Having existed largely on driver representation in recent years, Spain could be poised to gain a second Formula One team if rumours concerning a replacement for the ailing BMW Sauber team are to be believed.
According to Britain's Guardian
newspaper, World Series by Renault stalwart - and original 2010 F1 aspirant - Epsilon Euskadi is emerging as the leading contender to replace the German outfit after an initial rescue bid by minority stakeholder, and former F1 entrant, Peter Sauber was rejected in the hours before the new Concorde Agreement was signed last week.
Reports confirm that FIA president Max Mosley has re-opened talks with those teams rejected in the initial F1 expansion in June and still interested in making the step up to the top flight, after BMW Sauber's shock withdrawal announcement created the opportunity for a fourth
new face on next season's grid. Campos Meta, Manor Grand Prix and Team US F1 were all granted entries as F1 opened up three additional slots earlier this year, while others - including Prodrive, Litespeed and Epsilon Euskadi - were invited to remain in negotiations about possible future vacancies, albeit at the time expected to arise because of the FIA-FOTA dispute over the future direction of the sport.
Staunchly Basque-based, Epsilon Euskadi was originally seen a technical partner for Team US F1, which had revealed that it hoped to base a European staging post for its American-based operation in northern Spain, but is now being considered as a strong candidate to make the grade in its own right. Headed up by former Tyrrell, Benetton and Prost team manager Joan Villadelprat, the outfit has been a frontrunner in the Nissan and Renault World Series, winning the latter title with current BMW Sauber driver Robert Kubica in 2005. It recently expanded into sportscar racing, having constructed its own sports prototype to run in the LMP1 class of the Le Mans Series.
As with its fellow newcomers, Epsilon Euskadi is expected to reveal that it will use Cosworth power for any F1 project.
Villadelprat appears well aware of the pit-falls facing a new operation, having recently commented on the fading fortunes of the Brawn team which dominated the opening third of the current F1 season, having risen from the ashes of the former Honda squad.
“The solitude and isolation since the departure of Honda is beginning to weigh,” he wrote in a column for El Pais
, “They have obtained some sponsors, but none of significance. Virgin's contribution is modest, and they have already announced they will not be around in the next campaign. This is a problem, because there is no money to invest in the car. Until now they have lived on the money of Honda - even the developments presented in Barcelona were financed by the Japanese, [but] the slowness in improvements is noticeable now in comparison with the other teams, especially Red Bull.”
Should Epsilon Euskadi get the nod from the FIA, it would be another blow for David Richards' hopes of returning to F1 with his Prodrive operation, despite the Briton claiming recently that he believes that his team would be the only contender to enter the fray with a budget in place. Richards' biggest reservation over whether he would want
to be involved, however, stems from the lack of clarity of technical alliances with other participants, having acknowledged a tie-up with McLaren.
"I'm fairly certain that we were the only team who could prove to the FIA that it had £40m in a bank account and was therefore ready for the off [if selected for next season]," he said of F1's initial expansion phase, "We could be ready to roll in October [the deadline for confirming a 2010 entry
] - provided the regulations permit our concept with McLaren. I haven't seen the newest Concorde Agreement, and therefore I do not know whether it will permit the use of certain components by several teams. That is a critical factor for me. I do not believe that one can make a new car competitive in such a short time, and we have a partnership agreement with McLaren, which has been in place for a long time."
Epsilon Euskadi's emergence comes in the wake of the most-widely expected rescue plan for the BMW Sauber team having faltered. When the German giant revealed that it was terminating its involvement in F1, many expected former owner Peter Sauber to lead a bid to keep the team involved - something that the Swiss himself later confirmed.
However, it was revealed late last week that an offer from Sauber was rejected by BMW, despite the impending conclusion to negotiations over a new Concorde Agreement. BMW confirmed that it had been - and still is - in talks with Sauber and 'other interested parties' to sell off its 80 per cent stake the F1 operation, but could not reach a deal before the other twelve teams signed a extension to the Concorde Agreement. Missing out on adding its signature to the list could potentially cost Sauber, or whoever takes control of the team, a share of the sport's income in future seasons.
"Negotiations with BMW broke down because demands had simply been too high for me," Sauber confirmed to Reuters
over the weekend.