So it seems that US F1 is now dead and Campos has now been bought by Jose Ramon Carabante, with Colin Kolles taking over as team principal. The former isn’t particularly surprising. I was quite cynical when they first appeared, and although after Mosley’s plan for a cheap F1 was unveiled my doubts did decrease, I’ve always thought it was the weakest of the new teams. Whereas Campos and Manor/Virgin were being built upon existing outfits and Lotus had experience and money behind it, US F1 was starting completely from scratch in the US of A, a place where few care about F1 a long way away from the majority of races by a journalist and a lowly designer who hasn’t been in F1 for 20 years. The initial optimism and pledges for American drivers, non-paying drivers and that they had loads of cash proved unfounded, and now it’s seemingly over, with Lopez in Britain trying to haggle a seat at the other struggling new team.
Campos’ “demise” is a bit more surprising as Adrian Campos is a wise old head, and he had another alongside him in Audetto. Spain is not a place you’d think you’d struggle to get F1 sponsorship right now, but that is what happened – Audetto stated that some of the team’s backers had been worried after Mosley’s budget cap disappeared, so they probably got cold feet and since then, it’s been downhill all the way. Carabante’s takeover is an odd one – I have no idea how much he has got, and neither has anyone else it seems. It wouldn’t surprise me if it just a stopgap measure until someone else – say, I don’t know, Volkswagen AG – buys the team next year.
These latest events surely call into question the structure of the F1 entry system. Aside from Mosley’s choice of teams, which looks worse in hindsight than it actually was given that at the time (it was Manor everyone was singling out to struggle), the current situation of there being 13 entry slots, with 2 struggling teams and Stefan GP waiting on the outside with a car that is now ready to go (apart from that it’s got no round black things to go on), a credible driver onboard and perhaps a world champion as well, is proving to be farcical. There needs to be reform of how a team can enter F1 – I’d suggest 2 alternative systems.
The first is for there to be few restrictions – essentially an open entry list for individual races. In the past, it was possible to enter on a race-by-race basis. You didn’t have to enter every race at the start and risk being crucified for not making a race. There weren’t a limited number of entry slots – as many teams could enter as they want, with pre-qualifying sessions, 26 cars in qualifying and 24 cars making the race, and survival of the fittest over the course of the year. There were as many as 40 entries for a couple of races in 1989. I don’t think we’d see that many entries again unless customer cars were reintroduced. The championship would govern its own entry list naturally, by letting those compete who can compete. Stefan GP would be allowed to race – there would be no fussing about entries for the season and dying teams.
This is the way most motor racing championships in the world work and they do fine. It is only F1 who took a different path and chose to govern entries more strictly. There are some interesting opportunities that could open up – e.g. how about one-off entries from local teams, as in the 1960s and 1970s? Again, this would probably rely more on customer cars, as no one would build a car for one race, and that is a big debate in itself.
The second is for there to be a franchise system, as is the case in American ball sports like American football, baseball and basketball. This is similar to how the V8 Supercar Series works as well. There would be 13 permanent franchises competing in F1, and you would have to buy one to compete, with no if’s or but’s from the likes of Zoran Stefanovic. The 13 outfits would have their bases, which would mean there are 13 constantly functioning outfits – only the owners would change, unless a new owner came in, bought a franchise, and had facilities and a working team capable of running as well (as with franchise relocations in the US sports).
A number of F1 teams have been treated this way in recent years – see Jordan, which became Midland, Spyker and now Force India, or Tyrrell, which became BAR (moving to a new facility), Honda, Brawn and now Mercedes. Indeed, this is not far off how the entry system works already – each team is given an entry number which the prize money is allocated to. But this is not totally strict – Brawn had to be allocated a new entry number for last year, as did Sauber for this year. A franchise system would be stricter – starting from scratch, with no opportunity to form a new franchise unless the FIA allows a grid expansion. Also the entry numbers are given to the company as opposed to the team – there was talk that for Stefan to enter via Toyota’s entry, Toyota would have to sell Toyota Motorsport as a whole to Stefanovic. This system would be far less complex. For example, these would be the franchises in order of when they “began” in F1:
Franchise 1 – Ferrari (1950)
Franchise 2 – McLaren (1966)
Franchise 3 – Mercedes (1970, as Tyrrell)
Franchise 4 – Williams (1977)
Franchise 5 – Renault (1981, as Toleman)
Franchise 6 – Toro Rosso (1985, as Minardi)
Franchise 7 – Force India (1991, as Jordan)
Franchise 8 – Sauber (1993)
Franchise 9 – Red Bull (1997, as Stewart)
Franchise 10 – Stefan (2002, as Toyota)
Franchise 11 – Virgin (2009)
Franchise 12 – Campos (2009)
Franchise 13 – Lotus (2009)
As you can see, Stefan would be in after all, but it would prevent situations like this with a team waiting on the sidelines thinking it’s still got a chance – Stefan of course do have a chance of making it but only if they buy an existing entry (namely US F1’s), or the FIA decide to fast-track them in last minute (which is unlikely).
There would be a problem if the owners of the franchise run out of money and have to bail with no one able to take over in time. It would get a bit messy. That scenario would probably mean the franchise sitting out the season but with a realistic chance of returning.
Either way would be more feasible than the current system, which seems to be almost a franchise system but not quite. The FIA needs to go down a particular route instead of almost straddling the two – either return to the roots of F1 of totally free entries for each race, or make it franchise-based. The latter would probably be the most appropriate for a series the size of F1 and considering the engineering constraints, but with room for customer cars, the former could work, and would be very interesting to see – it is a holy grail for many hardcore F1 fans to see a return to the 1989/90 days of enormous race entry lists or guest entries.