Meta 1, to enter F1 in 2010 after four years of competition in GP2, apparently with Dallara providing the technical capabilities for the project. Campos previously managed the Campos Grand Prix GP2 team, and currently operates a team in the Spanish F3 championship.
Backing: Meta Image is a successful Spanish sports marketing firm, representing Spanish athletes such as Rafael Nada, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and Miguel Indurain. While no sponsors have been announced, Meta Image may be in a good position to leverage its contacts in sports marketing and secure the required budget.
Technical Capabilities: Adrian Campos has substantial experience in running a high-end professional racing team, having run Campos Grand Prix in GP2 for four years before selling it at the end of 2008, but the key to the team's technical capabilities is the partnership with Dallara, which ran in F1 between 1988 and 1999, and currently designs and builds chassis for GP2, IRL, World Series by Renault, F3 and Grand Am. The engine is slated to be the Cosworth, though this has not been confirmed.
The verdict: Provided that Campos and Meta Image are able to convince the FIA that they have secured sufficient financial resources, the partnership with Dallara should make Campos Meta 1 a highly credible candidate for the 2010 Formula One field.
US GPE (nee USF1)
US GPE is a new effort, headed by Ken Anderson, the former technical director at Ligier and Onyx, and by motorsport journalist Peter Windsor, who also has prior F1 experience as the team manager for Williams and Ferrari in the 1990s.
Backing: The US GPE management team has been doing investor presentations, but the only publicly announced backer to date is the advertising agency of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners.
Technical capabilities: Anderson's Formula One experience is certainly a plus, though it's not yet confirmed that he will be the technical director. The team has said that it would set up its headquarters in the Charlotte area (where many NASCAR teams are based), with a European base shared with Epsilon Euskadi at Azkoitia in Spain. The team has secured a supply of Cosworth engines.
The verdict: The key question for US GPE's acceptance is the financial backing: is there enough, and is it solid enough to convince the FIA? Still, with the attraction of the US market, and the credibility of Anderson, US GPE surely has better than even odds to be accepted for the 2010 season.
Brabham Grand Prix
The proposed 'Brabham' return -- the Brabham family is disputing the rights to the Brabham name (see separate story) -- is actually a new team led by Franz Hilmer, not related to the original Motor Racing Developments that won six titles between 1962 and 1992. Hilmer has signed up Super Aguri veteran Mark Preston as the team's technical director.
Backing: The known corporate backing for the effort is led by Hilmer's company Formtech, which is in the composite materials and precision machining business. However, the team will certainly also need additional sponsorship.
Technical Capabilities: While no designer has been mentioned, Formtech has a great deal of experience with composites and other F1 component manufacturing, thus achieving a greater degree of self-sufficiency than most other teams. Additionally, last year Formtech purchased the fixed assets of Super Aguri, including the team's former base in Leafield, so the team already has the facilities needed for a Formula One operation. The name of the engine supplier hasn't been revealed.
The verdict: The Brabham name -- along with others like Lola and March -- could add some cachet to the new entries, and take some wind out of Ferrari's arguments. If Hilmer can demonstrate sufficient financial resources, the Brabham entry surely has to be a strong candidate.
Litespeed Racing is a Formula Three team, currently competing in the British F3 championship, using a chassis built by the Italian ATR Group. The team principal is Nino Judge, worked for the Lotus F1 team from 1989 until 1991.
Backing: Although they have a few sponsors for their current F3 team, Litespeed at the moment has not announced any additional financial backing for their Formula One project.
Technical capabilities: The team has joined forces for this project with Mike Gascoyne's MGI Group. Gascoyne's resume in F1 is impressive, having held Technical Director positions at Jordan, Benetton, Renault, Spyker and Force India. However, even with Gascoyne's experience, the team has no infrastructure for actually building or testing a new chassis.
The verdict: Although in the past a few F3 teams have managed to successfully enter F1, like Enzo Osella's team Osella Squadra Corse, Litespeed doesn't appear have the technical and financial resources required for a successful Formula One entry.
Team Superfund is a new team, headed by ex-F1 driver Alexander Wurz and backed by the Superfund private-investor hedge fund (though it is not permitted to call itself that).
Backing: Superfund, which manages over $1.5 billion for 50,000 investors, was founded in 1996 by former Vienna policeman and college dropout Christian Baha, 38. It has sponsored numerous sporting and cultural activities in the past, including the former Minardi F1 team. While the fund is large, Baha's personal resources are unknown, and the difficulties Superfund has had with the financial regulators bring to mind the ill-fated Moneytron sponsorship for the Onyx team, which ended with the imprisonment of Moneytron founder Jean-Pierre van Rossem.
Technical capabilities: Former Benetton and Williams F1 driver Alex Wurz is the proposed team principal, but there are no details on key technical staff to support the efforts. A supply of Cosworth engines has been secured, but the engines will need to be bolted onto a chassis as well.
The verdict: With no track record, no facilities, no technical team and a somewhat risky financial backer, Superfund is not likely to be selected by the FIA.
Angelo Codignoni, the former CEO of Eurosport, and Mauro Sipsz filed an application for the 2010 championship in the name of N.Technology, the WTCC team that Sipsz ran until recently, but the applicant is actually MSC Organization Ltd., the organizer of the Formula Master championship, also headed by Sipsz.
Backing: N.Technology provided no details on the backers, nor whether Eurosport might be involved. However, only in January the team announced its withdrawal from the WTCC and entry into liquidation. The team attempted to sell its WTCC cars and equipment to Campos Racing, but the deal failed to be concluded. At this point it appears that original N.Technology is indeed defunct, but that MSC is planning to resurrect the name for its F1 Project.
Technical capabilities: With the closing of the N.Technology team, MSC has little in terms of technical resources. The team's technical director is Marco Calovolo, whose only F1 experience is one year as a track engineer with Minardi. The team has been talking to Cosworth about an engine supply, but the chassis design and development is the big question mark -- one possibility is relying on Tatuus, who developed and build the Formula Master cars for MSC.
The verdict: A defunct WTCC team with no engineering resources or technical facilities is unlikely to be a highly appealing prospect for the FIA, even if Tatuus were to be part of the equation. Unless the "critical economical state" the team referred to in its WTCC withdrawal announcement has been resolved in the past few days, we doubt that this all Italian outfit has any chance of entering Formula One.
March Engineering was originally founded in 1969 by Max Mosley, Alan Rees, Graham Coaker and Robin Herd and made its F1 debut in 1970. In the early nineties, March ran into serious financial problems and in 1993 the team dropped out of F1. The rights to the March brand were sold to British entrepreneur Andrew Fitton, who is the owner and chairman of United Wireless Holdings, a $100M wireless communications firm; he also owns the English League One football club Swindon Town.
Backing: With no operations at the moment, only a name (albeit one with a rich heritage), the team has its work cut out to find sufficient financial backing for a serious run at Formula One. According to La Gazzetta dello Sport, the March bid may actually be a joint one with MSC/N.Technology (see above), though that combination may do little to address the shortcomings of either of the two applications.
Technical capabilities: March has no technical staff or facilities, as everything was sold after their demise in 1993. The team has announced that they would use Cosworth engines, but Cosworth has not confirmed whether March has paid the $1.5M bond to secure the engine deal.
The verdict: March didn't make any details of their application public, but without any organization, facilities or financial backing, March will have little chance of being selected by the FIA. The fact that Mosley was one of the original founders of the team, will surely not help them either to secure a place in Formula One in 2010.
The FIA has not published any selection criteria for the teams, but surely the choices will be made with the future success of Formula One in mind, and as such financial stability and technical capabilities will be key factors, with marketing leverage (such as that for US GPE) a possible contributing element.
As such, we believe that the top three choices will come from among Prodrive, Lola, Epsilon Euskadi, iSport and Campos Meta 1. US GPE or Brabham might be in with a chance as well, should Lola decide that FIA's final 2010 rules are not acceptable.
Of course there might be a need for the FIA to traverse the list further. Not only might some of the FOTA teams decline to participate in 2010, depending on the FIA's final rule set -- rumours are already swirling around Toyota -- but some of the new applicants might also drop out if the cost caps are not in place.
Nevertheless, there are some real quality applicants in the queue, and possibly others who have not yet been revealed, who can add to the competition and spectacle of Formula One for years to come.