The twin sagas of the US F1 and Campos Meta teams have been dragging on for months now, and with FIA technical checks due to take place in Bahrain just three weeks from Thursday, matters have finally reached a head.
A source close to the US F1 team has confirmed what we have all suspected for some time, namely that there is no money, the outfit is nowhere close to being ready for the start of the season, and that it has neither complete cars nor engines.
Peter Windsor gave the bad news to Jose Maria Lopez, his father and his manager/advisor Felipe McGough this week. Lopez is already in Europe trying to salvage a seat with the help of Bernie Ecclestone. As Argentina’s F1 TV producer, McGough is well connected, and knows Ecclestone well.
It’s a complex situation, and Bernie is juggling a lot of balls in the air as he tries to ensure that both Campos and Stefan GP make it to Bahrain in some form or another.
Last week at least three potential saviours were in contact with Dallara about taking over the car designed for Campos. They included none other than US F1 investor Chad Hurley, who apparently realised last week that the game was up, and decided to explore other avenues. He sent close associate Parris Mullins – with former Red Bull man Gunther Steiner acting in an advisory role – to check out the Dallara project. The car is nearly complete and is said to have potential, although obviously work has been on hold of late.
The Campos Meta team, now led by original investor Jose Ramon Carabante, has since confirmed that it still wants the Dallara, and Hurley and other potential customers have been thanked for their interest. It seems that Hurley is still in the frame, and there remains a scenario where both he and Lopez could get involved with the Campos Meta project.
However, sources suggest that although he sees some value in Grand Prix racing Hurley may be so disenchanted after the US F1 debacle that he’s not sure he wants to pursue it. “I think he doesn’t know what to do,” says one insider. Logic suggests that his money might be better spent on a more established outfit, and no doubt several are already chasing him.
Meanwhile Stefan GP is waiting in the wings, and the team could yet find its way onto the grid in Bahrain. Two complete cars are in Cologne, awaiting possible shipment to the Middle East, and Kazuki Nakajima has been busy in the Toyota simulator. A test is planned for Portugal later this month, but there are question marks about whether Bridgestone is willing co-operate with the team, unless it becomes a bona fide entry.
While everyone would agree that having 12 or even 13 teams on the grid would be good for the sport – that is after all why the FIA launched its campaign to bring in more entries – the problem now is that if either one or both of the Campos and Stefan teams is to make it to Bahrain, everything is going to have to happen way too fast, and with either insufficient testing, or none at all. It could all be very embarassing for F1, and the FIA will be keen to see that things are done properly.
There’s one matter that should not be overlooked. With due respect to car builders Dallara and Toyota, the circumstances may also compromise safety – and no doubt both companies are well aware that their reputations could be at stake.