Panthera team aims to enter F1 in 2026 – Although four years have passed since the initial project was announced, the Panthera Asia Formula 1 team is aiming to enter Formula 1 alongside major manufacturers such as Audi, Ferrari, Mercedes, and McLaren.
The Panthera Asia F1 team may not have said its last word and is hoping to get the green light from the FIA and F1 to be on the grid in 2026.
A few years ago [in 2019], Panthera Asia F1 announced its intention to enter the Formula One grid as a new team from the 2022 season. However, the arrival of the Covid 19 pandemic sabotaged the team’s plans and four long years have now passed since the announcement in 2019.
Despite the difficulties from the start, Panthera Asia F1 has never “given up” and is looking forward to playing in the big league of Formula 1 in a few years’ time: “It’s been a rollercoaster ride. We could have given up on this project a long time ago, but we believe in it,” Benjamin Durand, co-founder and director of Panthera Asia F1, told Planet F1.
“The particular issue you have when you want to try to create a Formula 1 team is to have all the planets align,”
“So when we had the money, the FIA and F1 were not ready because at the time they were renegotiating the Concorde Agreement. So they were not ready to have new teams arriving until they signed the existing teams.
“Then we also talked with Renault to be partners on the technical side. They went through a lot of management changes during the last five years and it impacted our project directly.
“Things were back again for the possibility for us to enter then the pandemic arrived and we lost funding. So we had to work again on the financial side. It’s an ongoing rollercoaster.”
Recently, the FIA announced that an expression of interest process would soon be launched for the possible entry of a new team into the F1 world championship, a new route that should make life easier for any potential new entrant by allowing them to apply via a clear process.
Although the process is still in its infancy, Benjamin Durand points out that his team has been working with the FIA since the beginning of the project and therefore knows what to expect:
“There was no point in us going ahead until we had secured all other aspects of the project.”
“We know what the process has been for Haas and in the discussion we had with the FIA and the legal team, they told us that they will more or less replicate what was the process before.
“We need to have confirmation, that’s what we’re waiting for right now. We’ve been told that by the end of the month, they will release exactly what they expect from the teams.
“But I don’t think we’re far from the truth in what we already have. The basic things that they told us at the time are the financial security of the team, the technical and management know-how and then what we can bring to F1 to make the Championship grow. Those are the main factors where we need to tick the boxes.”
Waiting for the FIA and F1
The Panthera team says it is ready to resume operations once it receives the green light from the FIA and F1, whereas before Covid the project was already at a very advanced stage.
“COVID stopped things for us,” Durand said. “We started to develop the car on the aerodynamic side, we worked on the new regulation at the time, we did some CFD developments, we have some IP concerning the car but we stopped it.
“We are ready to resume. We have several people that are ready to jump on board that are not, for most of them, committed yet in Formula 1, so they don’t have the garden leave etc.
“We’re working with a high profile recruitment company in London that is specialised in Formula 1 and in motorsport. So, we are confident that we can restart the HR department and technical department in time.”
Entering F1 at best in 2026…
In the event of an agreement from the FIA and F1, the Panthera team would not be able to place its two cars on the grid until the 2026 season according to Benjamin Durand, who insists he does not expect to have an answer until at least May this year.
“In a few weeks, we can get back in place the aero department that we had.They are on the starting block ready to go. Our recruitment of the personnel will obviously take more time, especially for the specialists, for the pit crew and the people on track. So this is why it might be a little more tricky, but there are people available.
“The sad thing about the budget cap is that a lot of people have been laid off. So there are many people available. That also gives us time to train people.
“We don’t plan to build, for example, a wind tunnel right away. This is a huge investment that is honestly not so necessary right now because you use the wind tunnel half of the time now so you can make an agreement with an existing team to share the wind tunnel or there are wind tunnels available in Europe that can be used.”
“But it all depends on when you get the entry because obviously no investor will put big money in until we have the entry. But I would imagine the process will take some months, and I don’t see a decision being taken at best before May. I think it’s reasonable to think that it’s going to take four to five months to make sure that you have the right team or teams.
“So if you start in May, it’s going to be very tight to be ready for 2025. It’s better to go for 2026. The good thing with the current regulations is that you can purchase 70% of the car from another manufacturer.”
Regarding the power unit that would be fitted to the back of the Panthera, Durand says that a pre-agreement has already been signed with one of the manufacturers already present in Formula 1 but that nothing is set in stone and that this could still evolve between now and 2026.
“We have had a discussion with basically everybody in the paddock right now,” he said. “We have on paper a pre-agreement with one of the manufacturers.
“That said, we are also very cautious about the power unit because our understanding is that there will be six manufacturers in 2026.
“We are not locked in with anybody right now. We have a pre-agreement with one of them but it’s just a letter of intent.
“We are also talking with some manufacturers in Asia that might come to Formula 1 power units at some stage but I don’t think they will partner with us at the beginning and definitely they will not be ready to do an engine for 2026.”
In the event that the FIA and F1 validate the project and Panthera is allowed to field two cars on the Formula 1 grid in 2026, Durand admits it would be “completely ridiculous” to aim for a world title in the small team’s first season.
“It would be ridiculous for me to say, ‘okay, we want to come and win the Championship and be champion in five years, we’re going to be champion.’
“No, it’s unrealistic. The goal is to learn at the beginning. As I said, we have this academy site that is very important to us. So, that will be a handicap for us at the beginning,
“I think the objectives for the initial seasons are to be present, to grow, to score points when we can and not be five seconds behind. We don’t expect to be five seconds in front, we expect to be there with the others in the second half of the grid. This is the goal.
“Then after the initial five years, 10 years etc we will have to see where we are. What are the next objectives? The objective is to grow, it is not just to be a contestant.
“Also, we think we have good opportunities in the future to bring another manufacturer from Asia to the Championship. This would also be the objective to try to raise the game.
“If we want one day to be competitive, to the point where we can compete for podiums, we need to have a manufacturer behind us because it’s very hard for a private team to do that, even with the budget cap.
“But again, it’s a long term objective. We are very realistic. The first thing is to exist. Start and not be ridiculous and then see where we are.
“We do it step-by-step, there is no point for us to start chasing dreams about podiums, and titles and stuff like that. We need to learn to walk before we learn to run.”
To read the full interview with Benjamin Durand, please click on this link which will take you to Planet F1.