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Indian group courting BMW – and aiming to bring Jani into F1?

5 September 2009

An Indian consortium has put in a bid to purchase BMW-Sauber and compete in the 2010 Formula 1 World Championship – in a deal that could finally give former Red Bull protégé Neel Jani his long-awaited break in the top flight.

BMW announced in late July that it will pull the plug on its official involvement in F1 at the end of the present campaign, only four years on from joining the fray as a manufacturer in its own right when it bought the former Sauber operation. That has left an extra slot available on the grand prix starting grid next season – which will either be filled by someone taking over from BMW-Sauber or, in the event of no buyer, one of the initially unsuccessful applicants like Epsilon Euskadi or Prodrive, who have all been invited by governing body the FIA to re-submit their proposals.

According to the Times of India, a group of Indian investors has made an application to purchase the Hinwil-based outfit and become the second Indian-owned team in the field after Vijay Mallya's Force India operation, though there is currently no Indian driver competing at the highest level. If accepted, the deal could offer a lifeline to former A1GP Champion Jani.

The highly-rated young Swiss star's father is Indian, and Jani had looked set for a fast-track into F1 after being signed up as test and reserve driver by Scuderia Toro Rosso back in 2006, only for Red Bull to subsequently end its relationship with him and send him scurrying across the Pond to Champ Cars. The 25-year-old later returned to Europe to stamp his authority on the World Cup of Motorsport for his home country, with title glory in the 2007/08 campaign.

“My father is Indian and my mother Swiss,” revealed Jani, who according to F1-Live signed an agreement with an Indian sports management company this week, “so although I've been brought up in Switzerland, my father has always insisted we stay connected to our Indian roots. [I am] committed to reaching the pinnacle of motorsport, and when I do so it would make me even more proud to know I have the support of India.”

The Indian offer is believed to be in the region of €50 million, only €5 million more than Peter Sauber is reported to have pledged when the Austrian – who retains a 20 per cent stake in the squad – initially made an attempt to save the team he personally founded more than a decade earlier. BMW has stated that it is willing to accept €65 million, provided the buyer can guarantee a three-year spending plan of around €100 million.

Meanwhile, another potential saviour for BMW-Sauber could come in the form of the Malaysian government. The team already has Malaysian links thanks to long-time sponsor and state-owned oil company Petronas, and it is believed that a government-backed consortium from the Asian country has made a bid to gain control of the beleaguered outfit too.

The Malaysian government has prior involvement in F1 through the Sepang International Circuit near Kuala Lumpur, home to the annual grand prix since 1999, whilst it has also been surmised that a Malaysian entry into the sport may be made regardless of whether an offer is accepted by BMW or not. There is speculation that former Toyota, Force India, Renault and Jordan technical director Mike Gascoyne and erstwhile Ferrari global brand department leader Dany Bahar could be teaming up together. Bahar is understood to have left the Scuderia to run Lotus, with the iconic British marque having been behind Litespeed GP's abortive 2010 entry effort, in which Gascoyne was a key player. Only recently GP2 Asia Series contender Meritus Racing similarly revealed its intention to become the first Asian team to graduate to F1 – albeit possibly not until 2016 [see separate story – click here].

“Nothing has been finalised and there's nothing to comment,” Malaysian sports minister Datuk Ahmad Shabery Cheek told the Malay Mail. “I'm not confirming, neither am I saying otherwise. Let's wait for the PM to make the announcement. Who knows what will happen after the Singapore GP?”

BMW Motorsport Director Dr Mario Theissen – who it is said is unhappy with the Bavarian manufacturer and is keen to stay on-board at Sauber should the team be saved – has alluded to a number of possible rescue bids sitting on the table, remarking: “There are several interested parties, and we are just about to evaluate the individual proposals. The first priority is to secure the future of the team in my current role with the team, and then after the season we can see what will happen to me.”

A decision regarding the successful applicant for the 13th and final slot on the 2010 F1 grid is expected to be made by the FIA within the next two weeks.


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