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The twelfth team

THE Formula 1 Commission considered several applications for the vacant 12th team slot, which has been left open by Honda's decision to ally itself with British American Racing rather than push ahead with its own team. We hear that there are three organizations wanting the 12th slot and although the team bosses would prefer to reduce the number of teams to 11 - and thus get more money - they are worried that the European Union will object if they refuse to allow another competitor to take Honda's place. It is virtually certain, however, that anyone wanting the slot will have to pay a massive bond - of perhaps $25m - as a guarantee that the team will appear. The three bidders for the slot are Toyota, David Hunt and an alliance between Robin Herd and Mike Earle.

Toyota has already announced its intention to enter F1 but will not be ready until 2002 or 2003 at the earliest. The company could, in theory, pay the bond money so that the 12th slot remains open. This is not likely to happen as F1 bosses will want a 12th team racing as soon as possible.

David Hunt owns the rights to the Team Lotus name and has been working hard to raise money for the last five years. Hunt said in 1997 that he had the money and was "ready to build a team and go racing". Nothing happened and that is likely to raise questions about whether or not he is serious on this occasion.

At the moment the third bid appears to be the most serious. Robin Herd has the experience and connections to get the job done. Now 60, Herd came out of the aeronautical industry in the mid-1960s to design cars for Bruce McLaren. In 1969 he went into partnership with Max Mosley and two others to form March Engineering. They ran a Formula 1 team throughout the mid-1970s but eventually Herd closed down the F1 team, bought out Mosley and turned March into the most successful racing car manufacturer in history. The company went back to F1 in 1987 but two years later Herd sold the company to Leyton House. In 1992 Herd was back in F1 designing cars for the Fondmetal F1 team through a design office called Fomet 1. In 1993 this became Larrousse UK Ltd. and it designed cars for the French team until that folded in February 1995. The operation then became known as Gentech and did R&D work for the Forsythe Racing team before breaking up at the end of 1995. Many of the engineers went to Benetton, notably aerodynamicist James Allison and Robin's son Mark Herd where they are working with another Herd protege Nick Wirth. Tino Belli, chief designer at Larrousse UK, established Cyber Dynamics and has done consultancy work for a variety of teams including Team Kool Green, Arrows, Pagan Racing in IRL and Hendrick Motorsport. Another of Herd's close associates is Tim Holloway, currently working with Jordan Grand Prix.

The inclusion of Mike Earle is not a surprise as Herd and Earle have links going back for many years, notably to Formula 2 in the early 1980s when Earle's Onyx Race Engineering ran the factory March Formula 2 cars with much success. Onyx even ran a customer F1 March in 1982 for Spaniard Emilio de Villota. In 1987 Stefano Modena won the European Formula 3000 title in an Onyx March. After that Onyx decided to go into F1.

After Onyx was sold Earle tried to buy Brabham and later was linked to rumors of a revival of the Vanwall name in F1. For some years Earle ran the 3001 International team in Formula 3000 and this year is involved in the Arena International team in the British Touring Car Championship. This team - which has no obvious sponsorship - is understood to have been funded by the Sultan of Brunei and his family who are estimated to have a fortune worth $30bn. Earle has helped the sultan and his family build up and maintain an impressive car collection.

Earle's main business is called Raceprep Ltd. and in recent years it has done a considerable amount of composite work for F1 teams. It has been building display cars for McLaren, for example, for the last 10 years. In 1995 Earle bid for the FIA contract to build Formula 3000 chassis. The deal went eventually to Lola.

Herd and Earle together have the expertise and production capability to put together an F1 team. The big question mark is money.

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