David Richards Q&A: Prodrive seriously considering F1 return 23 Apr 2009
For some time, former Benetton and BAR boss David Richards has been searching for a way back into Formula One racing. And although his dreams of a Prodrive-badged customer-car team came to nothing in 2008, like Lola, hes hopeful the FIAs mooted budget cap could present his best chance yet of returning to the grid
Q: You are seen as one of the contenders to re-enter Formula One how serious are you?
David Richards: We are very serious about entering Formula One in 2010 providing that it is commercially viable and there is the potential to be fully competitive.
Q: What do you mean by commercially viable and the potential to be fully competitive?
DR: On the commercial side we would want a situation where the sort of budget you would need to be competitive would be sensible, especially given the challenging economic conditions we face today. And we would expect to see a reasonable return on our investment in the longer term. We would also want the rules to be such that they provide the potential for us to be fully competitive. We would not want to be in Formula One just to make up the numbers.
Q: Do the new cost-capping Formula One proposals meet these criteria?
DR: The initial signs coming out from the FIA and FOM are very attractive and represent the basis for a real revolution in the sport. They hold the promise to return Formula One to its fundamental ethos, where success comes to those with the most ingenious engineering and best organisation not simply those with the biggest budget. We are therefore very optimistic but lets wait and see what the final proposals look like when they are published next week.
Q: Are you prepared for an entry in 2010?
DR: Assuming that the new rules are commercially viable and there is the potential to be fully competitive, then we are ready to press the go button. We are greatly assisted in this by the extensive preparation work we undertook in 2007 in developing our previous Prodrive Formula One project. As a result of this we have a big head start on the project and many of the key personnel are ready to be switched back on.
Q: Has the cancellation of the Subaru Rally programme freed resources up?
DR: Not exactly, while some personnel could swap over, the core people and skills needed for Formula One are highly specialised but we have many of those people waiting in the wings ready to go. That said we would be able to house a new style Formula One team (to the cost capped regulations) within our Banbury HQ, utilising the space vacated by the rally programme and our manufacturing and composite facilities have the spare capacity.
Q: You are the Chairman of Aston Martin and Aston Martin Racing. Is it safe to assume the new Formula One team would be branded Aston Martin or at least the engine?
DR: It is too early to say at this stage as there are a number of different routes we could go. There are many discussions to be had in the coming weeks once the regulations have been published. We will then make a decision.
Q: Are you encouraged by the opening few races this season and the wins by Brawn and Red Bull?
DR: I think that what we have seen in the first few races has been fantastic for Formula One. I am delighted for Brawn and Red Bull and it is great to see them beat the more established teams. It is just this prospect, which is making Formula One attractive again, as a potential new entrant. I am also really pleased for Jenson and Sebastian and the races themselves have been full of drama. In fact I am sure Bernie and Max could not have written a better script if they tried! It has been a great advert for Formula One and is just what the sport needed.
Q: There are rumoured to be seven or eight interested parties chasing three new places in 2010. Are you optimistic you will get one of those places?
DR: To be frank I am not aware of all the possible entrants and clearly the final decision will be down to the FIA, World Motor Sport Council. What I can say is that we have a strong track record in all the motorsport formula we have been involved with, including Formula One. We have also planned our potential entry into Formula One meticulously and should we proceed and our entry be successful we would be totally committed to Formula One and making the new team a success on and off the track.
Q: Where are you going to source an engine?
DR: We are in discussion with one of the current engine suppliers, as well as Cosworth. They are developing plans for a customer Formula One engine which offers the prospect of a return to the good old days when you could bolt in a customer DFV off the shelf and win races. This resulted in an era when there was all sorts of innovation on the chassis side. Who can forget the six-wheeler Tyrell, the ground effect Lotus or even the Brabham fan car. Formula One has clearly developed since then but the prospect of being able to be competitive and win with an affordable customer engine is still very compelling.
Q: How key is (Formula One Management CEO) Bernie Ecclestones role in bringing about the right conditions for you to enter?
DR: Bernies role is vital as ever. In these challenging economic times we have to be realistic on the level of sponsorship that can be raised. Bernie is the ultimate realist and understands that new teams will need support especially in the short term in order to be commercially viable and sustainable.
Q: What would a Formula One team look like, operating to a £30m budget cap?
DR: In many ways it would be like turning the clock back to the time when Championship-winning teams typically had 150-200 employees and our planning indicates that we would have a team of around 150. This would be the race team with the engineering side predominantly focused on the chassis side while the engine and gearbox would be sourced from outside suppliers.
Q: You got very close to entering Formula One in 2008 until you got what some people would describe as turned over. Why are you coming back for more?
DR: It is a statement of fact that Prodrive had made extensive preparations in 2007 and was ready to enter the Championship in 2008, but then the goal posts literally changed overnight which prevented us from entering Formula One. This experience makes you somewhat cautious but the circumstances are very different today. We are optimistic that the new technical and cost capping regulations will be approved by the FIA next week and create the right conditions for us to enter Formula One as a constructor this time.
What are the next steps?
DR: While we await the publication of the new technical and budget capping regulations, we are continuing with our planning and commercial discussions.