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GP Week : Issue 104
The decision to ban customer cars in 2008 may well have defined the future business strategy for every new F1 team that joins the sport. Teams may not be able to simply buy a race-winning package, but they can forge technical partnerships with the sport’s heavyweights with a view to moving forwards faster than by trying to go it alone. Two of this year’s top teams, McLaren and Red Bull, were key players in the customer car debate which gained visibility in April 2006 when David Richards, the former Benetton and BAR team boss, announced plans to enter F1 in 2008 under the Prodrive banner with a rebadged McLaren-Mercedes. FIA president Max Mosley, searching for a way to reduce costs, saw an opportunity to reform the sport into an affordable and sustainable formula. “It’s self-evident that Formula One hasn’t got enough money for twelve different teams to have twelve research and development programmes, twelve wind tunnels, twelve organisations getting on for one-thousand employees each,” he said. “ That means you either have customer cars or you have people struggling at the back of the grid being lapped four times in the race. To me it’s obvious you should have the customer cars.” The prospect of a new entrant being able to purchase a race-winning package caused major ructions amongst the sport’s establishment, with Williams technical boss Patrick Head commenting at the launch of the team’s 2007 car: “It’s absolutely plain and clear that each team has to be the designer and constructor of their car, and no amount of smoke and mirrors, such as inventing another company and handing over the IP (intellectual property) for a Euro or whatever, changes that. “ We race for a Drivers’ Championship and also for a Constructors’ Championship, and I don’t really see how a team can compete and score points in a Constructors’ Championship if they’re not a constructor,” he added. “ The word ‘constructor’ covers not just the manufacture of the car, but the design and the development of the IP that underpins that.” Undaunted, Richards pressed on with his customer car plan, and a legal challenge by Williams and Spyker, principally aimed at Toro Rosso and Super Aguri who were using the previous season’s Red Bull and Honda cars respectively, but also to discourage new entrants from attempting to enter the sport with an existing car, saw the ‘no customer cars’ rule written into the Concorde Agreement and left Prodrive out in the cold. PROGRESSION THROUGH PARTNERSHIP FEATURE >> 29