Autosport reported in October this year, that Force India were close to a deal which would see them rebranded as Aston Martin. The premise being, the English marque wished to take on sports car rivals McLaren and Ferrari. A livery of blue and gold was even suggested and Vijay Mallya declared he would be happy to even change the name of the team.
It appears now that former Aston Martin chairman and Prodrive owner Dave Richards may have been flying an F1 branded kite for Aston Martin, which had little prospect of becoming more than the analogy suggests; a child’s pastime on a Saturday afternoon.
Richards has the Formula One bug and just can’t get rid of it. He was involved in running both the Benetton and BAR-Honda F1 teams, before laying foundations for Prodrive F1 to enter the sport in 2007. Richards made serious attempts to launch or buy an F1 team, not once, twice, three times but on four occasions. His latest effort was in 2009, when he bid for the Enstone team which Renault had put up for sale.
However, Richards had a fall-back position should he lose out to three other reported bidders. He would enter as a new team, so long as the proposed new budget cap regulations, enabling entrants to field two car teams for around £30m pa were finalised by the FIA. “Assuming the new rules are commercially viable and there is the potential to be fully competitive, then we are ready to press the go button,” said Richards
The budget capped was vetoed by Ferrari and on December 9th 2009, it was announced that Renault had sold a 75% stake in their team to the Luxembourg-based investment group Genii Capital. Richards was once again foiled with his F1 ambitions.
In 2007, Richards led a Kuwaiti investment consortium in a buyout of Aston Martin. However, he failed to halt the decline in sales of the British marques, and eventually new investors were required to inject more cash into the business in 2012. Italian private equity fund ‘Investindustrial’ acquired 37.5% of Aston Martin, investing and additional £150 million as a capital increase.
Richards stepped down as chairman in 2014 and was replaced by the retiring CEO. The investors then recruited Andy Palmer from Nissan as the new Aston CEO. Palmer is credited bringing Nissan success with models like the Qashqai and Juke. He also drove through Nissan’s electric car programme and is credited with bringing the luxury brand Infiniti to Europe. Much of this was through the marketing hook-up between Red Bull Racing and the Infiniti brand.
Palmer is now facing an even greater challenge, to revive the fortunes of Aston Martin, and he revealed to AutoExpress in September on day one in the role he realised his revamp of the company had to be put on hold. “I didn’t know I’d have to go out there and find some cash,” said Palmer who went on to explain why this in itself proved to be quite a challenge.
“The shareholders we have want to stay as investors of Aston Martin, so it was ‘how do we raise the capital without diluting their shareholding?’ As you know, we did this through preferred stock, so ultimately, there are investors sitting behind the main investors and there are people who’ve come in and invested through that”.
Speaking with dailysportscar.com today, Palmer states that his immediate mission in delivering the Aston Martin plan for change. “We only have to do two things: hit the profit target that we’re committed to and ensure that the new cars come in on time and to budget”.
The Aston CEO goes on to discuss the number of operational challenges the company faces over the next twelve months. Each is focused on operational activity and when asked about the reports suggesting Aston Martin is about to become visible in F1, Palmer says there’s no money available for such a venture. “So if we can find a way, when we have the money, which would demonstrate the technology in a way that relates back to the customer in a way that shows that we’re there in LMP1 or F1 because we can show that our advanced technology is coming from those competition cars to your road cars. If we can make that link without being disingenuous, then I’d say the door is open.
“With all of that said though, there is not a story that I have today, or likely any time soon!”
Palmer also believes fundamentally that any association with a racing series must be technology driven and that Aston Martin would need to demonstrate to their customers the road car has benefited from their sporting activities. The idea that any association with Formula One or Force India could be justified merely as a marketing/badging exercise is ruled out completely by Palmer, who says this would be ‘disingenuous’.
When pressed about branding opportunities in Formula One, Palmer questions whether the sport provides the direct exposure for Aston’s new potential buyers. “I have continuously said that it’s doubtful that we’d do F1. Aston has received huge branding kudos from it’s association with the James Bond franchise and in the words of one 007’s favourite incarnations – Sean Connery – Palmer concedes, “It’s a mechanism to leave the door open rather than never say never.
“You need to be able to link more than one dot to tell the story to those people you are introducing to the brand that we’ve been racing for 102 years and this relates directly, for technological reasons, to the extraordinary product we have sold to you on the road.
Given Palmer’s comments on the need for demonstrable technology transfer between F1 and Aston, he also clearly believes the act of ‘badging’ is a pointless activity. “Someone saying ‘You can have your name on the side of this car’ is not somewhere we would go,” he asserts.
Palmer’s fundamental opposition to the idea of Aston Martin spending the newly raised cash in F1 then begs the question, where did the story about Force India and Aston Martin get it legs from?
Recently a source from Force India claimed an offer to contract was with the Aston Martin shareholders?
The answer is admittedly a speculative punt. However, it may well be that Dave Richards and his F1 passion combined with his relationship with certain Aston investors, lead to a ‘feasability study’ on the notion of Aston Martin in F1.
Palmer is clearly against the idea and any question as to whether his decision on the F1 issue is is final can be found in the mandate he was given to plot the path to recovery for the British sports car marque. “I knew there was a plan in place, and I knew I had the authority to change it,” said Palmer.