Durango's ambition of stepping up from the GP2 and Auto GP series to Formula One received an unexpected boost overnight when anticipated rivals Lola and Prodrive announced that they would not
be filing bids with the FIA.
The Italian operation, which has not appeared in GP2 since last season's Spa round due to financial problems, is the only publicly-confirmed applicant for the 13th grid slot left vacant by the failure of the USF1 venture ahead of the 2010 campaign, although others are expected to be revealed in the coming days following Thursday's deadline for expressions of interest. Both Lola and Prodrive, which were surprisingly overlooked for this year's expansion spots, were expected to tender applications, making their overnight announcements something of a shock.
Despite having an F1 design on the stocks following its 2010 bid, Lola officially confirmed that it would not pursue an application as the deadline expired. The chassis manufacturer will remain a technology supplier to F1 via its technical centre and manufacturing facilities in Huntingdon, but will also continue to service other key industries, including aerospace, automotive and defence.
“A 2010 entry under the cost-capped and performance-balanced criteria was perfect for Lola," executive chairman and company owner Martin Birrane explained, "We already have F1 standard facilities at our headquarters in Huntingdon. Sadly, our well-developed 2010 F1 project, which included a significant wind tunnel programme, had to be frozen in June 2009. The recently announced applications for 2011 has left us with insufficient time to prepare for what would be a quite different programme.”
Prodrive, meanwhile, cited its renewed focus on the World Rally Championship - a company staple over the years - as the main reason for its decision to shy away from F1 next season. It had tabled a bid that was expected to run under the Aston Martin brand for 2010, and was also linked to a deal to take over the Renault team once its application was rejected.
"Our current focus is on Prodrive's return to the World Rally Championship in 2011 and that alone takes significant resource to design and develop a totally new car," company CEO David Richards confirmed in a statement.
"Taking on the challenge of starting a brand new Formula One team, finding the necessary funding and developing the car from scratch is a massive undertaking and not to be under-estimated. As expected, we've witnessed the financial and technical challenges that the new teams have faced this year in just getting to the grid, let alone being competitive. Whilst I have enormous admiration for their efforts, I don't believe this is an appropriate strategy for Prodrive or Aston Martin to adopt."
Richards has not ruled future F1 interest from Prodrive, but insists that the timing is not right for 2011.
"We've enjoyed a successful involvement in F1 in the past and respect the value it can create, [and] we will therefore keep a close eye on developments in the championship," he continued, "However, I have always made it very clear that the timing for a Prodrive entry would be judged on two criteria: that we could be competitive and that the business case would make it a financially viable proposition. Today, if we were to adopt the strategy of starting a new team, I don't believe it is possible to meet these two conditions."
Final details of all bids are expected to be lodged with the FIA in June, with the governing body expected to make its decision on the 13th team in July.
Both Prodrive and Lola will continue to be active in sportscar racing, with Richards confirming that Aston Martin Racing would likely expand its involvement and Lola looking set for its largest presence at Le Mans for 30 years when at least nine LMP cars tackle the 24 Hours. The first race of the European sportscar season last weekend saw Lola finish second and third overall at the Paul Ricard 8 Hours event.
"At the same time, we continue to expand our activities with Aston Martin in all categories of sportscar racing, in the USA, Europe and at Le Mans. We also have a full V8 Supercar series to contest in Australia with Ford, which together with further investment in advanced vehicle technologies for road car applications creates a very demanding agenda for the business," Richards concluded.