MAY 6, 2008

The end for Super Aguri F1

Aguri Suzuki has announced in Japan that he is ceasing operation of his Formula 1 team, Super Aguri F1. The outfit has been in existence for just two and a half years, having started out in 2006 using modified versions of the 2002 Arrows A23 chassis, which were acquired from Minardi boss Paul Stoddart. SAF1 signed up Takuma Sato and Yuji Ide to drive, but the latter quickly proved not to have sufficient experience and was replaced by Franck Montagny. He in turn gave way to pay-driver Sakon Yamamoto.

The team struggled through 2006 with an uncompetitive car, but for 2007 used a revised version of the successful 2006 Honda. Sponsorship was announced from a company called SS United, although nothing appears to have been paid.

Honda paid the bills.

With Sato partnered by Anthony Davidson the team was able to pick up points in both Spain and Canada, but the success led to legal action from the Spyker F1 team, which argued that Super Aguri had broken the terms of the Concorde Agreement. This year the two drivers remained the same and the car was little different, but Honda's willingness to continue with a second team waned, particularly after it was decided that teams have to build their own cars from 2010 onwards. Honda is keen to concentrate all of its efforts on the factory operation and has, in effect, agreed to swallow those losses, as there is precious little for the team to sell. The facilities from which SAF1 operates are leased from the American John Menard and much of the equipment belongs to Honda.

The news means that there is now a possibility of a settlement of the remaining arbitration fight between Force India and Scuderia Toro Rosso, and once that has been sorted out there is a strong likelihood that there can be a new Concorde Agreement, although the ongoing mess at the FIA may cause disruptions of a different kind, as Max Mosley is probably not in a position to do any deals until his status within the federation is sorted out. Once that is done and it is clear who is running the show, a new Concorde Agreement may become possible. There are, however, no guarantees that the future management of the federation will be willing to agree to the same terms that Mosley was happy with.

The disappearance of Super Aguri means that F1 is down to 10 teams and all are thus able to claim prize and travel money. There are, in theory, two available slots for new teams, but it is hard to imagine that anyone coming in to the sport will want to invest the kind of money needed to start a new operation and so the demise of Super Aguri will probably have the effect of pushing up the value of the remaining teams. Anyone wanting to get into F1 will now have to do it by buying an existing operation. It may be that when the budget-capping schemes under discussion become a reality there will be room for new teams again, but for the moment it makes little financial sense to start a team from scratch.

"Regretfully I must inform you that the team will be ceasing its racing activities as of today," said Suzuki. "The team has competed against the many car manufacturer backed teams and has succeeded in obtaining the first points after only the 22nd race, finishing in 9th place overall in the 2007 Constructors‘‚   Championship. However, the breach of contract by the promised partner SS United Oil & Gas Company resulted in the loss of financial backing and immediately put the team into financial difficulties. Also, the change in direction of the environment surrounding the team, in terms of the use of customer chassis, has affected our ability to find partners.

"Meanwhile, with the help of Honda, we have somehow managed to keep the team going, but we find it difficult to establish a way to continue the activities in the future within the environment surrounding F1 and as a result, I have concluded to withdraw from the Championship.

"I would like to express my deepest thanks to Honda, Bridgestone, the sponsors, all the people who have given us advise during various situations over the past couple of years all the team staff who have kept their motivations high and always done their best, Anthony Davidson who has always pushed to the limit despite the very difficult conditions, Takuma Sato who has been with us from the very start and has always fought hard and led the team and lastly our fans from all over the world who have loyally supported the Super Aguri F1 team."