Exclusive Interview with Paul Stoddart

The rumour in the Spa paddock is that a Red Bull statement that it has bought Minardi is imminent. An anticipated Friday night announcement didn't come, although energy drink magnate Dietrich Mateschitz arrives in the paddock tomorrow morning. In the meantime, Tony Dodgins spoke exclusively to Paul Stoddart for Autosport-Atlas

Q: We hear of an imminent announcement about the purchase of your team from Red Bull?

Paul Stoddart: "As I've always said, if there's a deal to announce, I'll be the one who announces it, and so today's mysterious six o'clock announcement was as mysterious to me as to you. At this moment no deal has been done, but I can confirm I am talking to more than one interested party. If there's an announcement to make, I'll make it."

Q: Would that be this weekend?

Stoddart: "It could be, but my gut feeling is closer to Brazil."

Q: So are we talking a complete buy-out?

Stoddart: "That's what's being discussed, yes, but what we agree could be something different. I've always said that after 9/11 my plans for the team were never going to be fulfilled, because we would never be able to fund it to the level we needed to for it to perform better. I've always maintained, for five years now, that if an offer definitely guarantees the team in a better position with better funds, then I will take it."

Q: But would you stay? And if not, would you miss it?

Stoddart: "Whether someone wants me to stay or go is a decision for them. I would miss it unbelievably and I'm certainly not finished with F1, but you have to also look at the team. It's more important than Paul Stoddart or any individual."

Q: The barriers to F1 entry seem to be going...?

Stoddart: "That remains to be seen. You have to look at what we've got here. Have we got a new Concorde Agreement, have we got no Concorde or, as has been widely reported, an extension to Concorde. It's an extension that I believe Ferrari, Red Bull and Jordan have signed up to, or some kind of document saying that they will agree to an extension. If it's an extension, then I don't see - perhaps I'm wrong, but I haven't been too often on these issues - how any of the barriers to entry can be removed, because they are actually referred to in Concorde, specifically the sale of chassis.

"And the $48 million bond, while being a sporting regulation, is nevertheless requiring the F1 Commission vote of 18 out of 26 to change. It would be wrong to assume automatically that the vote is going to be given, because many of the teams that carry the majority of it may not feel that dropping the bond is such a good idea. I don't think, at this moment, that anyone can say that this bond is going to be dropped or that the chassis are necessarily going to be sold.

"If we have a new Concorde situation or a no Concorde situation then perhaps that's possible, because it's a new negotiation, but there are certain parts of the old Concorde that aren't automatically dead on 31/12/2007. I think it's going to be a very exciting political time and we'll have to wait and see."

Q: But Max Mosley has already said that if the bond goes into a new Concorde Agreement, he wouldn't sign it?

Stoddart: "Well, with respect, Max is only one signatory out of 12 and as we all know, to change Concorde you require 12 out of 12. If Concorde is going to be scrapped, then you have to ask why three teams signed up to an extension of it? There's all kinds of issues and it's not quite so simple. There's the 100-year agreement (SLEC's long-term commercial rights deal). I'm sure that in the fullness of time, we are going to see a pretty gutsy battle over what the final agreement for 01/01/2008 is going to be.

"What's important to me is not what the final agreement is, it's that it is one agreement and there's only one F1 going forward. And that the technical and sporting regulations are fair and equitable to all competitors and that the distribution of wealth in F1 is fair to all competitors. If that happens, then I don't think anyone is going to be too hung up on what it's called.

"As to whether there will be 10 or 12 teams, bonds or no bonds, two to three years waiting to get money for new entrants or not - these are all very delicate points that are going to have to be argued out behind closed doors in the fullness of time."

Q: But it's significant because, if you are an Eddie Irvine, looking to buy an existing team for a backer, why should you buy an existing team?

Stoddart: "Because whatever happens, an existing team has rights, and those rights categorically exists for 2006 and 2007. So, already, two years TV money would most likely exceed the purchase price of a Jordan or a Minardi. That's the first point.

"Secondly, we've seen new start-up teams. BAR reportedly spent a quarter of a billion dollars in 1999. Toyota reportedly spent a billion dollars in 2001 for the 2002 season. So track records say that starting from scratch is an expensive way to go. And not being too disrespectful to them, BAR came last in their first season and Toyota was beaten by Minardi in their first season in 2002. So there are a lot of issues that say that an existing teams at any level in this paddock a very highly competitive beast with a pretty good structure behind it, and is a good thing to build upon.

"A new team costs an awful lot to set up and you may not necessarily get any success until you mould those people as a team, because the biggest asset any team has is its people. That's what you buy, not the plant, equipment and so on. You can't go and get 200 people that work and gel as a team, off the shelf."

Q: If the bond is dropped, you can buy old cars, and the whole structure does change, would you, having sold Minardi, get your guys in Ledbury and start a new team?

Stoddart: "If is F1 spelled backwards. I don't think so. I don't believe the bond will be dropped. We don't know why hundreds of millions of people watch this sport every two weeks, but they do. We don't know what makes F1 so special, but it is. It's more popular than all other forms of motorsports put together. Part of that, I believe, is that everybody, from the front to the back of the grid, is a constructor.

"I reckon it's one of the unique things that's made F1 the foundation stone for the FIA World Championship all around the world and for the FIA itself. And I think it's extremely dangerous to mess with that formula and turn around and make chassis available to other teams. I know it happened many years ago, but F1, as we all know, has moved on. As a result, we have a business that consumes two and a half to three billion dollars a year. You can run small countries on less than that and I don't think anyone - Max Mosley or any of the teams - ought to mess with what has been so successful.

"We ought to build on that success, and to go and make chassis available and take away one of the fundamentals is dangerous. There could come a day when you end up with only three dominant manufacturers - half a dozen Ferraris, Toyotas, McLarens and Renaults out on the grid. That makes us too close to other formulae, in my opinion, and takes away one of the things that makes it special. I hope that they don't go down that road."

Q: So is Max scare-mongering when he alludes to doing that?

Stoddart: "No. I know Max firmly believes in it, and he's perfectly entitled to that opinion. I just happen to believe he's wrong, and I'm perfectly entitled to that opinion. I don't think there's any issues here. I know that the teams are split over it, too. Some think it's a good idea, and some think it's a horrendous idea. But you'd have to ask the question - why is the team principal of the smallest team not in the slightest bit interested in buying anyone's chassis, or why do we, as the team that competes on the smallest budget, not think it's a good idea?"

Q: Because you want to hang onto the value of your franchise?

Stoddart: "No. No. Because, in 2003, I bought the Arrows team and everyone thought that the A23 was a real well-designed, good, quick chassis. We proved that one year is a long time in F1, because buying last year's chassis, we found in back-to-back tests in '03 that the car was slower than that year's Minardi.

"People at the front of the grid spend hundreds of million on their cars. And people at the back spend tens of millions. When someone gives you a high-tech, front-end of the grid car and says go and race it, you may find that it is not much better, or indeed any better, than a year on development of your own car.

"But I can guarantee one thing - it'll be a darned sight more expensive. Because you will have to go and buy that space age nuclear material that made a widget, and design that so over-complicated piece of kit that doesn't do any more than the simple one that you've got, so where are you going to see the benefits? It's the wrong road, and I hope they don't take it."

Q: You mentioned 9/11 earlier. Why did that make it no longer feasible to finance the team the way you wanted?

Stoddart: "It hurt my core business, which is aviation, and it destroyed my five-year plan. But we got on with it and against all odds Minardi is still here. There are one or two names that are not. I hope that F1 does not ever return to the days of losing teams. It's not good for the teams or for the sport."

Q: Any symbolism in the fact that Sunday is 9/11? Is that going to be announcement day? A bit of symmetry?

Stoddart: "Do you know, I didn't know that!"

Q: You really didn't know it?

Stoddart: "No I didn't. And you can tell!!"

Q: So, bottom line, what chance of you selling Minardi in the next 10 days?

Stoddart: "Probably 50/50..."

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