Will Gray

Gray Matter: Stefan GP the best ‘takeover’ that never happened?

Will Gray

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Stefan GP grew from the remains of Toyota F1 with a plan to snap up a place on the grid when one of the accepted new entries inevitably collapsed - but after seeing the door slammed in their face this week despite the failure of USF1, perhaps they should have taken a different approach.

The mysterious Serbian team, run by entrepreneur Zoran Stefanovic (pictured), was one of those rejected by the FIA during the initial bidding for the new entry places in 2010 but since that rebuff they have been trying any way they can to get into the hallowed F1 club, complaining to the EU, fighting against former FIA chief Max Mosley and then hovering like a vulture over the limping USF1 outfit until it was finally drained of life.

Their origins have remained hazy while their aggressive approach has been extremely uncompromising - some may say heartless - and they did little to improve their popularity in a team statement last week when they called USF1 "dreamers" and added: "In case we don't receive the chance to compete in Bahrain...somebody should have trouble explaining what has happened to all of us." Just two days later, as if they had woken up from their daze and realised what they had just said, they released a more formal statement claiming they had "faith that the F1 'family' will make the correct decision in the end" and then promised no more press releases until Bahrain.

When it became clear a place on the grid might be up for grabs, many argued that allowing in a team like Stefan with little background when the likes of Lola and Prodrive had been turned down for 2010 would be unfair.

But, given the way things went, perhaps the argument should have been: they put the work in, so why not?

After Stefan's original attempts to get on the grid were turned down, they pounced on the opportunity created by the departure of Toyota F1. In contrast to popular opinion, Stefan GP did not simply take over the Toyota F1 team - but they used all of the remaining bits they could to get their F1 dream going.

It all made perfect sense.

Toyota had a design they had spent a lot of money on, so why not sell it on? With the team not competing in 2010, it could not be seen as a customer car, so snapping up the 2010 design lock-stock created a ready-made Stefan 01, pure and simple. Toyota had some spare engines, pit equipment, trucks etc, so it made sense to snap them up too. And also, the Japanese manufacturer had committed to continue with their Cologne-based motorsport arm and needed a quick plan to get it making some money. Stefan could become a good customer for them, and as a service supplier, Toyota was perfectly able to deliver the chassis, gearbox, engines, pit equipment etc Stefan required, for a fee.

On top of that, Toyota Motorsport had the ability to provide engine support as well as a possible aerodynamic development programme. And as for race engineering, well, Toyota had a lot of engineers who were let go and Stefan was the obvious place for them. Toyota was not involved in steering them the new team's way, but it was an obvious move for those that wanted it.

The car, sources close to the former team say, had wind tunnel numbers that were stacking up, to the point where there was genuine hope of it being amongst the front-runners. Stefan, of course, did not then progress the car at the rate planned originally by Toyota, but even without that development and without testing it would almost certainly have been a midfield runner at least, if it was engineered well at the track (and former Toyota staff would probably have seen to that).

When the team was not granted a place on the grid it was a blow. But even more than that, when you consider the fate of both Renault and BMW, the situation is perhaps made even more painful for Stefanovic.

When BMW decided to quit, former owner Peter Sauber bought back in to secure a place on the grid and when Renault looked to be on shaky ground at the end of last year new investors arrived to take the cost out of what the manufacture had deemed an expensive but still reasonably valuable asset. In both cases, the new investors were able to come in and get a place on the grid with the existing name even though the team ownership had significantly changed - and the manufacturer was able to keep its name in the sport without the cost of running a full works campaign.

If Stefan had got the chance to approach Toyota sooner, perhaps the same could have happened in Cologne...

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