DECEMBER 17, 2001
Here comes David Richards
No-one in F1 ever steps down to explore new opportunities. It is public relations fluff and everyone knows it. Pollock has finally be outmaneuvered and booted out by his biggest supporter British American Tobacco. Perhaps it was a question of Pollock having to find a budget and being unable to do so. We will probably never know. But whatever the case the BAR chairman Kenneth Clarke, as we speculated some months ago, is a hard man to please.
Richards is the obvious choice as his replacement. He has been involved with British American Tobacco and some of its associated companies for more than 20 years.
In 1999 BAT took over Rothmans International but the result of that deal was Rothmans became the major shareholder in BAT and so its influence increased. Richards started working with Rothmans back in 1981 when he won the World Rally Championship with Ari Vatanen in a Rothmans Ford Escort. Richards then took over Rothmans's sponsorship program but arrived too late to stop the disastrous march F1 program in 1982. Thereafter he forged the successful relationship between Rothmans and Porsche in sportscars and rallying.
After 1985 Richards concentrated on building up Prodrive and in December 1992 signed a major deal with BAT's 555 brand to compete for five years in the World Rally Championship with the Subaru Legacy. That deal led to World Rally Championship victories in 1995, 1996 and 1997. The partnership ended at the end of 1998 when BAT went into F1 with the Lucky Strike brand.
The interesting thing now will be to see what happens next. It is unlikely that Pollock would have departed if he was still able to stay and so the shareholdings in the team will be interesting. Pollock held 35% of the company through a firm called Mount Eagle Inc. One of the shareholders in that was CART team owner Gerald Forsythe. Jacques Villeneuve was rumored to be another shareholder. Whatever the details these shares have probably been bought by either Richards personally or by Prodrive. It is also very likely that the remaining shareholdings owned by Adrian Reynard and Rick Gorne will have been purchased. This would give Richards and BAT 50-50 shares in the team.
The big question now is what happens next. Richards is incredibly well-connected with automobile manufacturers around the world. He could use these links to ensure that the deal with Honda will continue at the end of the current deal between BAR and the Japanese car manufacturer. That would make sense.
However, Richards is an ace marketer and it is possible that he working on a much bigger deal. His relationship with Subaru has been incredibly successful, helping the Japanese firm go from being a small low-volume car maker to becoming a technology leader in the Japanese automobile market. Subaru is just beginning to make inroads into the North American markets. The company, which is 25% owned by General Motors, may have decided to extend the rallying relationship with Richards to move into F1 and thus take its growth a step further. That would be the kind of deal that Richards would love. Such a move would be a perfect way to convince BAT to stay in F1 until they have to depart.
This is largely speculation but one must never underestimate Richards. It is certain that this is not just a deal for him to manage BAR. That would not be any great challenge for a man who likes to put companies together and use racing to further their aims.
There is going to be some fun in the years ahead...