F1: Could a new British team soon be racing?

By LJ Hutchins

CalendarFriday, April 24th, 2009

 
 

Just as McLaren teeters on the edge of being shown the door out of F1, we learn that at least two other British teams are weighing up the pros and cons of entry.

First East Anglian chassis manufacturer Lola confirmed that it is considering entering a Formula One team in the 2010 championship after more than a decade away from the sport following its disastrous 1997 entry.

Then Prodrive’s David Richards said that he was “very serious” about re-examining F1 entry for the 2010 season – provided the sport’s planned budget cap made the project an affordable proposition.

Of course there is no guarantee that either team would be handed an entry slot by the FIA – especially since Prodrive was approved to compete in 2008 and did not take up the opportunity thanks to a row about the legality of customer cars.

But both companies are currently making very positive noises – and are thought to be among a clutch of outfits preparing to compete for the right to enter motorsport’s top flight.

Huntingdon-based Lola executive chairman Martin Birrane said: “The announcement that F1 teams may opt for a financially responsible, prudent cost-capped regime from 2010 led us to fully evaluate the opportunity.

“The current necessity for Formula 1 to adopt a responsible approach in times of economic uncertainty has created the ideal conditions for us to consider developing a car for the world championship.

“Lola possesses the technical resources, capability and know-how to develop cars capable of competing at the very highest levels of international motorsport, including Formula 1.”

The company is probably best currently known for its sportscar chassis – including a very public row it had recently with Richards’ Aston Martin group about the provenance of its LMP1 Le Mans challenger – but also builds for a wide range of single-seater categories including Formula 3, A1GP, F3000 and Formula Nippon.

This has left it superbly prepared, with an F1-standard wind tunnel, expertise in computational fluid dynamics capability and an advanced suspension dynamics machine known as a “seven-post shaker rig”. If you want more details, you’ll have to ask Mike Gascoyne or someone – because we don’t know.

Lola had its fingers badly burned in 1997, after being rushed into the sport to meet the unrealistic expectations of a sponsor, but has spent the intervening years consolidating its position as a household name of British motorsport engineering.

Meanwhile Richards continues his campaign to knock the sport into the shape he’d prefer, saying: “We are very serious about entering Formula 1 in 2010 providing that it is commercially viable and there is the potential to be fully competitive.

“On the commercial side we would want a situation where the sort of budget you would need to be competitive would be sensible, especially given the challenging economic conditions we face today.

“And we would expect to see a reasonable return on our investment in the longer term. We would not want to be in Formula 1 just to make up the numbers.”

So, whatever McLaren face on Wednesday, and whatever the fate of the 2010 British Grand Prix, the country’s F1 fans can at least take comfort from the fact that the elite formula’s focus is still firmly in the UK.

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