Just four years ago, Peter Sauber sold an 80% stake in his Formula 1 team to BMW. Sauber retained a 20% interest in the team. Now, in the wake BMW’s planned exit from the sport, Sauber has agreed in principal to buy back the shares he sold to the German carmaker.
The deal is said to be contingent upon Sauber’s guaranteed entry in the 2010 Formula 1 championship. BMW failed to sign the new Concorde agreement for 2010, which normally would deprive the team of a slot on the grid. However, subsequent to BMW’s exit from the series, Toyota (a Concorde signatory team) also announced their withdrawal for 2010, which ostensibly created a vacancy on the grid. Sauber is hoping that his team will be allowed to fill the gap left by Toyota.
Until recently, it was thought that a mysterious investment consortium called Qadbak would acquire the BMW-Sauber team. It now appears that this deal has been aborted. As reported in The Guardian, a BMW spokesman said, “Negotiations were terminated recently. The combination of no legally effective contract and no starting place [on the grid] ultimately led to a dead end.”
Qadbak’s interest in the acquisition was dulled when it emerged that FOTA (Formula One Teams Association) would not agree to allow a 14th team participate in next season’s championship. As all points-earning teams participate in commercial payouts from FOCA at the end of each season, individual team shares would potentially become diluted by the entry of an additional team. This would account, in part at least, for FOTA’s reluctance to grant a late exception entry to Qadbak.
Toyota’s withdrawal would seem to have resolved this dilemma, however. As a 13-team grid for 2010 had already been agreed upon by Concorde signatories, it’s thought that there should be no obstacle to admitting Sauber as a replacement for Toyota. The FIA is expected to approve the motion at the December 9th meeting of the World Motorsport Council.
Peter Sauber, who originally founded the team in 1993, said of the pending deal, “I am very happy we have found this solution. I am convinced that the new team has a very good future in Formula One, whose current transformation with new framework conditions will benefit the private teams.”
Sauber and other indepedent Formula 1 owners are optimistic about what appears to be a return to the privateer model of team ownership in the sport. Over the past decade, Formula 1 has been dominated by major car manufacturers, including Fiat/Ferrari, Mercedes, Ford, Honda, Renault, Toyota and BMW, which has had the effect of raising the average team budget beyond the reach of independent team owners. However, the departure of most of the manufacturers, along with an agreement by FOTA to reduce their team budgets by approximately 40%, has once again made participation by smaller independent teams feasible, if not essential.
Assuming the sale to Sauber is completed, Ferrari will once again be the team’s engine supplier, just as they were four years ago prior to the acquisition of the Swiss team by BMW.