StefanGP will not race in Bahrain

Zoran Stefanovic points at a model of a car that won't be racing in Bahrain.

With the GP2 Asia action at the Bahrain International Circuit all done and dusted, I’ve been on a bit of a fact finding mission in the paddock with regard to the StefanGP team, which has been hoping to be admitted into the Formula 1 World Championship and contest the opening round of the 2010 season at this very circuit in two weeks’ time.

And the news, at least from StefanGP’s perspective, ‘aint good.

Officials at the track confirmed to me that StefanGP’s containers, which the team stated on February 2nd it had sent to Bahrain, have not arrived at the circuit. Of course the containers may still be at customs awaiting their signing out, but the firmly held belief that the team’s containers of spare parts for their ex-Toyota racers were already at the Bahrain International Circuit are false. They are not here.

But perhaps the firmest nail in the coffin of the team’s hopes that they would be permitted to race should one of the new teams fail to make it, was an admission from another official at the BIC that they have received word from the FIA informing them to take StefanGP’s team profile, which had been prepared by the BIC on the off chance of the team’s participation, out of the media kits for the season-opening Grand Prix. According to this official, the FIA’s reasoning for this was that StefanGP “will not be racing in Bahrain.”

Seems pretty clear cut, doesn’t it?

StefanGP, car or no car, spare parts or none, Bridgestone contract or bare wheel rims, will not, it seems, be racing in Bahrain.

Their only hope now appears to be convincing USF1 to sell its entry to them and for the Serbian outfit to race as USF1, although at the present time that seems unlikely.

In other, much better news, however, it seems that Campos’ F1 entry is moving ahead at full steam. Dallara is working hard to prepare everything for the team’s debut in Bahrain, and the squad is expected to test at Varano next week, as the circuit rests just minutes from Dallara’s base.

Bruno Senna, Felipe Massa, and a thoroughly good read

Bruno and Buxton c/o Luca Bassani

Want to know what I got up to in January?

Well, apart from preparing for the imminent birth of my first child, F1 Racing was good enough to send me over to Brazil to spend a bit of time with my good mate Bruno Senna, and then flung me off to Barcelona to catch up with the Fuscia Man himself, Mr Felipe Massa.

To be honest the trip to Brazil was a dream. I grew up idolising Ayrton Senna, and to be invited by Bruno and Bianca to Ayrton’s old farm estate to link up with Bruno and to not only dig through my hero’s old stuff, but to chat with my friend about what the future holds was an honour I doubt I will be able to ever repeat. It was, quite simply, one of those moments in your life that will stay with you forever. Bruno is a talented racer, a bloody good chap and, above all, a tremendously good friend and I wish him every hope and success for 2010.

A matter of days after returning from Brazil, F1 Racing’s editor Hans called me up and asked me to ship off to Barcelona to go and have a chat with Mr Massa. I couldn’t refuse, especially as, and as those of you who are GPWeek fans will know, I interviewed Felipe 48 hours before his monster shunt in Hungary. So to be able to chat with him once again, and to draw a line under his accident and look to the future was a huge joy.

You can read all about my meetings with Bruno and Felipe in this month’s very special, and may I say very excellent edition of F1 Racing magazine. It’s out in all good newsagents now, so get down there and buy yourself the best damn F1 season preview available.

Enjoy.

Will

Campos Out, Kolles In… Team Saved?

The future of the Campos Formula 1 team is set to be clarified by the end of the week, with sources close to the squad informing me that team founder Adrian Campos is set to part company with the squad after its takeover by former Jordan, Midland, Spyker and Force India boss Colin Kolles.

It is understood that Kolles has put up his own money to buy the team and to start to pay off the team’s debts to car designer Dallara, in order to get the team to the first race in Bahrain. As recent online rumours have stated Team Principal Jose Ramon Carabante will remain in place, although it remains to be seen whether Danielle Audetto will also stay at the squad as he and Kolles experienced something of a rocky relationship during Audetto’s time at Super Aguri when he and then Spyker-employed Kolles disagreed somewhat over the concept of customer cars.

All in all, it’s actually good news as far as the team is concerned as Kolles’ apparent investment and takeover may well have saved the jobs of a good group of people and assured one more new team’s place on the 2010 grid. A team name change so late in the day could prove difficult, although there are believed to be some pretty serious potential investors in the wings who might make the establishment sit up and take notice.

When Kolles’ name was first mentioned as a potential investor, it was done so alongside rumours of a Volkswagen takeover of Campos. Although Volkswagen denied the reports at the time, the company is not being so negative today, and is merely refusing to confirm or deny that they are in talks with the team. It may seem like a technicality, but it is actually a million miles away from their previous flat denial.

Volkswagen’s apparent and potential interest in F1 comes at a time when the majority of the motor manufacturers have pulled out of F1, and as such any new manufacturer entrant would be big, and hugely positive, news. Moreover, Volkswagen has a number of brands which could sit well within F1. From Volkswagen itself there is also SEAT at the cheaper end of the market. The company also owns the Audi brand and at the very top end, Volkswagen was of course involved in that most epic of cars, the Bugatti Veyron.

My colleague Joe Saward has today mused that SEAT would be a neat fit for a Spanish-based F1 team, and it is worth mentioning that Rally legend and absolute Spanish hero Carlos Sainz, who now races for Volkswagen in the Dakar, has been spotted at F1 testing checking out how things work.

To my mind however, it is Audi which would make the most sense for any potential Volkswagen involvement. Audi is a big brand and serves the car market from small city run-arounds to high powered supercars. From the A3 (read overpriced VW Golf), all the way up to the simply glorious R9, Audi is an aspirational auto brand, and one which would sit well in Formula 1.

Audi already races at Le Mans and in the DTM, and is a hugely successful marque in its own right. A transition to Formula 1 wouldn’t therefore be completely out of left field.

Now factor in these little nuggets… Colin Kolles runs Audi A4s in the DTM and Audi R10s at Le Mans and in the Le Mans Series.

Dallara designed the Audi R8, one of the most succesful racing cars in the marque’s history.

See where I’m going?

Oh… and wouldn’t it just look a bit special, too? Huge thanks to Kim Stapleton for letting me use his incredible mock-up of an Audi F1 car.

Ev-One 2009 Audi F1 Concept Livery
© Kim Stapleton

OK, I’m just speculating because there is, as yet, absolutely no confirmation that Volkswagen really is talking to the team… but there are enough links there to make you think that these rumours might actually have some substance to them.

Either way, I fully expect to see Colin Kolles confirmed as the new owner of the Campos F1 team by the end of the week. It’s hugely sad for Adrian Campos himself, who is a man I like very much. He had a dream to go racing in Formula 1, and if it is ultimately the case that his dream has had to end then I, for one, will be very sad that it has come to such a conclusion. He’s a racer, pure and simple, and similar to the guys at USF1 one feels that if the size of their hearts were only matched by the extent of their wallets then we’d have two mega little teams in F1 this year.

Kolles’ takeover may also have other ramifications. Bruno Senna was signed up to the original Campos team, but had to bring no money with him on the basis that the team could use his image and name to attract sponsors to the squad. They have failed in this regard, and given that Senna’s contract was with Adrian Campos and his team, one wonders how stable that deal will be with the team’s new owner. Frankly I think they’d be crazy to get rid of him. He’s fast, he’s young, he’s got bucket loads of potential and he’s also hugely marketable in the right hands.

All this comes on the day that we are hearing that USF1’s base in Charlotte is up for sale. There is talk that a rift is starting to appear in the team between those pulling their weight and those who are not, and I understand that Peter Windsor is making his way over to Europe to try and find a solution to save his dream before all is lost. Peter’s worked his backside off trying to make this team happen, and I really hope it all works out, even if it’s not the 100% pure American squad which he’d hoped for.

Even the usually smug StefanGP’s not having a great time. Despite team owner Zoran Stefanovich saying he’s on the verge of announcing his drivers (he’d do well to get an F1 entry first), we’re hearing he hasn’t paid Toyota for their car yet and as such all of those goodies could be back up for sale soon as well.

Expect these stories to develop quickly, as with less than a month to go until Bahrain, there is very little time to get deals done.

Lola and the struggles of the newboys

Jean Todt and Bernie Ecclestone
c/o http://www.sutton-images.com

There are a lot of stories doing the rounds today about the futures of the Campos and USF1 teams, as questions continue to circulate as to whether either of them will be racing in Bahrain or, for that matter, whether we’ll see them at all in 2010. After FIA President Jean Todt admitted that the Concorde Agreement allowed for teams to miss three races before they would be kicked out of the championship, the FIA yesterday went on the offensive telling teams that there would be no excuses for missing even a single event.

Of course the sad thing in all this is that we really shouldn’t be terribly surprised to see the new teams struggle. The FIA’s failure to force through the 2010 budget cap under which it had accepted the new teams’ entries has undoubtedly shortened their prospects of not only success, but of their very survival. It seems to me to be pretty incredible for the FIA to allow no excuses for new teams to miss races in 2010, given that it was the FIA who promised a budget cap that failed to materialise. One would have thought that it would serve the FIA’s purposes to try and protect its new breed, rather than to grant them life and then leave them out in a blizzard to freeze.

One must now seriously question the due diligence process conducted on the FIA’s part of the prospective new teams, and how it was that of the numerous proposals put forwards, so many strong admissions were passed over in favour of teams which we can now quite clearly see did not have the funding in place to make a decent go of things. Because, and here’s the thing, we’re not even talking about big budgets here… we’re talking about that 40 million budget cap. As things stand, it would appear that neither USF1 nor Campos are even close to that magic number because even if the budget cap had come in, it now looks unlikely that the teams in question would have been able to make it.

That said, one must also say that these new teams have, perhaps, massively underestimated the challenge from both a sporting, technical and commercial perspective.

All of which must leave the likes of Prodrive and Lola, teams who know the challenge and could have risen to it, feeling pretty sick. Here we had two racing companies with a rich history, strong commercial and technical teams, and the funding to do things properly. Thanks to the manner in which the new teams were chosen however, both have now pulled their hats out of the ring and would likely be unable to fill the void should any new team fail to make it.

All we and the FIA are left with is StefanGP, an unknown quantity in racing and business terms, but an organisation which has filed a complaint against the FIA with the EC and employed Mike Coughlan, a man with an almighty black mark against his name in the FIA’s eyes, to work at the squad. Seems incredible the FIA would even give the team the time of day, doesn’t it? But what other option do they have?

The Lola MB01 in the windtunnel c/o Lola

Should any new team fail to make it and the FIA be able to admit another team into Formula 1, Lola would seem to be the best option. That said, I have it on pretty good authority that although the team stands by its mantra that they exist in “a state of readiness” to jump into F1 should the call arrive, it would actually take Lola the better part of six months to be fully prepared. Not only that, but without the budget cap I doubt very much that Lola would wish to become involved with F1 at all.

Having been turned down in the initial process, I understand that Lola even went as far as to contact USF1 at the tail end of last season to offer support with the design of their Type 1, given that Lola had a 2010 car fully designed and ready to rock. USF1, however, is understood to have turned down the offer. When I was over in Charlotte, NC, a few weeks ago, all that existed in the USF1 factory was a single tub. If rumours leaking out of FIA sources are correct, the team hasn’t even booked its crash tests, let alone passed them.

I believe that Lola still wants to be in Formula 1, but only if the price is right and should the timing be such that the team can join the sport without endangering its business and its reputation as it did back in 1997. For that reason, I can’t see Lola now selling the IP to its 2010 F1 car, even if USF1 did come knocking.

With the preparation the team put into its 2010 F1 programme, Lola is an even stronger business and racing team than it was 12 months ago and, ironically enough, could be in an even stronger position to make an F1 debut in 2011 should a space open up, than it would have been in 2010.

Petrov’s Renault Seat is Not 100% Secure

Vitaly Petrov’s Formula 1 dream today hangs in the balance after his father admitted that the loan he had personally secured to pay the first instalment of his son’s €15 million deal to race for the Renault F1 team in 2010, had been put on hold.

Speaking to the Russian media, Alexander Petrovic has revealed that despite approaching 500 of Russia’s largest companies for support, his son’s management have come up empty handed. Indeed, it is Petrov’s father himself who has promised to pay the first instalment of €7.5 million to Renault (securing the money against his own property), after the team agreed to hand Petrov his F1 debut on the proviso that half the seat’s €15 million value be paid at the beginning of March 2010, with the remaining €7.5 million to be paid in July 2010.

“Vitaly’s manager Oksana Kosachenko, who has taken care of my son for the past nine years and through whom we came to Formula 1, immediately began to look for sponsors,” he told sovsport.ru. “The leadership of Renault met us, and allowed us to pay the money in two instalments, delaying payment of the first until March and the second until July.

“Oksana visited 500 large Russian companies, but was refused everywhere! When I told Vitaly we could not find the money and that he would be better to forget about Formula 1, he started to cry… as a child he never cried, but with this shock he could not help himself.

“Thank God, at the last moment my friend – the Chairman of the Board of Directors of one of the St. Petersburg banks – did not refuse to issue a credit for €7.5 million. To do this, I had to lay the property.”

Alexander however has admitted that, as of yet, he has still not received the loan and that if the money fails to arrive before March 1, his son may lose his Formula 1 drive.

“The first seven and a half million, we still have not received. The bank extended the consideration of an application for a loan – the money is huge. If, before the first of March we do not make the first payment, Vitaly can be changed to another pilot.”

Petrov’s signing to Renault came amongst speculation that his ride was being funded by Russian oil and gas corporation Gazprom, however Alexander told mk-piter.ru that this was incorrect.

“It would be better it were true! But, unfortunately, this is just fiction. If in fact, Gazprom had sponsored us, then the car would have their inscription.”

Petrov Snr hopes that messages of support from high ranking government officials, including Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, will help his son’s cause in not only oiling the cogs to facilitate the payment of the first instalment, but also in procuring the necessary funding to ensure that his son is able to meet the full terms of the payment schedule in 2010 and complete a full season in F1.

“We have one hope: the chairman of the Government Vladimir Putin. President of Federation of motorsport Russia Victor Kiryanov and Sports Committee Chairman of the State Duma Anton Sikharulidze Vladimir Vladimirovich wrote letters asking for help.”

Freddie Valsecchi Masterful in Abu Dhabi

Freddie Valsecchi

Mr Freddie Valsecchi had another awesome weekend in GP2 Asia, taking both fastest laps, a second yesterday and the win today.

Why Freddie you ask? Well, I like to think that his victory celebration punch has rather a close resemblance to the way Freddie Mercury used to punch the air in the middle of his live performances. So I’m calling him Freddie.

Can anyone beat him to the title? Right now I doubt it. He’s scored all 4 fastest laps in the 4 races thus far, had two wins and two second places. All in all, he’s on fire.

But watch out for Jules Bianchi. On his first weekend in the championship he was mersmeric. I’m liking him already. I can’t wait to see how he does in Bahrain… Can’t wait.

Who wants to come to the Lotus launch?

Fancy coming to the Lotus F1 car launch in London on February 12th?

Lotus F1 Team Principal Tony Fernandes has just announced on his twitter feed that he’s going to invite three people from anywhere in the world to be there.

To be in with a chance, simply tweet him @tonyfernandes with your answer to the question: Why is Lotus Racing special?

Nice idea from Mr Fernandes, it must be said.

Entries close Monday night.

GP2 Asia: Pic Nicks Pole

Charles Pic c/o GP2 Media Service

Charles Pic will start tomorrow’s GP2 Asia race from pole position after putting on a dazzling display under the floodlights here in Abu Dhabi with a lap of 1:52.497.

The Frenchman, nicknamed “Tooth Pic” by his team owing to the fact he’s really quite skinny, was in inspired form to fend off the challenge posed by the iSport duo of championship leader Davide Valsecchi and Oliver Turvey, to record his first GP2 Asia pole.

Valsecchi perhaps thought pole was his for the taking after his main challenger from practice Luca Filippi retired in the early minutes of the session with an as yet unknown car failure. But the Italian was never allowed a moment to breathe, with Pic, Turvey and the ART duo of Jules Bianchi and Sam Bird all fighting over the top spot in the final minutes.

Valsecchi came close to snatching pole back with his last lap, but ran just a touch wide over the rumble strips at the final corner, and the time he lost saw him slip not just from second, but from the front row as his team-mate Turvey romped to P2 with his final gambit.

Jules Bianchi will start from fourth after a seriously impressive first qualifying outing on a car he’s never driven, on a track he’s never seen, and for the first time at night. Alexander Rossi took fifth ahead of Javier Villa, Bird, Edoardo Piscopo, Giacomo Ricci and Christian Vietoris.

In the end, it was Pic who put together the perfect lap and put a huge smile on the faces of the Arden team, which this weekend races for the first time under a new younger generation of engineers led by Campbell Hobson, after long-time chief of Engineering Mick Cook parted company with the team over the winter. The change in the team’s approach has reaped immediate reward, and deservedly so.

It will be fascinating to see how he handles the pressure of the iSport boys behind him, the speed of the ARTs and the ever impressive Rossi in tomorrow’s race. And keep an eye out for Filippi. Starting from the rear of the grid, the fastest man of the early running will be a man on a mission tomorrow.

GP2 Asia: Filippi leads the way in Practice

Luca Filippi c/o GP2 Media Service

Luca Filippi has handed down a message of clear intent to GP2 Asia Series championship leader Davide Valsecchi by setting the fastest laptime in free practice for this weekend’s second round in Abu Dhabi.

The Italian set his best lap of 1:54.146 with his very last run, to deny compatriot Valsecchi the top spot.

The Yas Marina circuit served an immense challenge to the GP2 Asia drivers this evening, as under the spotlights a thick layer of dust and sand made the track slippery in the early running. That said, everyone seemed able to cope with the tricky conditions. Everyone, that was, except for Alberto Valerio, who made one of his trademark errors and launched his Coloni into the barriers at Turn 19.

His crash brought out the red flags for what seemed like an age as the clock ticked down and the marshals made a meal of extracting his broken car.

When the session got going again with an additional 15 minutes added to the now empty clock, Charles Pic was the man on a mission, setting a brace of top times for Arden. His efforts however soon fell behind the duelling Filippi and Valsecchi who traded fastest laps for the remainder of the session.

Valsecchi thought he’d pipped his countryman to the top time with his last lap of the session, but Filippi, who had made contact with Valsecchi’s iSport team-mate Oliver Turvey with just minutes to run in the session, was already on another flyer and stormed through to take first blood.

Behind the Italians Sam Bird continued his fine form in Abu Dhabi with third, ahead of Pic, Perez, Leimer, debutant Bianchi, Rossi, Van der Garde and Ricci.

Merc’s Classy Attention to Historical Detail

There’s been a lot made about the return to F1 of Mercedes as a constructor in its own right this season for the first time since it pulled out of motorsport at the end of the 1955 season following the Le Mans tragedy earlier that year.

Of course everyone, including the team itself, is dubbing the former Tyrrell, former BAR, former Honda, former Brawn team “the Silver Arrows,” and the parrallel between the team line-up of that 1955 season and the 2010 campaign is a rather lovely hark back to the days of old: the legendary multiple world champion (Fangio / Schumacher) being linked up with a young buck with bucket loads of talent and potential (Moss / Rosberg Jr).

With the chat coming out of Norfolk suggesting to me that Lotus’ return to F1 will be marked with a classic livery of British Racing Green and a single yellow stripe down the centre with those thin accent lines in white running alongside the yellow, it is thus heartening to see that on the ultra sleek and very 21st Century Mercedes GP W01, the team has payed homage to its history and is continuing a design trait it carried on its cars 55 years ago.

A silver car, with its drivers’ numbers in a deep red, outlined in black, on a simple white circle.

Stirling Moss - Mercedes W196
c/o http://www.sutton-images.com

Mercedes GP W01 c/o http://www.sutton-images.com

Is it just me, or is that class in its simplest, purest form?