After months of speculation, Volkswagen recently announced that they will not enter Formula 1. However, I have done some digging, and I have found some rather interesting points that line up and suggest that Hyundai might be interested in entering Formula 1:
First of all, the Korean Grand Prix was announced in 2006 with a start date of 2010. This is very unusual because it would be four years – almost to the day – between the announcement and the race. Compare that to other recent additions to the calendar, like Austin, New York, India and Abu Dhabi: all of them had about two years between the announcement and their projected start dates. The only other country that has been given so long to prepare is Russia, and that is because they are building their circuit at the Sochi Olympic Precinct.
Around the same time, news reports began circulating that Hyundai was considering an entry for 2010, when the sport would be accepting three new teams to the grid. Unfortuantely, the global recession hit, and Hyundai suffered; the grid entry never came to fruition and the dieas appeared to be dead in the water.
But here’s where things get interesting: Bernie cut a new deal with the Koreans, to slow down their losses. I recall he specifically said that he didn’t want to do it because it was difficult enough negotiating with them the first time. If the circuit and the race were really such a drain on finances, it would be better to end the race now before even more debt builds up. Nevertheless, Bernie came up with a new deal to keep Korea on the calendar. And as near as I can tell, he has never done this for a circuit after just two years of the contract. The terms of the new deal are very good for South Korea, slashing costs by $20 million a year, cutting out FOM’s additonal commission fee (where they get 10% of any profits the circuit makes) and reducing the notorious 7% multiplier. That’s an unprecedented move on his part, despite his comments that he didn’t want to do it.
The question is, why is Bernie bending over backwards like this? He never does it.
I think he knows that there might be something in the future that will ultiamtely benefit the sport – something big enough to make him want to pass on the usual fees, but keep the Korean Grand Prix on the calendar. Meanwhile, the new Concorde Agreement appears to offer a share in the sport to teams that win World Championship, while 2014 will see the introduction of new engine regulations. All of this will make the sport far more attractive to manufacturers. And as the world’s fastest-growing car manufacturer and the eighth-largest in the world (fourth if you cound subsidiary Kia), Hyundai would be a prime candidate for entry.
If Hyundai want in, there are several avenues that they can follow. Firstly, should Mercedes want to withdraw from the championship, the team at Brackley will need a new owner. As a race-winning team with a pedigree, they will be very attractive to companies like Hyundai. the downside is that they would have to compete in 2013 with someone else’s engine(s).
Secondly, Lola Cars have said that they want to enter the sport when the new engine regulations come in, provided that they can find a supplier. Those comments were made as recently as November 2011, so they’re probably still working on it if they want to enter in 2014. The downside is that an entry depends on the availablity of the thirteenth grid spot, and the FIA rejected all the potential entries for 2012 on the basis that they didn’t have the money or the engineering know-how to compete. But if they got money from a manufacturer like Hyundai, they would almost certainly get in. And they could potentially rebrand PURE’s engines as Hyundai if they wanted to. They would still be starting from scratch, though, and after two years, Caterham, Marussia and HRT have scored no points. I think that this is probably the best (and most likely) way to go about it.
Thirdly, there is always HRT. Luis Perez-Sala has said that the team is open to a name change, and more money will always help. But it would be a huge risk for someone like Hyundai to invest in them, and would probably take some time for them to start getting results. And if they did invest, they would likely want to move the team, which could be very disruptive.
Still, I think the idea of Hyundai entering has merit. In think that circumstances surrounding the Korean Grand Prix and the expansion of the grid were an attempt to get them into the sport, and I can see the new deal for the race, the new engine regulations and the new Concorde Agreement making the sport look very promising for any aspiring new entries. So I think Hyundai could enter Formula 1 in 2014.