Prodrive chairman David Richards recently revealed his thoughts on the future of F1 – and Prodrive’s potential involvement – during an interview with me at Coventry University, where he was being presented with an honorary doctorate.
Though he sounded a note of caution about involvement in F1, and called for regulation changes to spice up the racing and reduce costs, he didn’t actually deny that Prodrive was looking at Renault’s F1 operation...
Q: Are you in the market for a Formula 1 team, maybe Renault?
DR: Who knows. The situation in Formula 1 is changing all the time at the moment and nobody quite knows where it’s going to end up.
We’ve seen this year the withdrawal of Toyota and BMW and the introduction of new teams coming in. I think next year is going to be a real watershed year. It’s going to be a very challenging period because most of these [new] teams have not got the budget, the income, to run at the level they want to. I think there’s a reality dawning on them all that somehow they’re going to have to pull the costs out of it.
At the end of the day there will be somebody like a Ferrari or a McLaren who will have more money than anybody else. Until they get the rules right that allows the best managed, the best engineered teams to win, not necessarily the ones with the deepest pockets, I’m not so sure it’s a very healthy place to be at the moment.
Q What are the changes would you like to see in F1 regulations?
DR: There are all sorts of issues. You’ve got the disparity in engine performance. It’s a great idea having an engine freeze, they are all supposedly very similar – similar bores, strokes, cranks, weights of the engines, the centre of gravity of the engine. But still the disparity of performance of 30hp is enough to mean the difference between a Mercedes engine and a Renault engine, between winning and being outside the top 10. While aerodynamics plays such as important part, I think that will remain.
If we could reduce the aerodynamics dramatically I think that would transform Formula 1 from both a competitive point of view and from a spectators' point of view. I think that’s become one of the fundamental problems, and I think the involvement of manufacturers will demand this more and more – they’re going to ask for far more relevance in motor sport for the future.
I saw a quote from Renault’s Carlos Ghosn yesterday saying until Formula 1 becomes relevant to our technologies for the future, why would we spend so much money on this and not spend it on our road cars? He raises a very valid question.
Q: What would tempt you back into F1?
DR: There are two fundamentals for me. If we go into Formula 1 it’s got to be on the basis that we will be competitive – nobody expects to challenge at the front in their first year. And secondly that we will be viable economically. It’s no good going in with some dream and thinking that somehow you’re going to beat the economics that nobody else can beat, and half way through the year you run out of cash and all your people are laid off on the street, that’s a ridiculous thing to do. I will only do it if I can see a very clear plan over a three-year period.
Q: So what are Prodrive’s priorities at the moment?
We will be back in the World Rally Championship in 2011 with a new manufacturer. We expect to announce that in the coming weeks before Christmas. We’ve got the Le Mans programme with Aston Martin - a lot going on there for the future. I’d like to see us back in touring car racing, I think that’s a possibility.
You can listen to the full Q&A in this podcast from Coventry University