Renault’s successful sale of a stake in its team to Genii Capital, to keep its team in F1, is very welcome news.
But Genii were not the only company bidding to take over the team’s operation: another was David Richards’ Prodrive team. Not for the first time in recent years his attempt to acquire an F1 outfit have come to naught.
Why do Prodrive keep missing chances to get into Formula 1?
Prodrive boss David Richards has run F1 teams twice in the past. His partnership with British American Tobacco in rallying, where Prodrive ran the distinctive 555-liveried Subaru Imprezas, led the cigarette company to consider a move into F1.
Richards urged them to do this through the Benetton team, but the proposal was rejected. Nonetheless, Richards became team principal at Benetton from the end of 1997 until being replaced by Rocco Benetton at the end of the following year.
BAT, meanwhile, launched their own F1 effort, BAR, in 1999, run by Craig Pollock. After four years of chronic under-achievement Pollock was replaced by Richards, and the 2004 season saw the team finally scoring regular podium finishes, before Richards moved on once again.
Since then his Prodrive outfit have had four major attempts to move into F1. Away from F1 they run Aston Martin’s Le Mans cars, the Ford Falcon Australian V8 Touring Cars and other race and rally programmes.
2007: Customer cars
In an effort to reduce costs the FIA planned to bring in new regulations allowing teams to use chassis bought from other suppliers or teams in 2008. A tender process was opened which attracted dozens of entries, of which Prodrive’s was picked as the winner.
They planned to use McLaren chassis for 2008, albeit modified to meet the new regulations. This provoked concern among rival teams that it would allow them to become instantly competitive for comparatively little cost.
Facing arbitration from the like of Williams the FIA realised it could not bring the customer cars rules in and dropped them. With that went Prodrive’s hopes of making the grid in 2008.
Prodrive’s next chance to enter F1 came when Honda – formerly BAR – went up for sale at the end of 2008.
Although Richards looked into taking over the team Honda instead opted for a management buyout headed by Ross Brawn and Nick Fry. But speaking in January this year Richards made it clear that with the failure of the customer cars rules he still considered F1 too expensive:
The cost-cutting process that has been put in place has not yet seen its full benefit, and I don’t think it will be until 2010 that you will see those issues roll out properly. The teams have still got a burden of overhead that is unsustainable. So consequently, with the window of time for entry, I just question whether it is right at the moment.
2009: The budget cap tender
Having failed to bring in customer car regulations the FIA now turned to budget capping as its next proposal to bring spending under control. Right from the off Richards had misgivings, saying:
I don’t believe [budget capping] is going to work. I don’t think it is a viable proposition. I have seen it in Australia where it has been abandoned. I think budget capping is an excuse for poor technical regulations. With proper technical controls, you should be able to manage the costs of F1. It is also about sporting regulations as well.
The FIA failed to get the teams to accept budget capping either, but it did open a new tender which accepted entries from three teams.
Prodrive was one of the teams to apply, revealing plans to bring the Aston Martin brand to Formula 1 by 2012. However attractive that might have sounded, the FIA wasn’t interested, and awarded the three places on the grid to USF1, Campos Meta 1 and Lotus instead.
The politics of engine supply appeared to determine the outcome of this one – the three teams which got the nod all agreed to use the FIA-backed Cosworth power plants. Prodrive planned to use a supply from Mercedes, and at least one other aspiring entrant discovered the FIA took a dim view of non-Cosworth applicants:
We got information from Cosworth saying they were the only one engine that is allowed, which is not in the rules and not possible to be put in the rules. However, when we started to discuss it with them Cosworth sent us an email stating they were entitled to sign a contract and take money for this.
Apart from Cosworth we had two different opportunities but we were forced to stop because we were told Cosworth was the only one which was allowed for us.
In the aftermath of Flavio Briatore and Pat Symond’s exit from Renault it became clear the team was looking for someone to take over it. Ricahrds visited the teams’ headquarters in September.
Earleir this week Renault announced it had chosen Genii Capital over rival suitors including Prodrive. Genii chairman Gerard Lopez has excellent business credentials and is best known for being an early investor in Skype. At this stage we can only speculate why Genii was chosen over Prodrive.
The consistent strand in Richards’ flirtation with F1 – apart from the fact that none of them came to fruition – is a desire to do F1 on his terms. Above all, it has to make financial sense.
Given the many that have gone before him, failed and disappeared in a short space of time, this is not unreasonable.
But at this rate it’s starting to look like we’ll never see him back in F1 again.
Read more: Renault keeps team in F1 for 2010