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GP Week : Issue 228
OPINION mike doodsoN By uttering some conspiratorial words to camera in singapore for the benefit of BBc television viewers, eddie Jordan seemed to have wrong-footed the entire F1 press corps by revealing that the Volkswagen group has agreed to buy Red Bull Racing. Now that's what I call a scoop! The German car giant, said EJ, will re-name the British-based team as Audi, put ex-Ferrari TM Stefano Domenicali in charge and develop a nice hybrid power unit which should be ready some time not terribly soon, around 2018 or 2019. "Red Bull and VW have been in on-and-off talks for more than a year and I understand that the fundamentals of a deal for the sale of the team have been agreed," said EJ on the BBC website. It all looks cut and dried. Or does it? To assist younger readers who may not be familiar with Mr Jordan, allow me to mention that he is an Irish-based ex-racing driver who created his own F1 team in 1991. Undaunted by setbacks, he guided the Silverstone-based outfit to some heroic results and four GP wins before selling out to a Canadian-based Russian business man in 2004, right at the top of the market. These days, when not relaxing on his yacht, Eddie entertains us on TV. As one of the BBC's paddock experts, he keeps a finger on the gossip and even produces a couple of bombshell stories per season. In recent times, his most celebrated scoops involved Michael Schumacher's return to F1 in 2010 after three seasons in retirement, and Lewis Hamilton's shock switch from McLaren to Mercedes for 2013. These were top-quality exclusives which left all but the cream of the paddock journos dumbfounded and ensured that EJ would continue to draw his extravagant retainer from the BBC. But although he has a sensitive nose and useful friends in the paddock, it is fairly obvious that his single most reliable source for those uncanny forecasts is none other than Bernie Ecclestone. It goes without saying, and it's true, that Bernie knows everything that's going on in the sport whose finances he has controlled for more than 40 years. Down the years, he's even slipped some useful hints in my direction. He is happy to help out Eddie Jordan, partly because he has done it before, financially, on the occasions when Jordan F1 got into difficulties with its creditors, and partly because the BBC is a usefully powerful media outlet for him to exploit. The VW/Red Bull yarn which EJ has just sprung on the BBC via EJ has Bernie's fingerprints all over it, too. Only last week, its timing seemed perfect, too. With at least one F1 team teetering on the edge of insolvency, a couple more threatening to withdraw and the plans of long-time F1 stalwart Renault still in doubt, Bernie badly needs some good news to restore the hyped-up value of the Private Equity commodity that is Formula 1. What better news could he have to pass around among the F1 chatterboxes than that the second biggest car company in the world wants to dive in? Curiously, the Press Centre prophets seem unwilling to swallow this one. They perceive a number of cavernous gaps in the scenario of the VW/Red Bull take- over, which Eddie himself admits has been agreed only "in principle." To make things worse, the timing went awr y as practice began in Singapore when news came through that the United States Environment Protection Agency (EPA) had discovered a cunning boondoggle in the electronics of 482,000 VW Group vehicles sold in America which cheats the emissions regulations. It can be safely assumed that the VW board won't dare to dangle some madcap F1 motor racing project in front of shareholders at the same time as the EPA is threatening the American division with legal moves that could ultimately cost the car-maker $18 billion. Even in the vanishingly unlikely event that the US authorities can be persuaded to relent on the emissions business, there's still the question of how Red Bull will get by for power units until the first Audi V6 is delivered to Milton Keynes. The assumption is being made that Ferrari is willing to supply, but not even EJ is claiming that the deal has been done, or on what terms. Even with its genius designer Adrian Newey stepping back a little way from the drawing boards this year, Red Bull is still a formidable competitor. It has proved that with three podium places at Hungary and in Singapore. When you consider that Ricciardo and Kvyat achieved those results despite using Renault's "inadequate" powerplants, it doesn't take much imagination to figure out how a Ferrari-powered Red Bull would fare against a factory Ferrari. It is even possible that there are some provisions in the contracts of Vettel and Räikkönen which restrict Ferrari's freedom to provide rival teams with the latest hardware. Whatever the contracts say, my guess is that the negotiations between the Bulls and Ferrari will start with a proposal to supply year-old equipment, or at least a couple of development stages behind, like Sauber's PUs. If Red Bull boss Dietrich Mateschitz is so unhappy with Renault, would he be ready to accept second-best from Ferrari? All these questions, and more, remain to be answered. One thing we know, however, is that Red Bull won't have either Renault or Mercedes motive power next year. Everything rests on the deal going through with Ferrari. If that fails, we have to place our hopes on Eddie Jordan's reassurances that VW will come to the rescue. If that fails, Formula looks likely to be diminished by the disappearance of at least two, and possibly three, teams from the 2016 grids. I look for ward to hearing Eddie Jordan explaining that. 15 GPWEEK.com // 15 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: OPINION a cloud over red bull's future