Just what the DR ordered
FEBRUARY 8, 2002
The Mole has always been impressed by David Richards. As a young whipper-snapper DR was trained as an accountant and that has always served him well when he ventured out from North Wales. It taught him that money needs to be used in the right places. He in unusual in the sport in that rather than being an autocrat he has built his Prodrive empire by creating teams that he then entrusts and empowers to do the job without his direct involvement. He is a big thinker.
He is not one to shrink at a challenge. He was a lowly rallying co-driver originally but The Mole well remembers the stunt he pulled in 1980 after Ford decided that it no longer wanted to pay for him and Ari Vatanen in the World Rally Championship. Richards convinced Ford's sponsor Rothmans to fund a semi-works programme and he and Vatanen won the World Championship: so that Rothmans and Ford were both happy. Even then he understood the need to keep the corporations happy.
Rothmans paid attention to his ideas and as a result enjoyed a hugely successful relationship with Porsche in sports car racing and in rallying. They even had him set up the FIA Middle Eastern Rally Championship after the previous organiser had been shot in the Lebanon.
As a team operator, Richards upset the apple cart in 1987 with his company Prodrive when Bernard Beguin scored the team's first WRC victory on the Tour de Corse. This remains the only victory for a private entry in the history of the championship. Richards's success is not just in the sport but also in business with high-performance roadgoing versions of the team's rally cars and engineering consultancy work. Let us not forget also that Prodrive now owns the tuning company Tickford as well.
Prodrive first looked at Formula 1 as long ago as 1994 when Richards was asked to look at taking over Team Lotus. The team was beyond help but Richards began to consider getting involved in F1 and the logic was added to when Prodrive did some analysis on motorsport and concluded that F1 was the most stable form of business and so it made sense for the company to be involved if there was an opportunity. The organisation looked at various options, including starting it own F1 operation but decided in the end that it did not make economic sense in the short term.
Not long after that Benetton dumped Flavio Briatore and asked Richards to take over the running of the team. People in Formula 1 will tell you that he did not achieve much in his 12 months at Benetton but The Mole's evaluation of the situation was that this was more down to the shortcomings of the Benetton Family than it was to Richards. His plan of attack was well-considered but the Benettons rejected it and so Richards resigned leaving Benetton to drift aimlessly into a deal to hand the team over to Renault.
Richards did not spend much time mulling over the setback and acquired the commercial rights of the FIA World Rally Championship and set about revamping the whole series. And it has been done well.
The Mole had thought that Richards would not return to F1 until the WRC was really up and running but clearly beneath the smiling Richards exterior is a man who looks upon F1 as unfinished business.
Richards is a great deal more talented than a number of others who are currently running F1 teams and that will show through eventually. It may not be this year because Richards has inherited a package left over by Craig Pollock and while it is not a bad effort so far, the progress has been somewhat hobbled by the fact that the new Honda V10 engine is at the beginning of its development and is currently neither very powerful nor very reliable.
The Mole thinks that this is a big advantage as BAR can hide behind the engine a little as Richards gets the house in order. There is not an enormous amount wrong with BAR except that the team appears to be stuck in what one might call Second Division Formula 1 behind the Big Three teams. It is not really a new pattern although BAR had gradually edged forward in the pack with Sauber while the likes of Jordan and Benetton have not achieved a great deal of progress. Everyone is talking a big game now but in Melbourne we did not really see the full picture because of the first corner crash. The signs are that the BARs are going to be fighting for the occasional point this year. But that is really not good enough when you consider what has been spent by British American Tobacco in the course of the last few years.
Richards knows it and he knows that the next step forward will involve the need to change. Change, Richards-style, tends not to be violent. He arrives and suggests a new direction. Those who agree with him tend to stay, the others depart. By this route he builds a team. Usually people find that what Richards says makes sense so change is rarely forced and the teams grow in a harmonious fashion.
The question being discussed in F1 circles at the moment is what changes there will be in the technical team at BAR.
Last year it was clear that something had to be done and in the autumn, before Craig Pollock was shown to the door, he concluded the same thing and poached chief aerodynamicist Geoff Willis from Williams. Willis had to kill six months of what, in F1 circles, they like to call "gardening leave" and in that period Pollock was ejected.
Now Willis starts work at Brackley with Richards as his boss. Willis will have his own ideas about the team and who and what he wants for the 2003 car. Design cycles are such that any changes that are coming will have to come soon as work is already beginning on the design of the cars for next year. The major issue at BAR in recent years has been aerodynamic efficiency. Willis is an aerodynamicist and this may mean that BAR's chief aerodynamicist Willem Toet, the Australian with a Dutch background and a penchance for bow ties, may have to "explore new opportunities".
The other question is what former technical director Malcolm Oastler is going to do now that Willis is on board. Oastler's new title is Engineering Director and in The Mole's experience anyone who used to be a technical director and becomes something else rarely stays long with his old team.
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