Lola owner Martin Birrane, whose company was passed over as one of the new teams to join Formula 1 in 2010, believes that the technical capabilities of the aspirants did not play a big enough part in the evaluation process. Birrane fears that the applicants that were chosen could struggle because they lack the technical infrastructure of Lola.
Campos Meta, Manor Grand Prix and US F1 were granted the three new grid slots in June, with Lotus F1 Racing also being granted an entry after BMW Sauber could not commit to signing the Concorde Agreement. The FIA conducted an assessment process to decide which of the aspiring teams should receive an F1 slot, but Birrane reckons the squads' technical attributes should have been given greater priority.
"I do not think that technical capabilities were given sufficient consideration in the process," said Birrane. "From commercial, accounting and sporting matters, everything seemed very thorough indeed. However, messages that we got from the FIA were that everything at Lola was in line with their standards and that of an organization intent on being competitive in Formula 1. It remains to be seen whether the three new teams that were selected then can achieve more than just 'also ran' status."
Birrane set up the Lola Grand Prix team as a separate company from Lola Cars, and intended to underwrite the start-up for the project personally with the intention of bringing investors on board if the grid slot was granted.
"The first phase of the project was underwritten by myself under the proviso that the original £30 million-£40 million ($50m-$67m) would be ratified," said Birrane. "It was to be a totally separate company from Lola Cars and that was confirmed in my mind very early on. I would be the only shareholder and the only one funding it initially. We were also in serious discussion with two separate investors."
Birrane is still hoping that there will be an opportunity for Lola to come into F1 in the future, perhaps as early as 2011, and is happy with his operation's relationship with the FIA.
"We were in regular touch with Max [Mosley] and Bernie [Ecclestone], as well as Tony Purnell, who appeared to be in charge of the whole process," said Birrane. "The relationship with both FOM and the FIA was good throughout. Of course, there was disappointment when it was announced that we were to be essentially reserves along with AMR/Prodrive, but Lola continues to have a constructive relationship and regular dialogue with these organizations."
Birrane confirmed that running a Cosworth engine was the only option available to the team following talks with several manufacturers, and that he was happy to sign a contract with the company.
"Like all the other serious teams, Lola investigated a supply from the FOTA engine manufacturers," said Birrane. "The fact was that there were none available. Cosworth engines were available and we were pleased to commit to a contract and pay a deposit. I would say that we also had some external encouragement to do this, but there was no real pressure exerted on us."
Should one of the current teams fall by the wayside, Birrane is confident that the Lola F1 project could be relaunched immediately. The Lola factory upgrades are currently being used for its sports car activities, but could still be switched to F1 in the future with the work done on the team's grand prix car already well advanced.
"It would be fair to say that we did a significant amount of F1 project assessment ahead of the announcement," said Birrane. "The reasons we did this were that we wanted to compete at a high level and not just make up the numbers. The lead time in getting a completely new Formula 1 project off the ground is nine to 12 months, if you want to be competitive with the established teams.
"In June we had already undertaken an initial wind tunnel program and the infrastructure for the program was in place. We had started to upgrade our assembly facilities – these were completed in September – and the framework of the Lola Formula 1 team was in place. We would most certainly have had a car testing in December 2009.
"At present our LMP program is benefiting from these upgrades in all departments and the 2010 spec LMP1 and LMP2s are going to be very special as a result of this."