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.
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!