Formula One: No 13th Team (or Common Sense) for 2011

The long awaited announcement of who would take up the 13th grid slot in Formula One for the 2011 was as big a disappointment as US F1’s attempts to make the grid. The FIA has decided not to grant any of the applicants an entry into Formula One making this whole effort much ado about nothing. While Formula One tries to grow, the FIA’s red tape ties it down.

The two teams that had confirmed they applied to the FIA for the spot were Epsilon Euskadi and Villeneuve-Durango Racing. Euskadi had built and testing a wind-tunnel model of their potential 2011 car in the run up to the decision. How much time, effort and money went into this model is unknown as it could very well have been a political move to gain support within the FIA. Villeneuve-Durango claimed to have sufficient capital lined up to start up an F1 operation and operate it for the season.

Stefan Grand Prix, who campaigned to be a late alternate for the bankrupt US F1 team and the troubled HRT squad, was also rumoured to have applied for the final spot. They had a deal to run Toyota’s 2010 car, which they had abandon upon Toyota’s withdrawal of factory support from the team, but it was said to have expired when SGP was unable to get a grid slot for 2010. With HRT believed to be in negotiations for Toyota’s 2010 car and data, SGP may not have been able to guarantee that they would have a chassis ready in time for the new season.

The FIA’s red tape and bureaucracy when it comes to the screening process for new Formula One teams have destroyed any real chances of a 13th team entering the series. When the decision was announced, there were six months until the start of the next season. That’s six months to design and build a car. Not to mention that the FIA was only giving the teams six months to find money to fund an F1 effort. Top teams are negotiating and signing deals with sponsors long in advance of when their logos appear on the car. Applicants don’t really have that luxury as they have no guarantee that they will be on the grid until six months before the red lights go out on the season.

If the FIA and Formula One Management are serious about putting a competitive team on the grid for an upcoming season, they must change the application and rules processes. The 2010 rules weren’t finalized until around this time last year. A new team with minimal resources would be unable to quickly change their designs if they were designing to the 2009 regulations. Therefore, the technical regulations for F1 must be set no less than nine months in advance of the upcoming season.

I also think that being notified six months in advance that you have to be on the grid of an F1 race is far too short. Honda/Brawn Grand Prix spent the majority of the 2008 calendar year working on a contender for the 2009 season. That extra development time won them both championships. When Toyota first entered the sport in 2002, they spent the previous year designing and testing their 2002 car. It didn’t help Toyota but shouldn’t new entrants be given the same opportunities to start working on their cars as incumbant teams.

Now, I realize there’s nothing in the rules that would stop an applicant from working on a 2011 challenger while the FIA goes through its decision-making policy. However, common sense would state that a team has no incentive to design and build a car if there is not a good chance for return on investment. When Honda and Toyota started work on their cars well in advance, they had guaranteed entry into the following year’s championship. For Villeneuve-Durango, Epsilon Euskadi, US F1, Stefan Grand Prix and every other F1 applicant over the last four years, without that guaranteed entry into the following year’s championship, they start well behind the established teams in terms of designing a car and raising capital.

That’s why I believe the FIA should re-time their application process. If the FIA or FOM wants a new team in F1 for the 2013 season (when the next major set of rule changes are being enacted), the new team(s) should be given their keys to the paddock by the beginning of the 2012 season. Teams like Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull would already have staff working on their 2013 chassis. If they want a competitive team as the 13th entrant, give them a fighting chance by letting them have a year to prepare for battle.

Mind you, I’ve said all this and not noted the official FIA reason for not granting any team the final grid spot. The FIA released a statement saying that none of the teams met their criteria. That should leave everyone with a simple question: What the hell is their criteria anyway? Is it having the money to run a season? Is it having the facilities to design and build a car? Is it the ability to raise money and find someone to design and build a chassis? We don’t even know the criteria used to select this year’s new teams. The FIA has to take this whole process out of their usual world of smoke and mirrors and make it happen out in the open. We don’t know who applied, who was interviewed, who made a presentation to the FIA and what criteria they fell short on. No F1 can or should take the FIA’s processes seriously when they don’t even know what they are.

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