Super Aguri doubt may cut F1 to 20 cars (update: Honda will not help team)

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The Formula 1 grid could be down to just 20 cars for the Spanish Grand Prix as the Magma Group purchase of Super Aguri appears to have fallen through as was rumoured last week.

Unless a source of funds is found in the eight days before next weekend’s race at the Circuit de Catalunya, Super Aguri will not be able to participate – leaving just 20 cars in Formula 1.

It is understood that 20 cars is the minimum number Bernie Ecclestone is contracted to bring to Formula 1 races, and if it were to drop any lower some teams could be required to run three cars each.

Ecclestone might therefore have a vested interest in trying to keep Super Aguri going, something he has done in the past with smaller teams such as Minardi.

However as Gman mentioned in the comments earlier today the root cause of the problem is the FIA’s U-turn on customer cars. As it is no longer going to be legal for teams to use chassis supplied by other outfits Honda no longer have any interest in keeping Super Aguri going.

It’s the same reason why Dietrich Mateschitz is selling Toro Rosso and why Prodrive, instead of being the 12th team in F1 this year, are sticking to their rallying and Le Mans programmes.

The last time as few as ten teams entered a round of the F1 championship was the 2005 Chinese Grand Prix (pictured). Those were Ferrari, BAR (now Honda), Renault, Williams, McLaren, Sauber (now BMW), Red Bull, Toyota, Jordan (now Force India) and Minardi (now Scuderia Toro Rosso).

The last team to pull out of the championship mid-season was Arrows in 2002, who were based at the Leafield site Super Aguri is currently run from. Super Aguri also used ex-Arrows chassis in their inaugural campaign.

In 2006 Magma purchased two companies that were formed following the collapse of the TWR Group that ran Arrows: Menard Competition Technologies and Menard Engineering Limited, which operated as consultancies to motoring and motor racing companies.

Sadly for Super Aguri team, from the staff at Leafield all the way to drivers Takuma Sato and Anthony Davidson, it looks as though history may be repeating itself.

Update 17/4/2008 at 21:21 – Honda have refused offering further assistance to Super Aguri. A spokesperson told French news agency AFP: “We intend to continue the present structure of our support for Super Aguri.”

Super Aguri team information

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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22 comments on “Super Aguri doubt may cut F1 to 20 cars (update: Honda will not help team)”

  1. I think it’s a great shame that another team is coming close to the edge of fading away. Especially after they did so well in 2007, all things considering. As I mentioned in a recent post, I feel the FIA may have been a bit hasty with the banning of customer chassis for next season.

    (Aside, tabbing order is weird on the comment form. Name > Mail > Website > Google Ads at the top of the page. Any chance of adding a tab order to the comment form so it follows better. :) )

  2. And by "recent article", what I really mean to say one that I wrote about 30 mins ago, but pre-published for tomorrow morning. *Duh!* Sorry, I’ll pop it up now to avoid embarrassment.

  3. It’s still debatable if customer cars are legal at the moment. I think the FIA are right to make it clear for next year.
    I think it’ll be a pity if SA don’t survive, but I’ll never have any time for them as long as they’re just the Honda B-division.

  4. Just a doubt: how exactly the costumers’ cars were banned? Was it a reinterpretation of the current Concorde Agreement and/or the current regulations, or, instead, was it a new express rule published by FIA? Sorry for disturbing with what might sound obvious…

    The point is… Could the Agreement be ammended for the next season, for example, if the teams show interest? When does the agreement expire?

  5. To really get inroads to the US market, I think we need a US manufacturer in F1, therefore Aguri should be having talks with General Motors about them buying his team (as it stands, a Manufacturer is his only hope really). Maybe Ford – although they have their own money worries currently.

    Failing that, I’d be talking to Nissan, or Mazda about bailing them out. We already have two Japanese teams but I don’t see the issue with a third.

  6. Kubi is a beast
    17th April 2008, 0:48

    So it looks like there will be 3 new teams in the next couple of years.  Torro Rosso sounds like it will be a new Kuwait based team, Super Aguri will be bought and become a new team, and there is the 12th grid spot vacated by Prodrive.  BRING BACK JORDAN!  I think that Hyundai is interested in joining F1 so that is a possibility.   I doubt Nissan/Infiniti/Citroen will join because Renault is already running. 
        I agree that there should be a USA based team that can foster some new American talent but all of our companies are knee deep is debt and can’t pursue something as expensive as F1. 
        I think there has to be a VW/Audi/Porsche/Bugatti (YESSSS) team, they are losing publicity to BMW and Mercedes.

  7. Pink – Nissan is owned by Renault, so that won’t happen.  There are plenty of other manufactures which are not in F1 however.  A US-based team would be great, but I don’t see too many US fans getting behind any of the big 3 (Ford, GM, Chrysler).  For the most part, the people in the US who like F1, do not like the big 3.

  8. I very much doubt you will see a US manufacturer willing to put in the kind of money these European and Japanese manufacturers put in.  Nothing like passion for motoracing in the US, its all commerce. They’ll be happy to spend like 2 or 3 million dollars if they are guaranteed 20 million dollars in profit. Just take a look at the engines you find inside the Indy/champcar, probably like 15 years old/ apart from the manufacturers that recently joined the series within the past 10 years.

    Ford tried it, but as soon as performance improvements necessitating commitments of vast about of dollars was involved, they pulled the plug, despite the fact ford is an even bigger company than Renault, Ferrari, BMW, Mercedes and Honda.

  9. Kubi is a beast
    17th April 2008, 1:14

    Racing fans here in the US have nothing against the big three, they keep our economy from crashing, although that still doesn’t mean we want to buy ANY of the cars they make, pure garbage.

  10. "….doesn’t mean we want to buy ANY of the cars they make, pure garbage."

    Speak for yourself Kubi ………………..My BUICK is comfortable, fast, economical,  reliable,  and any other positive adjective  I care to offer up.  My brother drives a CHRYSLER 300, loves every mile he covers,  …….

  11. I mentioned about the Bernie option in a comment but I think it was below the post that appeared here last night :-) Well, if Bernie can run Istanbul circuit why not a F1 team, at the end he did that before he became what he is now …

    I still can’t agree that root of the problem is that customer cars will not be allowed from next season. If we are to blame customer cars for what is happening, then we should blame the fact Super Aguri and Toro Rosso were allowed to race them at all …

    Red Bull bought Minardi. They might have been backmarkers, but they were biulding their own car, there was something to build on. They got rid of the Minardi car right away and from the first race as Toro Rosso raced old Red Bull …

    Super Aguri were not allowed to run Honda chassis when they entered so they bought old Arrows. It was old but there was something to build on. From their second season they simply took a year old Honda and
    went on racing …

    I hope they find a way to stay in F1. But if loosing Super Aguri is price
    to pay to get rid of the customer cars once and for all, let’s be it. 

  12. The problem with Manufacturers is that they only want to get involved if they think they stand a chance of winning or providing a decent result. Then they also look at what other motorsports they are involved in.
    Audi\VW\Bugatti already compete in the Le Mans Series. They have been successful in this market and would not benefit from dropping this to go into F1. Also Audi are in DTM.
    Citroen – WRC
    Ford – Tried F1 and I doubt they’ll be back soon. Probably happy with WRC.
    GM – ALMS GT1. Still very dominant.
    and I could go on….
    Even these other championships take a lot of money when teams are factory \ manufacturer backed.

    We have to remember F1 has changed since the days of a couple of enthusiastic Brits building a F1 car in their garden shed and buying an engine. The technology has advanced too much.

    It’s only the chassis that I believe has to be unique. All other parts can be bought in (correct me if I’m wrong). The problem is that F1 is so aero orientated that designing a chassis now requires a wind tunnel to get decent results and that still needs a couple of years of development.
    If F1 was not so aero orientated then maybe more budget teams could compete. Or am I dreaming here?
    Reduce the allowed size of the front and rear wings. Bring back slick tyres to increase mechanical grip. Allow teams to purchase components except the main chassis parts (i.e: You can buy engine \ gearbox)
    and maybe get rid of refuelling (yes we’ve had this discussion before)….

    and now I realise I should have been born in 1945 so I could have watched F1 in the 60’s. :)

  13. I think you’ve echoed most fans perspective Chalky, relative to returning F1 to a sport as opposed to an aerodynamically driven business.

    My question relative to SA, if they miss Barcelona can they return for the rest of the schedule if funding is found, or are they out for the season?

    "If we are to blame customer cars for what is happening, then we should blame the fact Super Aguri and Toro Rosso were allowed to race them at all …"

    You can blame Max Mosley for that one Milos, not the teams. He specifically encouraged the concept to the point that Prodrive invested millions into prepping a customer car team. SA bought the old Arrows cars as an intermediate step before using customer cars; Minardi were never a fully funded team and were dismal performers before purchase and switch to Toro Rosso/Red Bull.

    I’m not for or against customer cars, just pointing out more of Max’s legacy to the "sport", 2 teams on the verge of extinction and one denied entry after serious investments.

  14. Well, STR and SA were allowed to race customer cars for quite some while. STR from 2006, SA from 2007.

    The customer cars were only to be allowed from 2008, that was
    the year of proposed Prodrive entry …

  15. This just goes to show that cheats never prosper.

  16. Who do you think has cheated, Rohan?

  17. Teams should be allowed customer chassis, everything else is customer based. Also as Honda proved a different Aero package on the same chassis/engine combo can gain 1 second in speed so it won’t be the case of two chassis and engines producing the same timings.  Also many teams would not wish to sell their chassis anyway due to fear of being outdriven by the customer team.

  18. Chris Johnson
    17th April 2008, 16:21

    If "constructors" such as Williams are allowed customer engines, then why not allow customer chassis as well? Why not allow one car teams? If the fear is that one manufacturer will dominate, then cap the number of cars by one constructor to four, and make rules that only allow constructor’s points to the factory team or something. I just think the whole thing as it stands isn’t sustainable. If Honda, Toyota and others don’t start winning, they may rethink their participation as well. It seems a bit rich that Williams was the team that blocked customer cars, when that’s how Frank got his foot in the door to begin with.

  19. Customer cars were (and still are, technically) banned under the Concorde Agreement, which specifies that only constructors may participate in F1 and that a constructor meant designing a unique chassis (it could be built by a third party and certain components, like brakes and engines, can be designed and built elsewhere). Since the 1998 Concorde Agreement was rolled over into 2008 until such time as a new Agreement is made, customer cars are still technically banned.

    However, the FIA and Bernie did not want to enforce that particular part of the Agreement for some reason, which is why Super Aguri were able to change from an Arrows car to an old Honda in the first place. Note that IP transfer is not specifically banned if it’s from a company which isn’t itself an F1 entrant, so Super Aguri using an Arrows was within the regulations.

    The problem is that the FIA and Bernie forgot to clear the change to the Agreement with all the teams before allowing Toro Rosso and Super Aguri to do a customer car arrangement. Force India (then called Midland) objected on the grounds that it unfairly penalised teams that spent lots of money building their own cars. Customer cars also threaten the long-term sustainability of F1 by pressurising teams to be with the "right" chassis manufacturer, killing off small constructors like Force India. That issue exists for engines as well (remember Cosworth?), even though engines have less influence on speed these days than good aero. The upshot was that the case was sent to the Court of Arbitration, where it is still awaiting a decision. Legally, nothing can be done about the customer car situation until either a decision is made or one side withdraws from the case – and there’s too much at stake on both sides for withdrawal to occur.

    Last I heard, the agreement was that Super Aguri and Toro Rosso had to become constructors for 2010, not 2009. That said, since nobody seems to have issued official documentation either way, it would be entirely plausible for the deadline date to have changed – even though F1 is in shaky water by trying to insist on changes when there’s a court case suggesting that the foundation those changes build on is not very stable.

    As far as I’m concerned, Super Aguri cheated with strong mitigating circumstances (i.e they had no construction facilities), Toro Rosso cheated on purpose (they had the Faenza base they could have upgraded and haven’t), but the real cheats are the powers-that-be that misled everyone on purpose purely for their own ends.

  20. The real issue is not, that SA and STR running copyed chassis. All other teams sad, they are not objecting customer on prinziple.

    The real issue is that they are running customer cars but still want to take part in the "constructor’s championship". It is not called the "manufacture championship" or "budget efficiency championship" for a reason…

  21. Keith, I think Sag themselves have cheated ever since they entered F1 by not using their own chassis (likewise STR). Both the rules governing the sport and the Concorde Agreement state that teams must be constructors (which is defined as owning the ipr to the design of their cars, I think), which neither Sag nor STR do. Hence both teams are flouting the rules openly at every race.

  22. I’m pretty sure Super Aguri bought Arrows, which would mean they also purchased everything along with it including all intellectual property, designs, development the entire lot.

    So in a way they did have their own chassis, I think the objection is on the current season where they are using Honda’s old chassis. (correct me if I’m wrong).

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