Another name has entered the frame as a potential buyer for Renault's British F1 operation should the French manufacturer elect to go ahead and pull the plug on its top flight participation between now and the end of the year – Prodrive, which insists moreover that it is completely ready to roll.
Yesterday it was claimed that pan-European management organisation Gravity could be interested in purchasing the Oxfordshire-based outfit – potentially via venture capital firm Mangrove [see separate story – click here
] – and now it has been reported by French sports newspaper L'Équipe
that David Richards' independent engineering concern Prodrive might also be in the running.
The deal would involve the chassis side of the team being sold off – with Renault continuing to supply engines to both Prodrive and Red Bull Racing for at least the next two years – the relocation of the entire Prodrive operation from Banbury to Enstone and the branding of a minor car manufacturer new to F1...possibly, it has been mooted, Aston Martin
The report has been given added credence due to the fact that its author, French journalist Anne Giuntini, is married to Denis Chevrier, the head of Renault F1's engine department until the beginning of this year – and with the car maker's president Carlos Ghosn having delayed a final decision on the marque's commitment to the sport and openly questioned whether F1 will 'be very important for anybody if it doesn't answer some of the concerns that surround [it]', the writing would appear to be on the wall.
“We will make an announcement the day we have something interesting to announce,” a Prodrive spokesperson told L'Équipe
. “The truth is that Prodrive, whose candidacy was not accepted by the FIA for 2010, will be ready to take part in F1, on the condition of being able to be competitive and that the company be viable.”
The speculation makes sense for a number of reasons. The well-respected Richards has previous experience of guiding an F1 team and guiding it in impressive fashion, from his stints at Benetton in 1998 and BAR-Honda from 2002 to 2004; the former World Rally Championship (WRC)-winning co-driver knows the Enstone factory well and he was linked with replacing Flavio Briatore in the wake of the 'Singapore-gate' race-fixing scandal earlier this year; 2005 and 2006 aside, Renault has traditionally achieved its most consistent success at the highest level as an engine-supplier rather than as a team – engine and chassis-builder combined – in its own right; and Prodrive has been on the fringes of F1 promotion for a number of years, being passed over by governing body the FIA when the new entrants were announced for 2010 for reasons that remain – publicly at least – not altogether clear.
One person who may be somewhat less thrilled should Prodrive step in, however, would be 1997 F1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve – a man eager to return to the field and linked with the Gravity rumours, but one who fell out with Richards at BAR-Honda in 2003 and was replaced before the season was out by Takuma Sato.