Super Aguri F1 Team's race against time to prolong its Formula One life took another turn Sunday when officials at Istanbul Park refused entrance to the team's trucks and motorhome. Super Aguri F1 Team. Photo by xpb.cc. Super Aguri's...
Super Aguri F1 Team's race against time to prolong its Formula One life took another turn Sunday when officials at Istanbul Park refused entrance to the team's trucks and motorhome.
Super Aguri's cars were shipped from Barcelona, Spain, to the team's England base of Leafield, Oxfordshire, as drivers Takuma Sato and Anthony Davidson continued race preparations. Haulers carrying gear necessary to conduct a race weekend were sent to Turkey. Teams need to set up gear by Thursday to start a race weekend. The Turkish Grand Prix is scheduled for May 11.
Istanbul Park is run by a Formula One Administration Ltd. subsidiary, that is, a company owned by F1's commercial rights holder, Bernie Ecclestone. Ecclestone has said he wants the heretofore Honda-backed private team to continue to participate in F1. Put together in late 2005, Super Aguri has depended on support from Honda after losing key sponsor funding last season. A proposed buyout earlier this year with a conclave fronted by Magma Group of the United Kingdom fell through. The team contested the Spanish Grand Prix because Honda picked up the tab. Honda has declared its funding of Super Aguri is at end.
Super Aguri founder Aguri Suzuki, Japan's most successful F1 racer, has lined up a buyout proposal presented by the Weigl Group, a German consortium of companies that supply technology and engineering in the automotive and machine tool fields. Honda must approve the sale. A decision has been delayed by holidays in Europe and Japan. Suzuki is scheduled to meet with Honda board members Tuesday, but he reportedly is trying to move up that meeting to Monday.
A Super Aguri spokesperson confirmed the news from Istanbul after autosport.com and itv.com reported the refusal.
Honda Racing CEO Nick Fry told Reuters he doubted "that a company the size of Weigl is able to support a competitive Formula One team, unless, of course, there are other partners of which we have not been made aware."
Weigl founder and CEO Franz Josef Weigl said the company has adequate backing and a long-term outlook. He said in a recent interview in Japan, "The Weigl Group's offer is backed by strong business finance partners who, along with the Weigl Group, would like to invest long term and not just short term. With our partners, the offer is not only about rescuing the team but about constructing a future for the Super Aguri F1 Team and Takuma Sato. We hope that Honda board members would be willing to have faith in our long-term business plan."
A key issue in talks is thought to be Super Aguri's debt to Honda. Reuters reported Super Aguri owes Honda $100 million for engines and technical support. Weigl proposes to repay the debt in three years. Honda apparently wants it repaid sooner.
The Weigl Group, whose early efforts included making motorcycle parts, has long worked with carmakers. Weigl's association with F1 started with supplying technology to Midland F1. Midland was the renamed Jordan Grand Prix, an F1 entrant since 1991. Canadian businessman Alex Shnaider bought Jordan in 2005 and contested the 2006 season as Midland before Shnaider sold to Dutch high-end sports carmaker Spyker. Spyker contested the 2007 season, but as the company suffered unprecedented losses, perhaps as much as half of the more than $100 million debt through its F1 venture, it got out of F1. CEO Victor Muller saying, "Although the Formula One performance was a far cry from what we had in mind, the bottom line is that the worldwide recognition of the Spyker brand has increased." The team is now Force India after purchase by billionaire Vijay Mallya, CEO of Kingfisher Airlines.
Super Aguri started as a team in late 2005 to give a ride to Sato, who had been cut from Honda's F1 team. The private team, which has used Honda engines throughout, used 2002 Arrows chassis as it began competing in 2006 but later used cast-off Honda chassis. Super Aguri operated on a budget estimated by F1 Racing magazine at $71 million last season. Honda's budget was put at $320. Super Aguri scored four points in the FIA World Constructors' Championship, Honda six. Super Aguri employed 140 people, a figure cut to 120 by winter before still another cut occurred. Honda employed 550.
Super Aguri, like Red Bull's second team, Scuderia Toro Rosso, faces a pending series rule change that for 2010 would require all teams to construct their cars, not acquire them elsewhere. Construction costs would multiply those teams' annual budgets.