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Frank Williams on Customer Cars

Autosport reports that Frank Williams has come out against the possibility of customer cars returning to F1. The FIA have turned down Super Aguri’s request to run this year’s Honda as their car in 2007 but it seems there has been some discussion on freeing up the rules in this area.

It is hard to see why Frank is so set against the idea. He makes the point that anyone with lots of money could buy a Renault, for instance, and be immediately competitive next year. Perhaps he has memories of Ferrari buying the Lancia cars in 1956 and making them into race winners. Since that time, however, no customer car team has enjoyed much success. On occasion, Rob Walker and Ken Tyrrell came close to race wins with bought-in machinery (okay, I know – Ken managed March’s only win in the year he ran their cars) but they were never serious contenders in the championship.

D50

Lancia-Ferrari D50 in 1956

And Frank himself had many a long year of struggle with customer cars before he broke through by making his own. The fact is that the pace of change in F1 is so great that last year’s machinery does not stand a real chance of winning. Even if you bought this year’s Renault, the factory team would produce something much better for themselves in 2007 and you’d be left in the dust.

The best argument against customer cars is that there isn’t room for them. There are constructors who would love to get into F1 but have to wait until given the nod by the FIA. And that doesn’t happen unless some existing team drops out. At which point, of course, the departing team is bought out by another concern and there are still no gaps on the grid.

Frank does mention the matter of Red Bull/Toro Rosso, however. This is a much more interesting subject; in effect, it could be said that Red Bull are running a four-car team. As long as the chassis are designed separately by each team, it would appear to be legal but, if they cut corners by using the same chassis, merely having a Ferrari engine in one and a Renault in the other, there are bound to be protests from the other teams. And that would be a particularly thorny issue for the FIA to sort out.

Personally, I would like to see customer teams return to F1; they make the mix more interesting and, on rare occasions, can cause upsets by scoring points. But I just don’t see how there can ever be room for them as long as the manufacturers remain in the sport.

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