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Gary Paffett for Next Year?

Rumor has it that one of Prodrive’s drivers in 2008 will be Gary Paffett, presently a test driver for McLaren. Although there are a lot of young drivers around at the moment who look like future GP winners, Gary is one that I reckon you can bank on. Take a look at his career on Wikipedia and you’ll see what I mean.

Gary

Gary Paffett

The man was Schumacher-esque in the lesser formulas – wins the Formula Vauxhall Junior Class B Championship with 13 fastest laps, 13 poles, 13 races out of 13 races (how’s that for boring monotony?). Not content with that, he does it again in the Scholarship class of F3 – 13 wins, 13 fastest laps, 13 pole positions.

It gets a bit confused after that but it does seem that, whatever car you put him in, he’ll drive the wheels off it. Competition for Lewis Hamilton perhaps?

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The New Brits

Anthony Davidson has been talking about his career and hopes for the future. His contract with Super Aguri is his first season-long chance in F1 competition and he wants to make the best of it. Five years as a test driver is a long apprenticeship.

Davidson

Anthony Davidson

As might be expected, Davidson thinks that customer cars will be good for the sport, especially as they will mean that new and smaller teams will not be sentenced to an extended period of being back markers, coming in two or three laps down on the rest of the field. Using chassis that have already been through extensive development, such teams could realistically expect to be competitive in a very short time and the spectacle for the fans would be better as a result.

This is all relevant to the looming row over Super Aguri’s intention to use a development of the Honda 2006 car this season, of course. Things are quiet for the fledgling Japanese team at the moment but are bound to heat up if Toro Rosso lose their battle to run a variation of the Red Bull RB3 in 2007. Gerhard Berger seems confident of winning that one so there may be a good chance that SA will get their way too.

Naturally, Davidson wants SA to succeed in their plan as it will give him a good car in which to make his mark in F1. He deserves such a chance in view of his long wait and previous brief debut in a Minardi. Customer cars are coming, like it or not, in 2008 so I think no harm will be done by allowing them this year. It wouldn’t be the first time that rule changes have been instituted ahead of their projected time – we already have a standardized tire formula even though it was not due to happen until next year.

I think the teams protesting about SA’s and TR’s cars are over-reacting anyway. Neither team will suddenly shoot to the front of the field as a result of using good chassis; it will take time for them to get used to the cars and tune them in for optimum running. And even Adrian Newey has been trying to deflate some of the hype surrounding his RB3, pointing out that it is unrealistic to expect it to be a world beater right from the start.

Let the second teams have a decent chance, say I, and then we’ll get some really competitive races. And we might even get to see how good Davidson is.

Another Brit whose stock is increasing is Gary Paffett. If Prodrive are to be a sort of B team for McLaren/Mercedes next year, they will need drivers. Gary’s position as a McLaren test driver puts him in pole position as one of Prodrive’s line-up. Ideally, they would want an experienced driver as number one (David Coulthard maybe?) and Gary could slot in as the young hotshoe. On his past record, he would be ideal for the task.

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Prodrive’s Different Strategy

David Richards, boss of Prodrive, has been talking about how the team plan to enter F1 in 2008. His ideas are very interesting, stemming from previous experience with the Benetton and BAR outfits, and he makes some good points.

Dave

David Richards

As we knew before, Prodrive do not intend to build their own car but to buy in a chassis as well as an engine from a manufacturer, effectively to become a manufacturer’s second team, similar to the the arrangement between Honda and Super Aguri. You can see why he wants to take this route; after years of struggling to make the BAR effective, he knows how difficult it is to start from scratch. With the regulations changing in 2008 to make this sort of deal legal, it becomes possible to shortcut the learning process and become competitive within a year or two.

Richards points at Toyota and Honda as examples of how long it takes to develop a car sufficiently for it to win races. And it is true that any team new to F1 has years of hard work in front of it before it can expect success. Or is it?

History can give a few examples where things happened the other way around. March, Wolf and Arrows were immediately competitive when they arrived on the scene and time only saw them slip further and further down the field. Logically, they should have become better as they learned the ropes; in reality, they may have improved but it seemed that everyone else did so faster.

So Prodrive’s strategy may well be the way to go. Certainly, it seems to be the trend of the moment and there might come a time when every manufacturer has a second team. This has benefits for both sides: the client team gets to go racing on a smaller budget and the manufacturer gets double the chance of doing well. Again historically, however, it has the disadvantage that second teams finish second.

It also raises the question of which manufacturer would enter such an arrangement with Prodrive. With the rest already committed to engine deals with other teams, only BMW and McLaren/Mercedes could do it. Word on the street is that Prodrive fancy Mercedes, but I wonder why either German company would bother with such an added complication. Both are hard at work trying to get to the top step of the podium – it makes little sense that they should dilute their efforts by the addition of another team at this stage. Give them the success that Renault has achieved over the last couple of years and they might be prepared to do it; until then, I think it’s a non-starter.

You could say that Toyota are taking that chance by allowing Williams to have their engines but, as I have mentioned before, I think there are good reasons for this. In a few years there will be only one Toyota team and it will probably be called a Toyota-Williams.

It will be very interesting to follow Prodrive’s progress in establishing an alliance with another team. Personally, I like this move to customer teams and it might be the only way for small teams to continue in F1 in the future that looms over them so ominously. But it is not going to be easy, that’s for sure!

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Spare a Thought for Cosworth

In the late sixties and throughout the seventies, Cosworth engines powered more race winners than any other engine. They have soldiered on since then, producing F1 power plants for independent teams, but now it seems the end has come.

Williams

The last Cosworth-powered car in F1?

The FIA’s decision to allow Ferrari to supply two teams with engines has effectively taken away Cosworth’s last potential customer. There has to be some irony in the fact that, while proclaiming their wish to support the independent manufacturer in F1, the FIA has made it impossible for the only independent engine supplier to continue.

With Ferrari about to sign contracts with Spyker-MF1 and Toro Rosso, Red Bull taking Renault engines, and Williams going to Toyota, there is nowhere for Cosworth to run except the unlikely possibility of engines for Prodrive when they enter the game in 2008. Meanwhile, Prodrive are saying that they want a complete engine/chassis deal with a manufacturer, something that is prevented by the rules on customer cars anyway. It is a sorry story for the little guy in F1.

I suppose that, if the FIA stick by their customer car rule, Prodrive might have to produce their own chassis – in which case, Cosworth could return. But, as Bernard Ferguson points out, in the intervening year, Cosworth will lose most of its staff. Which cannot bode well for their ability to suddenly ramp up to F1 if required.

So why has the FIA decided to make an exception to their own rules for Ferrari? I don’t know but am very tempted to answer: because Ferrari asked them to…

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