Zoran Waits For US F1 To Die

Duncan ScottAnalyst IFebruary 17, 2010

F1 has been bleeding big players.

BMW have gone, Toyota have gone, Honda have gone. Really and truly, Renault have gone, even if their name lingers on like the Cheshire Cat's smile.

Nobody who has studied the sport's history has been surprised by any of this. It has always been the case that mass-market car makers come into F1 and drop out again.

Only Mercedes remain of the volume car makers, at least for now, and they are not so foolish as to think they can build a successful F1 car. After a long association with McLaren, they now have their name pasted on the car built by Ross Brawn's team and have brought Michael Schumacher back into F1 to drive it.

Should we F1 fans mourn the loss of the big boys? I don't believe so, but we do need their places on the grid to be filled.

To me and to other F1 traditionalists, independent teams are the heart of the sport. By independent, I mean not controlled by and bearing the name of a mass-market car manufacturer. Which is why I extend a cautious welcome to the new 2010 F1 teams.

Of the new teams, Virgin Racing seem certain to race, and we've already seen them testing in Spain. Sauber, too, appeared at the Spanish tests, and I count them as an independent even though they still have BMW in their team name; the Munich car company does not own them anymore.

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Peter Sauber, we know, can do a good job of running an F1 team. At the heart of the Virgin Racing team is Manor Motorsport, a well-established F3 outfit, so they also should have every prospect of surviving.

Lotus Racing have not tested yet, and it is far from certain that they will be ready to race in Bahrain on 14th March. However, they have the technical expertise of Litespeed F3 and significant financial backing from Malaysian sources, so I do expect them to become a real F1 team.

Campos Meta, unfortunately, seem doubtful. They have the pedigree of an F3 team, which is encouraging, but they are short of funding and also appear to have the involvement of former A1 GP boss Tony Teixeira, which does not fill my heart with joyous hope.

US F1 have a web site and a YouTube channel. Alas, they lack a car and the finance to support an F1 campaign, so much as I would love to see an American F1 team, I don't think we can count on those boys to fly the stars and stripes around the world's racetracks.

As the Campos Meta and US F1 dreams fade, the Stefan GP team hovers in the background, anxious to take a place on the grid.

When Toyota folded their F1 tent and moved on, it was little reported that Serbian engineer and businessman Zoran Stefanović bought their chassis, gearbox, and engine for his team Stefan GP. Crucially, he also secured Toyota's service support.

There is nothing you can do with an F1 car other than race in F1, it is good for no other purpose. So Zoran is highly motivated to gain an F1 entry, but the FIA have turned him down before.

In 2009, the FIA considered 15 applications for new entries to the F1 field, one of them was from Zoran's Stefan GP. As we now know, three entrants were selected, Virgin Racing, Campos Meta, and US F1.

All three successful entrants had agreed to use the Cosworth F1 engine, and Zoran made a complaint to the European Commision that the FIA had discriminated in favour of Cosworth runners.

As 2009 progressed, Toyota announced their withdrawal from F1, thus freeing a slot on the grid. Again Zoran applied, but lost out to Sauber. Now, with two of the FIA's favoured choices looking distinctly wobbly, Zoran is again poised to claim a place.

No less a person than Bernie Ecclestone has verified that Zoran Stefanović has secure finance to support an F1 team, having checked him out with the Serbian prime minister. Zoran's company AMCO makes products as diverse as parts for the Ariane space vehicle, rocket motors for the German military, wind turbine blades, and gearboxes for Formula Ford; the engineering resource at his disposal must be formidable.

Can the FIA still keep him out of F1? Is it remotely possible they still believe Peter Windor's US F1 is a better prospect?

Surely not.

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