September 10, 2006

Tevez, Spyker, and Formula One

I was extremely pleased when today it was formally announced that the remains of the old Jordan F1 team has been sold to Spyker, a small Dutch supercar manufacturer. Well, kind of. It’s a pretty bizarre transaction. Allow me a brief history lesson to set the scene.

As many of you will know, two years ago Jordan was sold to Midland, an obscure, but seemingly very rich, Russian company. Restructured and rebranded under the unevocative moniker of MF1 (Midland Formula One? Could they have come up with a more uninspiring name even if they tried?), they moved swiftly towards the back of the grid. MF1 took even less time in losing the affections of Jordan’s formerly very strong fan base.

It quickly became apparant that Midland weren’t quite prepared for trying to build a decent racing team, and were only in it to try and gain some brand exposure. I still can’t tell you what Midland actually do, and I’ve never heard of them outside the context of Formula One, so that hasn’t really happened. No-one will really notice you anyway unless you’re any good (like, pretty much all the other teams on the grid) or really cool (like Super Aguri). MF1 have been rubbish. I think this largely stems from a lack of motivation and funding, from the top of the Midland board, to get results.

When Midland realised that running a Formula One team is actually quite hard, they began to look to sell MF1 for a profit. They had bought Jordan for a knock-down price, and to give Midland credit they did make the team finacially stable. Rumors of the names of potential buyers circulated, Midland made token attempts at pretending to want to be staying in F1 for the long term, and life went on.

Stepping back a bit further in time to October 2000, the Birmingham Motor Show saw the world debut of the Spyker C8 Spyder. Having orginally ceased trading in 1925, the rebirth of Spyker was not one that many people really cared about, but the astonishing elegance of the C8 Spyder certainly grabbed attention. The car was full of gorgeous quirks, such as the gaping radiatior grill, the handbrake positioned in the passenger footwell, and the lush interior, sprinkled with toggle switches. Plus, and this is probably the most important factor, ‘Spyker’ is a really cool word.

C12 LaTurbie

Just for the record, this isn’t the C8 Spyder, but the most recent version of that model, the C12 LaTurbie.

The last ten years or so has seen many tiny startup supercar manufacturers arrive in a brief blaze of publicity, only to vanish into obscurity (and liquidation) in less time that it takes their products to do the 0-60 run. That’s not long at all. I expected Spyker to go the same way, but I’m glad to say that they quickly found their place in the market, and have recorded impressive growth since. However, they remain tiny in comparison to the traditional supercar names of Ferrari, Lamborghini and even Pagani.

This brings us back to the present moment. Rumors recently emerged that this tiny supercar manufacturer would be buying MF1. In a similar manner to the Tevez and Maschareno affair, this didn’t quite seem to make sense. Why would they do it? Where does the money come from? There are some pretty hefty manufacturers thinking about getting into F1, and plenty of existing teams are keen to start running their own ‘B-teams’. The easiest way to do this is by buying another team. Spyker are not one of these hefty manufacturers, and they don’t need to get into F1 to improve the quality of their business. Consequently the only reason that I think they’ve got into F1 is sheer enthusiasm. Evidence of this, and the source of the money, is provided by looking at the latest member of the Spkyer board.

Michiel Mol has been involved in Formula One for many number of years as a sponsor, largely through his Dutch media group Lost Boys. I don’t know much about Lost Boys, except that their simple typed logo looks insanely cool on racing overalls. They’ve backed a variety of teams and drivers, most notably Jos Verstappen and Arrows. Now, in a similar manner to Dietrich Mateschitz and Red Bull, Mol has decided to take an active role in F1 by buying into it, providing some major finance for Spyker’s deal.

I also suspect that Mol approached Spyker with the idea first, but no matter. Either way he’s helped to introduce a wonderful new name into Formula One, one that’s very far removed from the mainstream names traditionally associated with the sport. BMW, Mercedes, Honda, Toyota, Renault, and…Spyker? Cool. I think having the Spyker banner above the door will be a big help in transforming MF1 into a remotivated, interesting race team, and one that will be worth following. I hope they swiftly move to clear out all the lingering remains of MF1, and plaster the car in as many Spyker logos as they possibly can, as soon as possible.

They do, however, need to be careful to maintain the mystique surrounding the brand. It’s the mystique of the product that really bring in Spyker’s clients, so they definately do not need the mass-market appeal that comes with being a manufacturer in Formula One. If they can do that, and actually turn out a performance, then we have an excellent new team in the sport.

And in other news…the most successful racing driver of all time announced his retirement today…


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