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Endangered Species?

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
Jaguar R5 at Speed

Nicholas Frankl Contributing Editor

The racing world was shocked to learn that arguably the most successful motor sport manufacturer, Ford Motor Company, had pulled funding from both its World Rally and Formula One Grand Prix teams for 2005. Although it is believed that the rally team, which is managed by Malcolm Wilson, will still compete in a couple of events in 2005, the outlook for the Jaguar F1 program and Cosworth racing is dire.

Hope rests squarely on the shoulders of Red Bull energy drink principal and billionaire Dietrich Mateschitz. The racing enthusiast has been involved in F1 for over 10 years and has at one time or another been linked to buying Minardi, Arrows, Jordan and Sauber, which he at one time owned 60% of. FMC is said to be keen to ‘give the team away’ as a going concern so long as the new owner can guarantee its continued participation in Formula One, but if a buyer cannot be found in the next 30 days they will simply close down the UK based operation.

Red Bull is the world’s best selling energy drink and is closely linked with F1 and extreme sports, an association which they are keen to build upon. However, a major deal breaker is Cosworth engineering. Mateschitz doesn’t want to use its engines, which reportedly cost FMC / Jaguar racing $40m in 2004 and doesn’t believe it has a business case without Ford’s support. Sources suggest that FMC accounts for up to 80% of the business at the legendary racing firm. Mateschitz is adamant that to be successful in F1 you must have a works engine deals and as a last resort would rather pay for a ‘spec’ engine, something that Bernie Ecclestone has been encouraging Toyota to sell him for 2005.

A number of problems remain not least adapting the almost completed 2005 Jaguar chassis to a new engine and attracting new paying sponsors (principal sponsor HSBC has terminated its $35m/yr deal after 7 years) to cover the estimated $120m operating costs. Cosworth’s fate will also impact contracted teams Minardi and Jordan, who have already spent valuable resources developing their 2005 chassis to work with the new (but now uncertain Cosworth TJ V10). Minardi team principal Paul Stoddard has stated that he has 23 engines in stock from this season and will need to rebuild them 50 times to compete in 2005, which he is prepared and budgeted for. With time running out he is urging the FIA to allow him to run his 2004 spec car, ignoring the new 2005 rule changes which are forecast to reduce lap times by 3 seconds.

Whatever the outcome, Ford’s departure has shaken Formula One to its core. If the world’s third largest car company cannot afford to compete, who can?