In recent weeks there have been a flurry of media reports about Stefan GP, the prospective F1 team which hit the headlines in August by making a complaint to the European Commission over the FIA's selection process for the new teams which enter the sport next year. Since then, all has gone quiet on the complaint front but, Pitpass' business editor Chris Sylt says that behind the scenes Stefan GP's F1 plans are reaching a crossroads and, as usual, it all comes down to funding.
First it came to light that Stefan GP, which is run by Serbian Zoran Stefanovic, was looking to buy Toyota's slot and this seemed like a perfectly sensible solution. Then, when that fell through, it was reported that Stefanovic was persisting nevertheless with getting into F1 in 2010, slot or no slot. This sounded strange but Stefanovic soon clarified to say that he would aim for 2011 if his team couldn't enter in 2010.
So far so good but then an astonishing report started doing the rounds earlier this week claiming that Stefan GP would test its F1 car throughout 2010 if it fails to get a grid slot for next year. If it does indeed do this it would make history in F1 since you have to think long and very hard to name any team in the sport's 60 year history which has designed, built and tested a car without having a slot to race in. There is very good reason for this.
Designing and building an F1 car costs tens of millions of pounds - money which will go straight down the drain if the car never races, and if the team in question has no grid slot, then this is far from a remote possibility. It's no coincidence that F1 has never even seen billionaires or car companies designing, building and testing cars without the guarantee of a slot to race them.
You often find investors standing by prospective teams, waiting in the wings to pour money into R&D and production as soon as the team gets the green light but it is truly remarkable to find backers which are prepared to take a punt with no guarantee that the fruit of their efforts will ever see the light of day. So if Stefan GP can pull this off it would certainly be pioneering, particularly during the current economic climate, but even if it succeeds it will still have a hill to climb.
Stefan GP seems to be in somewhat of a catch 22. This is because the cost-conscious FIA may well take a very dim view of a team which has no slot but is trumpeting that it is designing, building and testing a car regardless. This could lead to it not being awarded a slot, even if one becomes available, which would leave its investors wincing and would smear egg all over the face of the reporters who originally heralded the team's ambitions.
Indeed, amongst the headlines of 'Stefan GP still pushing for F1 entry', 'Stefan GP still seeking 2010 grid slot' and 'Stefan GP planning to test F1 car' the one question which isn't asked is where Stefan GP's funding is coming from.
Given that even car companies and billionaires have shied away from the idea of fully preparing an F1 car without having an F1 slot, it makes it all the more important for Stefan GP's backers to have deep pockets. One doesn't have to look too far to find examples in F1 of projects which have failed because they lacked funding.
Indeed, ironically, one publication which has given pages and pages of coverage to Stefan GP's plans, without covering the question of its funding source, then again, this is the very same organ which for months trumpeted Simon Gillett's ambitious plans for Donington with headlines such as 'Donington will deliver'. Say no more.