SEPTEMBER 15, 2005
The dilemma of Eddie Irvine and others
Until last weekend Eddie Irvine was busy working away to buy the Minardi team. And then Red Bull came steaming in at the last minute and dropped $35m in cash on the table and told Paul Stoddart to sell. Stoddart, seeing the signals, realised that his time had come and that if he did not sell, Red Bull would set up a second team and he would find himself running the 11th most successful team in a world where only the top 10 are paid to take part. Red Bull had the financial muscle to convince Stoddart that his game was up. The problem for Irvine is that if really wants to be a Formula 1 team owner he now has no choice other than buying Jordan, the last real straggler in the sport.
The option of starting a new team is a nice idea but it costs a great deal of money and a look through the books of Toyota or BAR in recent years will tell you that you have to have at least $500m which you are willing to spend to get to a competitive level, while buying a team will give you a start in the business and, perhaps more importantly, access to the TV money which until now has helped the keep the small teams alive.
In the current political climate, investing in a new team does not make any sense at all because no-one knows which way the World Championship is heading. There are, so the FIA says, a group of new teams waiting to come rushing into a new cut-price World Championship in 2008. That is fine but a new F1 with only Ferrari and a bunch of neophytes will lack the heritage that surrounds the sport. The racing will lack credibility particularly if the rules are restricted in the name of cost-cutting.
The problem for the FIA is that the manufacturers might stick together and call the federation's bluff and do their own thing. They do not want to go down that route but nor do they want to accept the FIA's idea of what F1 is in the future. To date no-one seems to have had the oomph to make this happen and thus far we have seen lots of committees and not a lot of action. But not being united does not mean that they are not in opposition to what the FIA is doing.
Before the debacle at Indianapolis it was unthinkable that such a disaster would occur and yet it did.
It may be unthinkable that F1 will split into two series in 2008, but with the attitudes that exist today it could happen and then the World Championship will be in an Indy Racing League-Champ Car type of battle from which there will be no winner.
Why, in such circumstances, would anyone - be they Irvine or the cut-price brigade - invest a huge sum of money in a sport which does not know where it is going?
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