MARCH 8, 2007
So David Richards of Aston Martin ... what now?
David Richards is expected to announce in Geneva tomorrow that his bid for Aston Martin has been successful and that he is in charge of Britain's glossiest car company. The reports to date have all indicated that Richards has been acting independently of Prodrive but there is no doubt that there are considerable synergies between the two firms and that it would make a lot of sense for Richards to go ahead and brand F1 engines, if not the whole car, as Aston Martin. This is the kind of marketing tool that Richards would love to have for Aston Martin, if the books can be made to balance. Aston Martin does not make sufficient money to fund an entire programme itself but would no doubt be happy to use the brand if others can be found to pay the bills.
The drawback with this idea is that other teams that might be willing to supply chassis to Prodrive may not want to do that if they aer supporting a rival car company. That is not really a huge problem because Cosworth has the very potent 2.4 litre Cosworth CA V8 engine sitting around doing nothing and with F1 engines currently frozen it would not be that difficult for the Cosworths to be competitive. The differences between the various V8s in F1 nowadays is minimal and certainly not the key factor is deciding who wins and who loses.
Success remains a question of getting everything right but most people agree that the deciding factor is not good software or seamless gearchanges but rather efficient aerodynamics. Thus the real question is whether or not Prodrive can buy a chassis from someone else as was originally planned or whether it has to do its own thing - which is still possible in the time available. The team has always had the long-term goal of doing its own thing. It makes no sense to do anything other that.
There will no doubt be support within the company for a move into F1 as the firm is managed by Ulrich Bez, an automobile executive who has unfinished business in Formula 1. Bez started his career at Porsche, where he developed cars such as the 911 Turbo, the Carrera 2.7, the 968 and the 993. He was involved in the successful TAG turbo F1 engine programme but later led the ill-fated Porsche V12 programme with Arrows in 1990. He went on to become the first director of BMW Technik, developing the Z1 and then moved to Daewoo where he tried on several occasions to lure the company into the sport. He has been running Aston Martin since 2000. He is a keen amateur racer himself, most recently at the wheel of an Aston Martin V8 Vantage in the 2006 Nurburgring 24 Hours endurance race.
If it is all down to money, Richards's alliance with Naeem Capital will certainly help. Naeem Capital is often reported to be an Egyptian company but that is not the whole story. It was founded in Saudi Arabia in 2003 as Naeem Financial Services but two years later was acquired by the Saudi Investment Bank, a Saudi Arabian government-controlled business. Naeem Holding was established in Egypt to run all the non-Saudi activities of Naeem in order to take advantage of the Egyptian government's "free zone" regulations which mean that firms located in free zones do not pay taxes or duties on imports and exports, do not pay taxes on profits beyond 1% of total revenues. They are also guaranteed not to be nationalised, confiscated or interferred with by the Egyptian government.
The reality, therefore, is that Naeem is a way in which Saudi Arabia can invest some of its vast oil industry profits in what amounts to a tax-free environment. Naeem Holding has several hundred different shareholders as a result of the company floating 60% of its shares but 37% of the business is held by the Saudis and that means they are in control. The firm has made investments in many different businesses, notably in banking and financial services firms but also in real estate, oil and other Middle Eastern infrastructure companies.
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