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Crisis could see customer car return

Plans to outlaw customer cars from Formula One could be ditched in a move to help shore up the future of independent teams, autosport.com has learned

Although it appeared that customer cars were on their way out following a deal brokered last season with Scuderia Toro Rosso and, prior to their collapse, Super Aguri, the current financial crisis appears to have changed those plans.

High-level sources have revealed that one of the ideas that is being considered by the FIA and teams to help reduce costs and ensure the survival of all 11 teams is to allow independent teams to enter into widescale technical agreements with their rivals.

Discussions about just how far such technical cooperation deals between two teams can go, and how much of a car has to be produced by an outfit for them to be considered a constructor, are ongoing. The matter will almost certainly be on the agenda when FIA president Max Mosley meets with teams immediately after the Chinese Grand Prix.

An official go-ahead from the FIA about such technology sharing is believed to be one of the final hurdles to Force India concluding what will effectively be a customer car deal with McLaren and Mercedes-Benz for next season.

An acceptance of new customer car rules could also be enough to persuade Red Bull boss Dietrich Mateschitz not to sell his stake in Toro Rosso - which he planned to do so because he could not afford to run two constructors.

Although several teams were against the idea of customer cars in F1 last year, teams like Toyota and BMW who were previously resistant to the idea of customer cars are ready to soften their opposition because of the precarious financial situation of the smaller teams. It is understood that only Williams are now totally opposed to the idea.

McLaren boss Ron Dennis said his team's advanced talks with Force India were motivated by the desire to help the independent teams.

"One of the unique things that exists in the partnership we have with Mercedes is that we are this quasi-independent works organisation and, through that, both of us have a very clear vision on the need to support the independent teams," he explained.

"Of course, the easiest thing in the world is to write a cheque but I've never seen money just improve the performance of any team - it requires more than that... Yes, there is the possibility that some form of collaboration will unfold over the next few days, but it's premature to give you much detail about it.

"Our aim is to help Formula One at every opportunity and if one of those opportunities constitutes assisting an independent team then it will be given serious consideration within our organisation."

However, Dennis made it clear that any partnership his team got involved in would only go ahead if there was official confirmation from the FIA that what they are doing is allowed under the current regulations.

Plans for a McLaren customer team with Prodrive fell apart last year following the threat of legal action from Williams about them not being constructors.

Dennis said: "It's not for us to determine what is and isn't admitted under the current regulatory process. But clearly having the benefit of the Prodrive experience, we're mindful of the fact that not only do we need to ensure compliance of any team that we assist, but also if we do this it will be on the basis of it being good for Formula One.

"Therefore we need to take into consideration the concerns of other teams. The primary driver, if it happens, will not be commercial objectives. It will be more towards how can we do things that can help Formula One."

Mercedes-Benz motorsport boss Norbert Haug believes that customer car relationships, like that which Toro Rosso enjoy with Red Bull Racing, are good for F1.

"I think it is very important that F1 has got these teams. The tougher the competition is, the better it is at the end of the day. I think we have some good examples this year, with various winners. This is sometimes worse for us, but it is good for the sport."

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