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From The Times
April 23, 2009
Aston Martin enticed by Max Mosley’s plans for cut-price Formula One.

Bernie Ecclestone, Formula One’s billionaire commercial rights-holder, has cut through the recession to offer £30 million in aid to put three new teams on the grid next year.

His generosity, encouraged by necessity with the threat of more leading manufacturers fleeing the sport as the credit crunch bites, could bring one of the most famous names in British motoring into Formula One — Aston Martin.

David Richards, Aston’s chairman, is waiting for Max Mosley, president of the FIA, motor sport’s world governing body, to push through next week radical financial reforms that will cap the annual budgets of teams at £30 million. If Mosley gets his way for the start of a cut-price Formula One — and the president is most persuasive — Richards will push the button to enter a new team next season.

As many as eight candidates are vying for three places on the grid, with Lola, which left Formula One 12 years ago, considering an entry and a new American squad already formed.

But Richards, with a prospective entry from Aston Martin, is the most exciting and intriguing. Richards has been this way before, as a former team principal of Benetton-Renault, the only successful team principal of the Honda outfit that folded last year and the man who rescued the career of Jenson Button from the scrapheap.

He attempted to launch a team two years ago, before Formula One’s arcane politics and infighting scuppered his plans. He had a £45 million budget in place and, with backing from the Middle East, he believes that breaking into Formula One this time will be easier, provided that Mosley can deliver a financially sensible future.

“This is a great time to come in,” Richards said yesterday. “If budgets are capped to a sensible level, everybody will benefit. Instead of Formula One being a contest of the teams with the most money, it will become a championship for engineers with ingenuity and great drivers who can show their skill, as it was years ago.”

The importance of new blood is underlined by the extraordinary decision of Ecclestone, chief executive of Formula One Management, the company that runs the sport’s commercial business, to plough almost £7 million as seed capital into each team and then pay at least £3 million more for their travel costs for a season.

The sudden departure of Honda late last year was the reality check that free-spending Formula One needed. Speculation abounds that Toyota could yet follow its Japanese rival, while there is uncertainty over the future of Renault and whispers are growing that senior executives at even Mercedes-Benz, which owns 40 per cent of McLaren, are having doubts over the wisdom of spending in Formula One when their car company is suffering in the recession.

Mosley is aghast that any team can contemplate spending up to £300 million in a season and is determined to slash budgets. It is expected he will tell the teams next week that £30 million will have to buy both chassis and engines, although they will be free to pay their drivers what they like, which will come as a relief to Lewis Hamilton, who signed a five-year, £75 million deal with McLaren last season.

The budget cap is the catalyst to bring in entrepreneurs such as Richards. He will have talks with his Middle Eastern backers next week and that will help to determine whether he launches a team with a sponsor brand or a squad under the Aston Martin banner.

“Nothing is decided yet,” he said. “But the key to all of this is the financial reality that the budget cap will bring. Take a £300 million budget and, in reality, all you really need is a tenth of that. Things just got hopelessly out of control. What Max has come up with is not just eminently sensible but crucial to the survival of the sport. This way, new teams can become involved at a sensible price and with a chance of being competitive.”

Richards has facilities ready and built, including space at his Prodrive factory in Banbury, Oxfordshire, where the World Championshipwinning Subaru rally cars for Colin McRae and Richard Burns were built.

Just how lean and mean the new Formula One could be will be exemplified by Richards’s team, which will have a staff of 142, compared with an estimated 1,000 at McLaren and 750 at the old Honda team, now rebranded as Brawn GP.

The budget cap has also opened the way for the resurrection of another evocative name among motor racing fans. Cosworth, the engine company based in Northampton that left Formula One in 2006, is offering relatively cheap engines to start-up teams to help to keep their costs low.

David Richards file

1979 Takes up rallying and, as co-driver to Ari Vatanen, wins British and World Rally Championships.

1984 Starts Prodrive, which has successful partnership with Subaru, producing cars in which two British drivers, Colin McRae and Richard Burns, win World Championships.

1997 Becomes team principal at Benetton, but partnership lasts only a year.

2001 Prodrive is appointed by Honda to manage unsuccessful BAR team. Richards rescues Jenson Button from Renault.

2004 Honda have their most successful season as Richards steers team to second in constructors’ championship, while Button is third in drivers’ championship.

2005 Honda take control of BAR.

2007 Leads consortium to buy Aston Martin from Ford.

Aston Martin enticed by Max Mosley’s plans for cut-price Formula One - Times Online

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Should be interesting, and no doubt why there's an American team in the works. Having Red Bull and Brawn perform so well has got to have folks thinking that maybe you no longer have to be one of the big three to win. Exciting times, indeed.

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David Richards Q&A: Prodrive seriously considering F1 return
David Richards Q&A: Prodrive seriously considering F1 return

David Richards (GBR) CEO Prodrive. Formula One World Championship, Rd 14, Belgian Grand Prix, Race Day, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, Sunday, 16 September 2007

For some time, former Benetton and BAR boss David Richards has been searching for a way back into Formula One racing. And although his dreams of a Prodrive-badged customer-car team came to nothing in 2008, like Lola, he’s hopeful the FIA’s mooted budget cap could present his best chance yet of returning to the grid…

Q: You are seen as one of the contenders to re-enter Formula One how serious are you?
David Richards: We are very serious about entering Formula One in 2010 providing that it is commercially viable and there is the potential to be fully competitive.

Q: What do you mean by commercially viable and the potential to be fully competitive?
DR: On the commercial side we would want a situation where the sort of budget you would need to be competitive would be sensible, especially given the challenging economic conditions we face today. And we would expect to see a reasonable return on our investment in the longer term. We would also want the rules to be such that they provide the potential for us to be fully competitive. We would not want to be in Formula One just to make up the numbers.

Q: Do the new cost-capping Formula One proposals meet these criteria?
DR: The initial signs coming out from the FIA and FOM are very attractive and represent the basis for a real revolution in the sport. They hold the promise to return Formula One to its fundamental ethos, where success comes to those with the most ingenious engineering and best organisation not simply those with the biggest budget. We are therefore very optimistic but let’s wait and see what the final proposals look like when they are published next week.

Q: Are you prepared for an entry in 2010?
DR: Assuming that the new rules are commercially viable and there is the potential to be fully competitive, then we are ready to press the go button. We are greatly assisted in this by the extensive preparation work we undertook in 2007 in developing our previous Prodrive Formula One project. As a result of this we have a big head start on the project and many of the key personnel are ready to be switched back on.

Q: Has the cancellation of the Subaru Rally programme freed resources up?
DR: Not exactly, while some personnel could swap over, the core people and skills needed for Formula One are highly specialised but we have many of those people waiting in the wings ready to go. That said we would be able to house a new style Formula One team (to the cost capped regulations) within our Banbury HQ, utilising the space vacated by the rally programme and our manufacturing and composite facilities have the spare capacity.

Q: You are the Chairman of Aston Martin and Aston Martin Racing. Is it safe to assume the new Formula One team would be branded Aston Martin or at least the engine?
DR: It is too early to say at this stage as there are a number of different routes we could go. There are many discussions to be had in the coming weeks once the regulations have been published. We will then make a decision.

Q: Are you encouraged by the opening few races this season and the wins by Brawn and Red Bull?
DR: I think that what we have seen in the first few races has been fantastic for Formula One. I am delighted for Brawn and Red Bull and it is great to see them beat the more established teams. It is just this prospect, which is making Formula One attractive again, as a potential new entrant. I am also really pleased for Jenson and Sebastian and the races themselves have been full of drama. In fact I am sure Bernie and Max could not have written a better script if they tried! It has been a great advert for Formula One and is just what the sport needed.

Q: There are rumoured to be seven or eight interested parties chasing three new places in 2010. Are you optimistic you will get one of those places?
DR: To be frank I am not aware of all the possible entrants and clearly the final decision will be down to the FIA, World Motor Sport Council. What I can say is that we have a strong track record in all the motorsport formula we have been involved with, including Formula One. We have also planned our potential entry into Formula One meticulously and should we proceed and our entry be successful we would be totally committed to Formula One and making the new team a success on and off the track.

Q: Where are you going to source an engine?
DR: We are in discussion with one of the current engine suppliers, as well as Cosworth. They are developing plans for a customer Formula One engine which offers the prospect of a return to the good old days when you could bolt in a customer DFV off the shelf and win races. This resulted in an era when there was all sorts of innovation on the chassis side. Who can forget the six-wheeler Tyrell, the ground effect Lotus or even the Brabham fan car. Formula One has clearly developed since then but the prospect of being able to be competitive and win with an affordable customer engine is still very compelling.

Q: How key is (Formula One Management CEO) Bernie Ecclestone’s role in bringing about the right conditions for you to enter?
DR: Bernie’s role is vital as ever. In these challenging economic times we have to be realistic on the level of sponsorship that can be raised. Bernie is the ultimate realist and understands that new teams will need support especially in the short term in order to be commercially viable and sustainable.

Q: What would a Formula One team look like, operating to a £30m budget cap?
DR: In many ways it would be like turning the clock back to the time when Championship-winning teams typically had 150-200 employees and our planning indicates that we would have a team of around 150. This would be the race team with the engineering side predominantly focused on the chassis side while the engine and gearbox would be sourced from outside suppliers.

Q: You got very close to entering Formula One in 2008 until you got what some people would describe as ‘turned over’. Why are you coming back for more?
DR: It is a statement of fact that Prodrive had made extensive preparations in 2007 and was ready to enter the Championship in 2008, but then the goal posts literally changed overnight which prevented us from entering Formula One. This experience makes you somewhat cautious but the circumstances are very different today. We are optimistic that the new technical and cost capping regulations will be approved by the FIA next week and create the right conditions for us to enter Formula One as a constructor this time.

What are the next steps?
DR: While we await the publication of the new technical and budget capping regulations, we are continuing with our planning and commercial discussions.
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