For a team that doesn’t quite exist yet, Stefan GP has attracted a lot of comment in recent weeks. It’s also been attracting a lot of drivers, as people wake up to the fact that the 2010 Toyota – even run by someone else – might not be such a bad car.
Kazuki Nakajima is already set for a race drive, and has been busy on the simulator in Cologne. There are obviously commercial considerations in taking him, and it wins Toyota some much needed positive PR in Japan.
Others in the mix include Romain Grosjean, Christian Klien and most interestingly, Bruno Senna. Grosjean apparently has some money, while the last named has a contract with Campos. However sources suggest that he has already been in touch, and if he has, it’s because he knows better than most which way the wind is blowing in Spain.
In fact the Brazilian would be an ideal choice, because he would create a certain amount of goodwill around the team. Any move to replace Campos with Stefan on the entry list, whatever form it takes, is bound to be complicated, and there may be objections from some quarters. But everyone, not least Bernie Ecclestone, can appreciate the boost to the sport that Senna’s name will provide if he jumps ship. If Stefan ends up buying Campos out, then keeping Bruno would be a no brainer anyway.
Ralf Schumacher has talked to the Stefan guys – it’s said he’s even been to Belgrade to meet them – but inevitably he told them he has no intention of bringing any money. It’s hard to see that his name on its own will attract any, or even why he’d want to come back in a team that, even with a decent base car and a few familiar faces around him, is not going to be challenging for podiums.
There have been questions about where the money is coming from, and Ecclestone raised a few eyebrows when he mentioned in the Sunday Express last weekend that there was government backing, and that he’d ‘met the prime minister.’
Since the former Mrs E is from neighbouring Croatia, and Bernie has strong links in the region, we have no reason to doubt him. In fact the funding is from an agency called SIEPA, or the Serbia Investment and Export Promotion Agency, whose role is to promote business in the country. It describes itself as “a government organisation dedicated to effectively helping foreign investors and buyers, while raising Serbia’s profile in the minds of international business decision-makers. Created in 2001 by the Government of the Republic of Serbia, SIEPA’s mission is to support foreign companies seeking to set up or expand in Serbia and Serbian companies when doing business worldwide.”
So that sounds pretty solid, but it seems unlikely that SIEPA is underwriting the whole thing, which is why Nakajima is on board and drivers with funding are of interest.
Zoran Stefanovich is clearly a very clever and well-connected guy, and Bernie would not be backing him if he hadn’t been convinced. But from the outside, it all looks a bit messy, not least the stories about Stefan buying Dallara’s IP from under the nose of Campos. If true, it’s an amusing bit of gamesmanship – worthy of instant membership of the Piranha Club for Mr Stefanovich – but probably not very funny for Adrian Campos.
Whether Stefan finally gets in by formally taking over the Campos entry, or just by barging it out of the way, remains to be seen. Certainly Stefan’s attempt to show it means business by sending its sea freight to the opening races is a little presumptuous.
Matters have been further complicated by the ‘amnesty’ that will allow the new teams to miss the first three races. Not that it helps much, other than in terms of time, because the cost of just getting to race four in China on its own will not be insignificant. But when does a struggling team finally have to admit defeat – Thursday scrutineering in Shanghai?
Even with Ecclestone’s support you can’t talk you way onto the grid just because you have a car, and the FIA will have to make sure that everything is done by the book. I’d still love to see Jean Todt’s face if and when he signs off on a team whose technical director is Mike Coughlan…
There is a bigger picture, however. F1 would be silly to let the former Toyota team slip away, because in a year or two we might be desperate to find some serious candidates for the grid. The frustrating thing is that the Toyota board’s handling of its withdrawal was as heavy handed as BMW’s. Having saved its decision until after the last race, making a rescue almost impossible,Tokyo then refused to sanction a management buyout or allow a third party to buy its entry.
That in effect would have meant selling a Toyota subsidiary, but clearly the paperwork could have been juggled to allow it to happen, and the team’s future would have been secured in November/December. Although that in turn would have made life complicated for Peter Sauber, who at that time was on the outside, looking in, as the ‘14th’ entry. Sorting that conundrum out would have been a big headache for his old pal Jean…