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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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All Quiet on the F1 Front

Okay, I admit it, I do like a bit of controversy, something that I can throw a few ill-chosen words at to get everyone even more outraged. And F1 has let me down badly this morning, having apparently fixed the flexi-floor debate and the customer car row waiting for arbitration. The only thing happening seems to be testing in Malaysia with times that are all over the place, confirming the old adage that testing proves nothing.

Sato

Sato in the Super Aguri

Silverstone is threatened with a buy-out by a shadowy group called Spectre, prompting PitPass to speculate on a return of James Bond’s old enemy, Ernst Blofeld, but Damon Hill has denied that the circuit is up for sale. So much for any fun with that one.

Even F1 Fanatic is reduced to a post on a Formula 1 photograph exhibition in London. Definitely a day with no pots to stir and no fur to ruffle.

Which leaves me writing what I refer to on my personal blog as “a nothing post”. I am expert on these, having resorted to them often in moments of desperation. Mention of my personal blog reminds me that there are a few motor sport posts on it, however, and it occurs to me that I could duck this one by sending you over there to read them. They’re hugely out of date but might at least assuage my pangs of guilt at not being able to think of anything to write about today.

The Indianapolis Grand Farce

The Other Italian

Motor Racing Memories

Okay, there are only three but I do have other interests, you know…

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Super Aguri and the Shadow of the Past

One thing about F1 can always be guaranteed: the off season will be enlivened by some controversy or other. This time it’s the Great Customer Car Row and we have been entertained by Gerhard Burger’s determined assertion that Toro Rosso owns the intellectual property rights to their car for 2007; the fact that Red Bull also owns those rights to a car that looks identical is neither here nor there, apparently.

Riccardo

Riccardo Patrese in the 1978 Arrows A1

But the ’tis/’tisn’t scenario can wear pretty thin after a while and, right on cue, Nick Fry arrives on stage to enliven the show with his denial that the new Super Aguri is really last year’s Honda. Ummm, yeah, okay Nick, so when are we going to see it?

There is a delightful thread running through Super Aguri’s part in the performance, however. Remember that last year SA were running an aging Arrows chassis – to which they had bought the intellectual property rights, quite correctly. And this brings echoes of history to my mind, shades from Arrows’ past when, just like SA, it was a new arrival on the F1 scene.

The year was 1978 and Arrows turned up for the races with a car that seemed suspiciously similar to the Shadow team’s entry. This might have been coincidence except that the Arrows designers were refugees from a big bust-up in the Shadow camp the year before. Shadow cried foul and took the matter to court, eventually being vindicated by a verdict that decreed that Arrows could no longer run their copycat car.

By that time, Arrows had designed a new car and so was able to continue racing; but it seems ironic that the distant inheritors of an Arrows product should be embroiled in so similar a kerfuffle. Are we talking some sort of F1 version of “the curse of the pharoahs” here?

Now that I have raised this specter from the past, I would like to mention something that puzzled me then and might have implications for the coming season. The driver of that first Arrows car, the A1, was a young Italian named Riccardo Patrese and he would have set an amazing record if the Cosworth engine had been a little more reliable. He was on course to win Arrows’ first race when the engine expired, thereby preventing what would have been a phenomenal debut for the new team.

For the rest of its brief career, the car remained very competitive, Patrese showing up amongst the leaders in almost every race. But the Shadow cars were nowhere, continuing the slide that was to end in their demise a few years later. One of their drivers was Clay Regazzoni who was no slouch and should have been able to give the inexperienced Patrese more than a run for his money – yet he finished the season in 16th spot, Riccardo in 12th.

My question is this: given that the Shadow and the Arrows were almost identical and that both used the Cosworth DFV, why was the Arrows so much the better car? Presumably the disruption suffered by Shadow when half their team defected may have crippled their ability to fight, but it still seems strange that a new team, also hampered by impending lawsuits, could defeat them so comprehensively.

It is all water under the bridge now and we might never know all the political and legal manouvering that went on at the time. Who cares now, anyway? I have one final thought, however.

We are told that history repeats itself; if that is true, is it possible that Super Aguri could prove quicker than the new Honda in the coming season? Highly unlikely, I know, but it would be deliciously ironic, you must admit…

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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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