Prodrive F1 - coming to a Grand Prix near you soon?
When the FIA chose Prodrive Chairman David Richards package over nine other bids to be the 12th team on the 2008 grid, the former Benetton and BAR boss claimed an early victory ahead of his third attempt at Formula One success. Since then, things have gone decidedly quiet in the Richards camp, prompting some to question how wholehearted his ambitions are. But speaking to Formula1.com at last weekends FIA Gala Awards, Richards message couldnt be clearer: I will be on the grid in Melbourne in 2008. Nobody should have any doubts about that.
Q: What was the driving force behind your bid for the 12th entry to the 2008 Formula One world championship? Settling old scores or the desire to finally win some Formula One trophies to accompany the hundreds of others you have won in different race series?
David Richards: The decision to go into Formula One, or to go back into Formula One, was very much a business-led decision. Prodrive is represented in most other forms of motorsport, but not only motorsport but also the automotive industry. Looking for growth and looking into areas we might be able to develop new businesses, made us come to the conclusion that you simply cannot avoid Formula One. It was clear our ambition was to be back in Formula One in our own right - if the conditions where right. And with the 2008 regulations, basically with change of the technical regulations that makes it more affordable, and now with the introduction of new relevant road going technologies it makes more and more sense.
Q: You just mentioned being there in our own right. So you want to avoid having to answer to someone else?
DR: I dont think that there are very many people in Formula One who have the total autonomy to do what they want. Bernie Ecclestone might be unique in this respect, but even he has shareholders now. At the end everybody has shareholders and is accountable to a broader group of people, but I do want to do it in my own way the next time. I do not want to be totally tied, I want a lot more freedom. But I am not deluding myself, I do understand that I will have some very serious partners and will have responsibilities to these partners.
Q: You were picked by the FIA as the 12th team ahead of nine other competitors, including bids made by Eddie Jordan and Craig Pollock. Why do you think you were chosen?
DR: We were very clear in our strategy about how we want to do things, and we have a very good track record in everything else we have done. We know we had a number of people who supported us in the World Council in the various states of our development. I suspect they were also influential in the process and I thank them for that.
Q: You were selected in April; by the French Grand Prix it was widely reported you had started to recruit; then in August you pushed the idea of customer teams. What is the state of affairs now its December?
DR: Everybody wants to know the state of our new factory and the number of our staff. But I can tell you that we are taking a very slow process to this. If my strategy works, as I am confident it will, then we will partner one of the leading teams, and our test programme and our whole build-up will not really commence until the end of the 2007 season. Certain people have to be in place during the course of the year, but it will be a small build-up. My experience in the past of building organizations has taught me that there is a tendency to rush-off and employ people quickly and build things that you subsequently find unnecessary, and people you dont really need. Im going be very frugal about that. That is probably unusual for Formula One, but thats going to be my policy because in the first years we will not need a large resource and we can accommodate that within our own facilities. We will build a factory, but it will be around our requirements. When racing teams are run by engineers, they tend to be very vertically integrated. They want every new piece of equipment, but when that piece of equipment is only working 30 days a year they seem to miss the point. I come from a business perspective, Im running a business, and the business at the end of the day must work. It must be profitable and successful.
Q: You are used to making money with racing. Is this why the idea of a customer team is preferable, thereby sparing you from a big chunk of the development costs?
DR: The whole philosophy of customer teams will change. Historically a customer team used to mean going to different manufacturers and buying parts. Now the new 2008 regulations allow you to have a completely identical car, which means less testing, and with a whole range of other commercial benefits there is a lot of logic for the car manufacturers to support a second team alongside their own. If the regulations have the effect that I believe they will, they will require less manufacturing, so you have spare capacity, you require less people, so why not move your good people across to the second team rather than losing them. And suddenly for a similar amount of money to that you are spending today, and possibly less, youve got four cars. So there is a big commercial and competitive advantage. And as teams wake up to this opportunity, I think we move on to a very interesting area. Our company is used to working in this collaborative way.
Q: But wouldnt the second team automatically come in second?
DR: If you ask the engineers and the people running a race team they raise that question, but if you go one or two levels above, the people actually paying the bills, the car companies who are spending a large amounts of money, what they are seeking is getting back value for their money, and for them if the second team beats their own it will raise the standards. My experience is that at the grassroots level, at the race track, they are not very happy, but at the senior or director level it is different: they want to see their team win, no matter which.
Q: Could less testing mean more races?
DR: Ive always been a big advocate of reducing the amount of testing and increasing the number of races, as races mean spectators, means TV audiences, means value for money for the sponsors. Testing probably means everyones going a little faster - unnoticed.
Q: You have reportedly been linked to several Asian car manufacturers. Are there talks taking place?
DR: We have looked into the option of building a team from scratch with new manufacturers - its probably indiscreet for me to say, but I have talked to two manufacturers about it, but ultimately we didnt push it to the end state. If a manufacturer really wanted to spend that big amount of money, we could have done it, but for me personally, I actually dont think I have the patience to do that. I want to do this for another three years, I want to establish the team properly, I want to see it get off the ground - and then I want to stand back. We have seen how long it took for Honda and Toyota and I am not a patient person. Id rather have a short cut.
Q: You still have 15 months to go before the Melbourne grid in 2008. When will you present your team package, and when do you expect the first roll-out to be?
DR: Its a question of whom we partner with, but in my opinion it makes little sense to be running before December 2007. And if it is a true collaboration, then the testing programme will be worked as one entity.
Q: Which of the big teams are likely to let you play in their back yard? And as teams need sponsors - who could that possibly be?
DR: About the team, youll have to wait and see. Regarding sponsorship we had talks with a possible title sponsor, who has already signed a heads of terms.
Q: And how big is the likelihood your outfit will be called Prodrive F1?
DR: Very big.