One of the biggest stories of the build-up to the F1 2010 World Championship campaign is not that of newcomers Lotus, Virgin and Hispania (the somewhat unfortunately abbreviated HRT), but rather the two that failed to make it – Stefan GP and USF1.
Having acquired Toyota's ready-designed TF110 chassis, a supply of the Japanese manufacturer's engines and – subject to the simple signing of a contract – ex-Williams ace Kazuki Nakajima
and 1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve on the driving front, Stefan GP was all dressed up with nowhere to go as the clock ticked down towards the curtain-raising Bahrain Grand Prix.
When the FIA published its final entry list for the 2010 campaign – and Stefan was not on it, despite there being two available slots thanks to USF1's abject failure to even come close to making the grade – it brought an end to a most extraordinary saga.
Prior to being definitively turned down, the plucky and seemingly indefatigable Serbian effort had flirted with the idea of a merger with its States-based rival, proceeded to publicly slate the 'American dreamers' on its website once that merger was scuppered by Peter Windsor and Ken Anderson – quite possibly the final nail in its coffin, the F1 equivalent of an own goal if you like – and then swiftly issued a retraction when it dawned upon Zoran Stefanovic's boys that the FIA might not appreciate the clear insinuation that the governing body had a case to answer should USF1 not make the grid and Stefan GP miss out as a result. All in pidgin English, finally, that would not have looked altogether out-of-place had it come out of the mouth of Aleksander the Meerkat of Compare the Market
Stefan may yet elect to try again in 2011, though Crash.net
has learned that one of the reasons the FIA might have got cold feet about granting the Belgrade-based concern USF1's empty grid slot is that Toyota
has yet to actually be paid for the chassis, allied to the discovery that the funding behind the project is far from as plentiful as had been made out, with the guarantees of government backing little more than a smokescreen.
The whole USF1 episode, it is suggested, left the key movers in Paris with egg on their faces – and they came to the conclusion that they did not wish for squashed tomatoes to similarly come flying in their direction had Stefan likewise transpired to be all talk and little genuine action. A far more stringent vetting process will be put in-place for 2011, it would appear.
The whole story, indeed, somewhat brings back to memory the curious Phoenix episode of eight years ago, when in the run-up to the 2002 Australian Grand Prix
the remains of the bankrupt Prost Grand Prix were purchased by Phoenix Finance for £2.5 million following a bidding war with Minardi owner Paul Stoddart. The intention was to enter the world championship from round two in Malaysia a fortnight later, with Argentines Tarso Marques and Gastón Mazzacane behind the wheel of a brace of 2001-spec Prost AP04 chassis' equipped with 1998 Hart-designed Arrows V10 engines and assistance from new Arrows boss Tom Walkinshaw.
Phoenix even turned up in Sepang with drivers, cars, engines and team personnel, but the team's bid was blocked as a $48 million fee – required by dint of being a new team with some of Prost Grand Prix's assets, rather than having bought Prost in its entirety – had not been paid to the FIA as stipulated. Contending that they had indeed bought the defunct French squad and therefore by extension its rights to compete, Phoenix took its case to the High Court, but was rejected on the basis that whole teams and therefore world championship entries cannot simply be bought and sold.
The sport's commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone subsequently remarked of Phoenix managing director Charles Nickerson – an old acquaintance of Walkinshaw's that 'he has bought nothing in Formula 1...all he has bought is some show-off cars'.