LONDON: Roman Abramovich barely registered on Formula One’s radar when he attended the European Grand Prix as a guest of Bernie Ecclestone in June.
Probably only a handful of paddock regulars recognised the Russian at the Nuerburgring or knew that he had visited the Minardi garages.
It would not happen now. After he bought Chelsea football club last month, and spent nearly US$150mil on players, everyone would like to know the quiet billionaire better.
England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson pricked up a few ears when he commented on the Russian tycoon’s interest in Formula One last week, while Minardi boss Paul Stoddart said his arms were wide open to any interest.
“He’s a lovely guy, I met him at the Nuerburgring with his son, we put his son in the car and we had a bit of fun,” said Stoddart in Budapest last weekend.
“But I’ve not spoken to him since.
“Don’t get me wrong, I would actually like it to be true,” he said of speculation that the tycoon might be interested in buying into his team. “But it’s not.”
“But there’s no smoke without fire,” he added, hopefully. “How much that interest is and how far it extends will remain to be seen.”
If Abramovich were to be interested in investing in Formula One he would be pushing on an open door.
“Clearly there are two teams minimum for sale,” said Stoddart, whose own – still without a win – celebrated their 300th grand prix at the Hungaroring still no closer to their first point of the year.
“And there are also teams...that would rather take investment because I certainly have unfinished business and I’m sure Eddie (Jordan) would say the same.”
So how much would Abramovich need if he were to try and ‘do a Chelsea’ in Formula One?
Stoddart said that he could deliver substantial performance improvements for Minardi with a fraction of what the Russian has spent so far.
“With a team like Minardi you would have to be prepared to put upwards of $50 million in and wait for the results, because they won’t come overnight,” he said.
“But the good thing with Minardi is that the only way forward for us is up. We can only go one way. The return on the investment would be fantastic, whereas if you go for a mid-field team and they don’t perform it is not good.”
Ferrari have a massive budget but throwing money at Formula One is no guarantee of success.
“You are up against people with budgets in excess of US$400mil on an annualised basis, with plans that are well advanced for what they are doing next year, the year after and the year after that,” said Stoddart.
“You won’t build that kind of a structure up overnight ... but you don’t have to with a team like Minardi because if Minardi scored a podium it would be like winning the race.”