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Spyker Pays the Piper

I see that Spyker’s protest against the legality of the Toro Rosso cost the team $2,000. That seems a bit steep for saying, “Oi, we don’t think that’s legal!” and makes me wonder about the wisdom of Spyker making a fuss about the Toro Rosso and Super Aguri cars at all. No wonder Williams is sitting quietly at the moment, allowing Spyker to shoulder the burden of the costs involved.

Spyker

Once they get to arbitration, the price to be paid will increase dramatically, of course – lawyers don’t come cheap these days. And what will Spyker gain, even if they win the case? TR and SA would have to stop using their 2007 models and that could easily mean they have to drop out of racing, at least for a time. Which would leave Spyker still at the back of the grid but with a bigger gap to bridge to the teams above them – at least TR are within reach at the moment.

It seems to me that Spyker would be wiser to spend the money on development rather than legal fees. Neither SA nor TR are going to get anywhere near the Constructor’s Championship this year, so it seems pointless to mutter about it being for constructors only. Customer cars will be legal next year anyway and any victories in court achieved this season will become meaningless. By then, Colin Kolles might well wish he had the money rather than a judgment in his pocket.

Okay, you can say it’s a matter of principle – TR and SA are probably breaking the terms of the Concorde Agreement for 2007. But the FIA aren’t interested, understandably since they ignore the agreement anytime they want to, and the other teams are only prepared to shake their heads and give Spyker moral support. The principle could cost Spyker a lot of money and distracts them from the main task, which is getting their car competitive with the others. Consider how much good it did Shadow in winning their case against Arrows in 1978; by the time the judgment came through, Arrows had another design ready and Shadow had dropped to the tail end of the field.

Maybe I’m missing something, but it seems to me that Spyker have nothing to gain and a lot to lose in this whole business. Ultimately, their aim has to be to build a car that can beat all comers, so what does it matter if TR and SA have stolen a temporary advantage by bending the rules? In the long run they will have to compete with the likes of Ferrari and McLaren if they don’t want to remain as perennial also-rans. And a season or two at the back of the grid is part of the apprenticeship that has to be served if they are going to learn enough to move upwards.

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Avanti Minardi!

Stuart Garlick has written the definitive article about “Minardi-cool” – it’s over on PitPass dot com and thoroughly recommended for its insight into the heart and soul of the diehard F1 fan.

Martini

The quintessential Minardi driver, Pierluigi Martini, Detroit 1988

I have been thinking about Minardi-cool and its importance for the sport. There was a time when I was a Ferrari fan, way back in the sixties, but that was largely because John Surtees was driving for them at the time; when he left, I moved on too. Even then, however, I had a soft spot for the no-hopers, those small teams who stood no real chance of success but stayed in the game because they loved motor racing. Hence my support for ATS, both the Italian Automobili Turismo e Sport and the later German team with the same initials, Osella and anything remotely connected with Lola.

It’s the “support for the underdog” thing, I suppose, and certainly that has a lot to do with it. But that is not all or I would be mourning the disappearance of teams like Parnelli, Coloni and Pacific (which I’m not). No, there has to be more than the David/Goliath factor or I can remain merely an interested spectator.

And Minardi, especially in the early years, had it all. Not only did they compete on the smallest budget of all the teams but they enjoyed every moment. They could not afford the latest technology and anything other than a customer engine but, without fail, they designed the prettiest car in the field. And often they produced a chassis that could surprise much wealthier teams, making up for their lack of muscle with balance and handling.

I was a Minardi supporter from the first and imagined myself to be the only one. Much later I discovered that the team had worked its magic on many others and there was a large fanbase out there. There is hope for the human race yet.

You see, what motivated Minardi and kept them going all those years was pure love of F1 racing; they were delighted to be in the sport and never became jaded or disillusioned. That takes some doing when you’re a team running on a shoestring budget – F1 regulations are conspicuously mean to the poorly-funded. Minardi was a constant reminder of what the sport is really all about.

Now they have gone forever and Stuart Garlick is not the only one who searches for a replacement, finding some hope in Spyker, but it’s really not quite the same. He is right that the FIA should ease the passage of new entrants into F1 but at the moment that seems as likely as Max Mosley admitting that his tenure has been a disaster for the sport. We have little option but to hang on grimly and wait for a miracle.

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Williams and the Future

The customer car row continues to heat up, with Frank Williams pointing out that the concorde agreement for 2008 is not yet a done deal and Gerhard Berger promising to fight the matter in the courts if necessary. One can understand Frank’s point of view – as the last truly independent constructor in F1, he sees his future as threatened by the arrival of customer teams that will be, in effect, B teams for the manufacturers.

FW29

Williams FW29

It does seem that the FIA have chosen to take the B team route and abandon the independent constructor by doing so. This quote from a Reuters article is very telling:

“We’ve signed a Concorde Agreement for 2008 and while it hasn’t been clarified, we’d never been told that customer teams would be included in it,” said Williams.

“That was until (International Automobile Federation president) Max Mosley very charmingly said to me over lunch in December: ‘You do realise, Frank, that your business model is history now?’

“I said ‘What do you mean?’ and Max said: ‘From now on, it’s manufacturers and B teams’.

That makes it pretty clear where Max’s thoughts are heading and he usually gets what he wants. And Prodrive’s Dave Richards agrees that this must be the future:

“Frank is talking this up for one reason only,” the former Benetton and BAR boss told the magazine.

“He can see that his business model — employing 600 people to build a racing car without manufacturer assistance — won’t stack up in the future.

“The business is changing. We need teams at the back given the same cars as Ferrari and fielding promising young drivers. That’s the spectacle we want to see.”

It seems that Frank is swimming against the tide and can expect no help from the FIA in his argument with Toro Rosso and Super Aguri in 2007. Spyker are in a similar position in spite of being owned by a manufacturer; the company is small and has to buy in engines from Ferrari so it looks likely that they too will be defeated by the costs at some time and have to throw in their lot with one of the big boys.

Like it or not, we are seeing the last days of the independent constructor. Unless the FIA changes its mind, the manufacturers and their sidekicks will be the only teams in F1. Frank and Spyker’s Colin Kolles will fight to the last, no doubt, but, even if they win in the courts this year, in the long run they will lose.

It may well be that Williams’ best hope for survival is the one I suggested way back in July 2006 – to become Toyota’s B team. If the new Williams FW29 maintains its impressive form into the 2007 season and they continue to beat the Toyota factory team, it would make a lot of sense for the Japanese giant to merge the teams and save itself a lot of money and embarrassment.

What Spyker will do, however, is anybody’s guess.

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Renault Determined to Stay

After rumors that Renault might be considering an exit from F1 now that they have achieved their goals of the constructor’s and driver’s championships, CEO Carlos Ghosn has declared their intention to stay for good, according to a report by F1 Racing-live. Which is all very well except that the rumor actually dates from about a year ago and was one of the reasons for Alonso moving to McLaren. Doth the lady protest too much?

R26

It’s the timing that looks odd. No-one was suggesting that Renault was about to leave and everything is set up for next season with Flavio Briatore remaining in charge and the drivers signed up – not even a hint of an early exit there. Is it possible that Renault wants to avoid the mistake of last year when they left their intentions unclear until it was too late to retain Alonso?

That seems the most likely explanation. Perhaps it is only my cynicism regarding manufacturers’ durability in F1 that leads me to read between the lines. Consider this, for example:

“For Renault, this is an investment – and an investment that aids the growth of the Renault brand and Renault’s products,” said company CEO Carlos Ghosn.

He added that Alonso’s back-to-back crown ‘justifies the investment’ of the Boulogne-Billancourt based French manufacturer.

All very true, although it does remind me that I have seen some criticism recently of Renault’s failure to capitalize on the marketing potential inherent in winning the championships. The problem is really hinted at in that statement that their double win “justifies the investment” they have put into F1. And what if they don’t win the titles for a few years? How can they justify such an enormous expenditure then?

It really doesn’t matter what statements are made now – if success begins to elude the company, the bean counters’ voices will get louder and, sooner or later, management is going to have to listen. No organization can continue to pour money into a project that is providing no benefits in return. Maserati found that out and so did Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Jaguar, Porsche and BRM.

The promise to stay “for good” is not only doubtful, it’s unnecessary. Renault need only to assure us that they are here for another year and we will go away happy. And, if they really want to stay forever, maybe they should be looking at FIAT’s solution to the problem – get a team like Ferrari that lives for racing only, support it with money and technical assistance, and let it win the honors for you.

And the rumors of Nissan’s desire to get involved in F1 are the perfect opportunity for Renault to do just that. Since Renault have a 40% stake in the Japanese company, they could bring Nissan into the game in a joint effort with their team, sharing the costs and the marketing advantages, and gradually allowing the team an independence similar to Ferrari’s. I guess the cars could be called Nissan-Renaults – that way, honor would be satisfied.

The bean counters might get a better night’s sleep, too.

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