I’ve just been sent a press release from a German company, which owns the remnants of the Super Aguri team and also the Brabham brand. They have announced that they have entered next year’s world championship as Brabham.
This is a very strong deja vu for me. I started my professional career in Formula 1 in 1990 with the Brabham team. I was the team’s press officer for two seasons. Our drivers in 1990 were David Brabham and Stefano Modena, the team principal was Herbie Blash (now on the FIA race direction team with Charlie Whiting) and it was owned by a Japanese company, Middlebridge, who had bought the name after a very complicated transaction.
Middlebridge rather underestimated what F1 cost. They found to their horror that it was around £1 million a month. They weren’t very good at finding sponsors, but they did get a deal with Yamaha for engines for 1991. They also hired Martin Brundle and Mark Blundell, so that’s where my relationship with those two began. Brabham fizzled out in 1994.
So what about this new Brabham team? Well it is based on the old Super Aguri team in Leafield, as I said. The technical director is Mark Preston, a very talented Aussie, who used to work at McLaren. He was the brains behind Super Aguri. Of course that team used year old Hondas with Honda engines, so building their own car from scratch will be interesting, but I would say that Mark is definitely one of the more credible engineers out there working with new teams.
The boss is a guy called Franz Hilmer, whom I have not encountered before but he’s made his fortune in the machining and parts industry with a company called Formtech and has an F3 Euroseries team. As I say, I don’t know much about him. The press release says that the team has attracted investors and sponsors which cover 75% of the available space on the car, which is far better than Super Aguri ever did, if it’s true, and these sponsors are “prepared to free the money subject to the positive decision of the FIA to the new entry of Brabham Grand Prix as a cost cap team as of June 12th.”
Brabham’s press release says that the team is “convinced that the budget cap is a contemporary obligation and will effect a revitalisation of the Formula One World Championship.”
With the news that the grid is theoretically full without the FOTA teams, this is all starting to look like a real page turner of a moment. Of course many of the new applicants will not survive the due dilligence test the FIA is carrying out at the moment. The last thing F1 needs is a return to the days of F1 teams failing mid-season and going bust. The whole point of budget caps was to maintain strong healthy grids.
The nine FOTA teams have served F1 for many years, invested billions to go racing and been ‘the show’. You could argue that they have taken the benefit of F1′s huge global reach to their brands and their sponsors brands along the way and no-one owes them anything more. The FIA owns F1 and is offering them the chance to continue in the sport, but on revised terms and they aren’t happy with that.
The FOTA nine were not happy with the show, with their share of the revenues from participation, nor with the way the rules were being made, so they took a stand and now we have 8 days in which it will be decided if F1 can simply wash its hands of the teams we have come to know of late, like BMW Sauber, Toyota and Red Bull and embrace a raft of new teams, more in the spirit of the way racing was in the 1970s to 1990s, before the manufacturers came in and corporatised everything.
Ferrari have been the strongest on the FOTA side and to capitulate from here would be a hell of a climb down for them. But the FIA is certain that Ferrari is legally, contractually bound to race in 2010, as Williams is. Ferrari has to hold the FOTA coalition together over these eight days or the game will be totally lost.
I can see Brawn and Force India jumping ship and joining in the new F1, because they have everything to gain from that and given how close Dietrich Mateschitz is to Max Mosley, I can see him keeping Red Bull in F1 and perhaps selling Toro Rosso to one of the new entrants. McLaren will be very interesting. They have a lot to gain from staying in F1 and negotiating a special deal with FOM for revenue share based on their history, as Williams and Ferrari have done in the past. At the end of the day, Ferrari, McLaren and Williams are the three teams who provide a spine for F1, all the other teams have come and gone around them.
The point surely is that these new teams will be much easier for Max and Bernie to manage than a bunch of bolshie manufacturers. This moment has been coming ever since the manufacturers threatened a breakaway series in 2004. If neither side backs down then there is going to be one hell of a game of musical chairs next week.