Way back in April we found out that former Benetton and BAR team principal Dave Richards' company Prodrive will not be applying for the vacant slot to join the F1 grid in 2011. You can hardly blame him. First Prodrive was granted a slot in 2008 which it was unable to take up because the FIA failed to get customer car rules approved. Then Prodrive was declined a slot for this year which is now available again because USF1, the team which was selected, didn't have enough funds to get to the first race. Richards announced that instead of F1, his "focus is on Prodrive's return to the World Rally Championship in 2011." However, what he didn't say was that he would be bringing a new car manufacturer into the series and it looks like this will be Toyota.
This news is revealed in the cover story of the latest issue of The Paddock magazine which is based on an interview Pitpass' business editor Chris Sylt has done with Richards. "We will be back [in World Rally] next year with a brand new car. It is a new manufacturer," he says.
Although he would not disclose the identity of the manufacturer Richards did not deny that it could be Toyota. In addition to being chairman of Prodrive, Richards is also chairman of Aston Martin which has close links with Toyota as its new city car, the Cygnet, is based on the Japanese manufacturer's iQ model.
Earlier this year Toyota sent a team on fact-finding missions to the Rally Monte Carlo and Rally de Portugal further indicating a possible return. At the time, a spokesman for Toyota Motorsport said "we want to be prepared if and when we get a call from Japan to go and compete".
Toyota has money to spare having stopped its costly Formula One programme. Running a top rally team costs a car manufacturer around £13.5m annually - around 8% of the capital Toyota invested in F1 every year.
Then again, we hear from another usually reliable source that in fact Prodrive is returning to the WRC with another manufacturer that left F1 in 2009... BMW, which is seeking to enter the series with its popular Mini brand.
Richards says his decision not to re-enter F1 was driven by concern for the welfare of Prodrive's 579 staff. "I wasn't prepared to risk everyone's livelihoods," he says, adding "it was quite interesting to watch the reaction of everybody when I told them. The biggest fear people at Prodrive had is that we were going to risk everything on one throw of the dice by entering F1."
Although he is still a great believer in the value of F1, Richards says that the sport could do more to help itself. "I think we spend an awful lot of time focussed on technical regulations and not enough on the sporting regulations," he says, explaining: "Formula One is dominated too much by the engineering side of the team and historically, aerodynamicists as well, so you end up with cars that give you the result they have got. Inevitably they are going to be influenced because they have got vast investments in wind tunnels and infrastructure to deliver what they have got today. I think Bernie left to his own devices would probably come up with the right answers but he is too influenced by all the people around him."
Summarising F1's key problem, Richards says "you're never going to get a show when you've got the best person at the front in the fastest car and the slowest person at the back." His radical solution is that "you could limit the track time at a Grand Prix weekend and have a rotation by a computer system that said where you were drawn on the grid for each race."