…to Sportal.rs in a wide-ranging interview regarding the break up with Toyota, the prospect of 2011, the ‘Serbian Vulture’ comments and Mr. Stefanovic calling on all Stefan Grand Prix “brave fans” to “Arise!”
Following the recent news that Stefan Grand Prix and Toyota F1 had gone their separate ways for the time being, Mr. Stefanovic was back in Serbian, answering the critics questions, not only from abroad, but more closer to home as recent allegations of his company had enraged locals feelings that Mr. Stefanovic was dragging the nation through the mud by letting outside nations point their fingers at their country and laugh.
Explaining his idea when Stefan Grand Prix applied in mid-2009 to the FIA to race in 2010, Mr Stefanovic said the approach was different to previous times he had applied.
“This time it really was prepared with the right team of people. The idea had changed, so we wanted the team headquarters to be in Belgrade.The capital of Serbia is still our intention, as an ideal logistics centre, however we are received. In late May, early June, I saw with Ecclestone in London in which we reached agreement and were told that we have the biggest chances to get a place. And, finally, we went for it.”
He then gives details of the negotiations with Campos and USF1. “We agreed with Adrian Campos [to a buy-out] at the end of November, but the price was unreasonable. In January, another round of negotiations collapsed, and U.S. F1 changed his mind about selling.” It would appear that Chad Hurley was at the forefront of the
USF1 negotiations. “Agreement was to take the whole system and create a Serbian-American team with which we agreed. Unfortunately, others in their team were thinking to have a better output. The obstacle was the fact that we did not want to finance another’s failures.” In other words, Ken Anderson and Peter Windsor still wanted the team to be called USF1 and to still be in charge of the team.
“I think that essentially it all revolved around money. For example, when Campos said their first price, we began to laugh. They knew that the figure was not real, but we did not have the FIA application . For the F1 application, they requested 40 million euros! It was a superb sauce. Here, they failed, because this is what it is today, Hispania team, and it has no connection with Campos, except on legal grounds. They spent a lot of money, and all they have are two cars, a few spare parts and nothing more.”
Regarding the criticism about the AMCO website and the apparent small turnover figure for the company (here, the interviewer states that the company had an annual turnover in 2008 of 310,000 euros), Mr Stefanovic responded with, “Will you tell me that the turnover of the Virgin Racing company is sufficient to cover the costs of Formula 1? Virgin does not have any earning money, he [Branson] just spends. Talking about what a company earns is frivolous, because the team is funded from sponsorship contracts. Several times they asked me to comment on someone’s opinion, but with due respect for all the fans, we cannot have debates with someone who leaves comments on sites, who it turns out is 14 years old!
“Opinions of fans are fine. On the other hand, we have a lot more support from a few thousand people who we do not know: from South America, America, Canada, all to Japan. Arise, our brave, and the fact that we do more than others.”
Reacting to comments about the amateurish nature of AMCO’s website, Mr. Stefanovic rebutted with, “The only controversial thing was the translation into English, which we deliberately changed, because the translation may be different. For example, our fans from Brazil, which are numerous, can find themselves translated into Serbian. Even the Cyrillic alphabet! And sent to us in English and Spanish and Serbian. Second, our site is not generally done badly. We wanted fireworks and moving pictures, but we are not a company that makes films or sites, we are an engineering company that makes cars for Formula One.”
The next part of the interview becomes very interesting for those who are waiting to hear the official Stefan Grand Prix line regarding last months Ferrari editorial which called Mr. Stefanovic and his team ‘vultures”. His response makes interesting reading.
“Ferrari soon received a notice from us, although we have not sought to follow it up as it is not their official position. At our request, they explained that it is the opinion of one of their bloggers, which was published. Is it really a secondary story.
“I think that nothing related to me personally. Is it objectionable to have a Serbian team? I do not know, but the fact that few people here expect that from this part of the world and for a team ready for F1. Now it’s different. A large number of people with whom we cooperate from Formula 1, or have been in Formula 1 and I know what and how it can be done. The truth is, we found the overall welcome.”
For the team to be based in Serbia is clearly at the heart of Stefan Grand Prix. “The seat [headquarters] is of course in Belgrade. This is a company from Serbia, bearing the license of our sports federation and appearances as a Serbian team. The mechanics are divided. We strive to have more people from Serbia, but there will be some from abroad.”
To start an F1 team, you need access to a wind tunnel. In previous interviews, Mr. Stefanovic stated that Serbia has many wind tunnels which would be at his disposal. He clarified this by saying “We have the ability to use air in Serbia tunnels, and there are seven in Belgrade, and one water. Some in the Military-Technical Institute, and the rest of Mechanical Engineering. However, it is not adjusted for F1. It is necessary to place a moving floor, and some other things. In October, Stefan GP bought a moving floor and we can install it, but for now there is only a potential. Will we use it? I do not know. Currently, if there is the need for work in a wind tunnel, we will start to abroad.”
Mr. Stefanovic has remained philosophical throughout the struggle earlier this year, regarding his critics being motivated by fear and not by pure journalistic intentions. “To understand it, critics are not bad and can be corrected. Different opinions can be a part of fear, not because of negative attitude, but because of concerns that we will indeed succeed. As life is concerned, people do not recognize me so much. The biggest surprise was when we returned from Germany. One of the customs officers asked me: “Are you Stefan Grand Prix?”. This, I did not expect, but it is quite pleasant. The reactions are generally positive, and why would you not do the thing that contributes to a better image of Serbia …”
There are some interesting points to draw from this interview. Mr. Stefanovic does not exactly state that he is putting together another application to the FIA for the 13th grid slot but you can conclude that he is quietly working away behinds the scenes, readying the paperwork to be sent to Paris.
Mr. Stefanoic is clearly quite passionate about having a Formula One team based in Serbia to promote the engineering capacity of his country, laying down some of the points that will no doubt be in the dossier that Stefan GP will submit to Jean Todt in April. Making the point about acquiring a rolling floor which can be placed into an exciting wind tunnel in Serbia is certainly one of those.
For all of us brave Stefan Grand Prix fans, now we have arisen, we now await the FIAs’ announcement of the 13th grid slot with eager anticipation.