After his stint at the defunct Super Aguri team, Daniel Audetto is back in Formula 1 with the new Campos Meta squad, which will make its debut in 2010.
The Italian is fired up for the job with the Spanish team, although he admits the situation will not be easy given its budget and the rule changes.
AUTOSPORT heard from Audetto about his latest challange.
Q. You are now back in Formula 1 full-time for the first time since working with Super Aguri. How does it feel?
Daniel Audetto: Yes, I am now full-time with Campos Grand Prix, but before that I was doing some consultation on projects like Dubai, in Rome for their grand prix plans – but I am really enjoying being back in Formula 1. I think also F1 it is good to have a Spanish team. Today there is a lot of Spanish interest in F1, there are a lot of sponsors in the sport, but everything is based just around one person - Fernando Alonso.
If tomorrow, there was no more Fernando Alonso in F1, although I hope it doesn't happen for 10 years, then you need to have something else for Spain – otherwise it will go back like before he came along where the country was only interested in MotoGP and not F1 at all. Now television has long-term contracts, and everybody is interested in having the Spanish team. That is why I took up the challenge to help create a new team again.
Q. So how are preparations for the team going? How does it compare to working with Super Aguri?
DA: I think, talking after what happened, it is better than Super Aguri because we are not reliant on a manufacturer, so we will be more independent. The car is being built in Italy, by Dallara. It is designed, developed and built by them. The team will be run from Valencia, where now the GP2 team is based. They will be moved in September and then we will upgrade the factory to have a good facility for F1.
All the commercial, marketing, sponsorship and PR will be run by Meta, which is a sports' marketing company like IMG. It is based in Spain but wants to become more international. So we have three locations – Dallara in Italy, the team in Valencia and the commercial base in Madrid. I will be based full-time in Valencia, of course, because I need to be in control of the mechanics, the engineers.
Testing of the car should start around January 10-15. The first model of the car has been in the wind tunnel since July. It looks not too bad. And we would like to have the crash test in November to avoid any surprises, because if we don't pass we then don't want to have to rush to retake it before testing the car.
Dallara has recruited many good people from F1, and the chief aerodynamicist is Ben Agathangelou, who is really good. The team has, on the structural side, recruited Rob Newman, who is also very good. So there are a few people who have come from F1, and they are having 50 people working on the project.
Q. Working on this project now, is it a help having lived through the Super Aguri experience?
DA: Yes. For sure, it helps. My experience helps, but also my contacts too. We have many good engineers coming, but I cannot tell you who they are because they are still under contract with other teams. The technical director, for example, we cannot reveal his name but right now Giampaolo Dallara is going to the technical meetings with Ben, so we are quite covered in this area.
The team principal will be Adrian Campos, who has a lot of experience as an F1 driver, then building up his reputation as a team boss. And, even more important, he was the talent scout for Fernando Alonso and was his manager for many years. So I think with him we have a good strong team. I will be managing director, and deputy team principal to help in the beginning Adrian to go into the team principals' meetings.
The other thing I would like to tell you is that our investors, who already put the money up front because the FIA had to do a thorough due diligence, they are not happy at all, and we can even say upset, with how things have been handled with the entries.
When we entered and we showed we had the resources and money, which was set at 40 million pounds for the budget cap, we had the guarantee of many performance advantages. First there was the engine being set at 20,000rpm. There was the unlimited number of engines per season, there was unlimited testing mileage. We had also some aerodynamic devices, and other little elements too.
These all disappeared, and the only thing that did not disappear was the budget we already had. So we cannot now afford to go the level of others, so with 40 million, and 120-130 people, will be very tough.
And even, I have to tell you, at one point, the investors considered pulling out totally, to stop. So for me, but especially for Adrian, it was not easy to convince them to stay, because we could no longer promise the moon. They had already spent in the region of eight million Euros, and they even consulted their lawyers, about the situation – and it would have been the end forever because if you start legal action then it is difficult to come back from there.
So we had to accept that we have the contract with Cosworth, and it is not 20,000rpm it is 18,000rpm. There are eight engines, so reliability will be hard. But I, and Adrian say, we trust Cosworth will do a good job, and it is better to be with an independent supplier like Cosworth than a manufacturer because you never know what happens to car makers like after what happened to Honda and BMW.
So we have to be set up from a very small base, and also it is not consistent with the original plan. But our goal is to be competitive among the new three or four teams. And one thing that we would like is that the fourth team that is taken should have the Cosworth engine, because when we entered the only engine available was the Cosworth.
With all respect to Cosworth, but if the next team that comes has a Ferrari or Mercedes-Benz engine, then I don't think that is fair on us. But that is an FIA decision. We can just say that we don't want to upset our investors any more because otherwise it could become a potential threat that they are not happy.
Q. So the project is now all in place and ready to go then, despite the problems?
DA: Yes, there is a small budget in place. But from September, we will start to make our presentations to potential sponsors and we will start to close some deals with drivers, because drivers and sponsors are often connected. So from next month, we will become more operational and fully operational from October 1, with the first test in the middle of January. Then we will be built up from a small budget, and if we can show like we did with Super Aguri that we are professional, that we can do well compared with the money we have, I think we can attract more sponsors and investors.
We are also relying on the FOTA cost reduction programme that eventually, when the costs are reduced to what they were in the early 1990s, then everyone will be close to our budget. But that will take three years.
Q. Is there any requirement to have a Spanish driver at the team?
DA: Well, I think for a Spanish team it is almost a must to have a Spanish driver. But there are not many like Fernando! But there are some very good drivers, like Pedro de la Rosa, who has been a test driver with McLaren for many years and when he had to be a replacement he did very well and finished second in Budapest. You also have Marc Gene, who won Le Mans and is the test driver of Ferrari. But then you see what happened with Luca Badoer, and how he struggled. To be a test driver in the last few years, there was no testing. You were just there to be a replacement in case of something happening.
For young drivers in Spain, there are a few good ones but without experience. And if you already have a new team without experience, and you take a driver without experience, then it is even more difficult. So have to consider that we need at least one driver with F1 experience, and if he is Spanish then it is better of course for many reasons.
Q. And how far advanced are you talks with Vitaly Petrov for a seat?
DA: He is one of many drivers. As you know, Petrov is very close to Campos because he in the GP2 Campos team and we think he is good. But we are also talking to other drivers with F1 experience, or who come from GP2. I can say that now we are talking seriously with six or seven drivers.
Q. And when would you expect to make an announcement about drivers?
DA: We are not in any hurry. In our situation, where we are a new team, and because of what is going on in F1, with BMW and with the reduction of costs, I think we will wait until October or the end of the championship. We are not in a hurry. We are not going to test the car until the middle of January, so maybe we can get a better deal then. But if there is an opportunity to get a good driver with a good deal now then we will do it.
Adrian will make the decision because of his experience and his knowledge. He brought up Fernando Alonso, so there is no one better than Adrian to choose. I can help him with my advice, but the final decision is his.
Q. And now the investors have confirmed they are pushing ahead, do you think everything is running according to plan?
DA: It is now fixed. We still want to see who the last team will be, and if they have the Cosworth or not. We also want to see the integration between FOTA and the other five teams. We have signed the Concorde Agreement and we have signed the reduction of costs agreement. We have been very proactive and positive – but we could have been very difficult because legally we could not be forced to sign them. We did it in good faith, and now we expect other teams will help us by assisting us.
Q. Are you enjoying it then?
DA: It is a new challenge. They needed a young man with passion! At the end of the day, you need someone with experience, with contacts, who has a relationship with the big guns. That helps, because if I can pick up the phone and speak to people, that helps. I hope not to do it too often though. It was important for our credibility to have experienced people and support from the bigger guys.