Following the announcement less than 24 hours ago that Lola is evaluating a return to Formula 1 after more than a decade away, David Richards has become the latest to throw his name into the hat for a potential 2010 entry – in a move that would see the iconic Aston Martin brand in the top flight for the first time in history.
The new optional budget cap announced last month by the FIA has attracted a wealth of attention, with as many as eight interested parties in occupying the three spaces on the grid that look set to make up a field of 26 cars next year, as recently evoked by the sport's supremo Bernie Ecclestone.
What's more, in support of this initiative, Formula One Management (FOM) chief executive Ecclestone is understood to be willing to offer a £30 million incentive to guarantee there are three extra teams in 2010 – as the threat of more manufacturers following Honda's lead in pulling the plug on their F1 projects in such uncertain times remains all-too real.
It is those very same economic circumstances, though, that have forced F1's rule makers to act and to set about drastically cutting costs within the sport – one that has traditionally been the most glamorous and expensive in the world. The budget cap is one such move – and one that has proved attractive to smaller teams and organisations like that of Richards.
Whilst it has long been assumed, however, that an entry by the British entrepreneur would be in the guise of his independent Prodrive operation – which flirted seriously with a £45 million graduation in 2008, and was indeed granted the twelfth and final spot on the grid before the customer car row stopped the bid in its tracks – the team would instead go under the name of legendary British marque Aston Martin, synonymous in recent years with sportscar glory courtesy of back-to-back GT1 class victories in the Le Mans 24 Hours.
Richards has a proven record in F1, though, having led BAR-Honda (now Brawn GP) to its most successful season ever back in 2004, and being credited with rescuing current world championship leader Jenson Button's career from the mire. He also acted as team principal of Benetton-Renault in 1998.
“This is a great time to come in,” the 56-year-old is quoted as having said by The Times
. “If budgets are capped to a sensible level, everybody will benefit. Instead of Formula 1 being a contest of the teams with the most money, it will become a championship for engineers with ingenuity and great drivers who can show their skill, as it was years ago.
“Nothing is decided yet, but the key to all of this is the financial reality that the budget cap will bring. Take a £300 million budget and, in reality, all you really need is a tenth of that. Things just got hopelessly out of control. What Max [Mosley, FIA President] has come up with is not just eminently sensible but crucial to the survival of the sport. This way, new teams can become involved at a sensible price and with a chance of being competitive.”
Richards already boasts state-of-the-art facilities in both Banbury and at Fen End in nearby Warwickshire, as well as a reputed 142-strong workforce, and talks are in the pipeline with Middle Eastern backers. Moreover, commercial rights-holder Ecclestone is said to be willing to donate £7 million to each new team making the jump, in addition to £3 million each for a season's travel costs.
Aside from Aston Martin and Lola, the budget cap has also elicited interest from the Peter Windsor and Ken Anderson-headed US GPE creation, as well as Northampton-based private engine company Cosworth, which could return to the grand prix grid for the first time since 2006.
It is expected that Mosley will push through his radical budget cap proposal next week, with the £30 million limit to be officialised and to cover the cost of both chassis' and engines.