Whilst it has been surmised that a David Richards-led entry into Formula 1 in 2010 could be under the banner of either legendary British sportscar marque Aston Martin or independent engineering concern Prodrive, it now appears the most likely branding will be of a Middle Eastern nature – and will possibly even feature the iconic 1960s Gulf colours made so famous in the Le Mans 24 Hours endurance classic.
The formal ratification by the FIA World Motor Sport Council of Max Mosley's optional £40 million budget cap from next year onwards – a move designed to significantly reduce expenditure within the top flight, as well as to entice new teams to make the graduation – has seemingly persuaded Richards to throw his hat into the ring for a third time, having previously been at the helm of both Benetton (in 1998) and BAR-Honda (from 2002 to 2004), the latter with considerable success.
Having come close to making the leap with Prodrive last season until the explosion of the customer car row stopped the bid in its tracks, the former World Rally Championship-winning co-driver is understood to be on the verge of trying again, having always insisted that he will do so only when all the conditions are right for his team to be both successful on-track and economically viable away from it.
Currently in the oil-rich Middle East for talks with potential investors, Richards has revealed that he is hoping to tap into as-yet unexplored markets for motorsport in the United Arab Emirates outside of Bahrain and Abu Dhabi, which both now boast slots on the F1 calendar. Aside from the wealth of financial resources in the region, other advantages include the comparatively low price of commodities there and plethora of skilled workers.
The Welshman's plans are believed to include the establishment of an auxiliary 'composite plant' mechanical manufacturing base in the UAE to complement the principal European operational headquarters. He has also made clear that he would assume only a low-key role within the squad, with a younger team principal taking charge of the day-to-day running – and there is a possible engine deal with Cosworth in the pipeline too.
“I am looking seriously at (a Middle Eastern) option,” the 56-year-old confirmed to Abu Dhabi newspaper The National
. “That's why I'm here. There are discussions to be held here in the UAE and elsewhere. We are looking for partners in the Gulf. We are aware that those partners will want a return on their investment, and we are looking at how we can provide that.
“There has been much investment in circuits in this area, but the involvement of a team would take the region much further afield. It would spread around the globe, [and] I think this part of the world is ideal for establishing something like this.
“There is a tremendous amount of interest in what we are doing – two individuals have approached me wanting to be part of this project. I have every reason to feel that our operation here could be very beneficial to the region.”
Indeed, with Bahrain's inclusion on the annual calendar from 2004 and Abu Dhabi set to join the fray in November, the construction of an extravagant, $US2.5 billion F1-style theme park entitled 'Motor City' in neighbouring Dubai and a Ferrari theme park in Abu Dhabi and the involvement of an increasing number of local brands such as Ferrari sponsor Etihad Airways, there has never been a better time to jump on the UAE motorsport bandwagon – something of which Richards is all-too aware.
Whilst a Prodrive-branded entry would afford little in the way of economic benefits, going under the illustrious Aston Martin name would arguably boost road car sales for the Gaydon-based manufacturer in much the same way as Ferrari's success in the top flight has done for the Italian supercar-maker – but a Middle Eastern entry could arguably hold even greater allure still.
It is suggested by grandprix.com
that Richards will likely be in discussions with Aston Martin Racing key sponsor Gulf Oil, with speculation that an F1 programme in Gulf's evocative blue and orange colours could only be of benefit to the company's global image and recognition. The colours made a welcome return to Le Mans competition at La Sarthe last June, as Aston Martin secured its second consecutive GT1 class triumph.