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Forza Rossa the Romanian Formula 1 dream

In the spring of 2014, the first news appeared of two teams interested to join the grid.  One of them was the Haas F1 Team the other one? This was the Forza Rossa Romania F1 Team (FRR) under the lead of Ion Bazac. Perhaps Forza Rossa is the most infamous f1 entrant from the last ten years.  A story full of politics, spies, a chap named Kolin Colles and the Caterham F1 Team which would be the base for the Romanian team to enter the Formula One?

While the first news appeared in the spring of 2014 regarding Forza Rossa. The story actually takes us back to the 23th of December 2013. On that day the FIA received a so called “Cover letter to the request of F1 World Championship entry” from Ion Bazac. Normally those letters don’t appear online for the public. However, due to controversy in late 2014 and early 2015 Ion Bazac released several documents.

Was there anything interesting written in the Cover letter which Forza Rossa send? Not really, it was mostly who or what Forza Rossa was. Forza Rossa is the official dealership of Ferrari and Lotus in Romania and several parts of Eastern Europe.  Ion Bazac was the former health minister in Romania from 2008 until 2009. Would it be amazing for Romania to have their own F1 Team?  In basis, perhaps the same story as Stefan Grand Prix who intended a Serbian F1 Team.

There was one interesting item in the letter. The cooperation with the Germany Company Kodewa & Co. Collin Kolles led the company. Kolles is a known person on the grid. He appeared in 2005 in the Formula 1 when Alex Shaider purchased Jordan Grand Prix from Eddie Jordan.  Later on Kolles would become the guy who was able to run a Formula 1 team with a minimum budget.  Kodewa would deal with the operational part of Forza Rossa. Why Kodewa? Probably because they already had the infrastructure and the Romanian connection.

In December 2013, the FIA opened the window for new teams to apply for the 2015 or 2016 season. The four teams that were granted an entry back in 2009 for 2010 were already gone or were near bankruptcy. USF1 never made it; they only produced a toaster and later were fined.  HRT went in administration just after the last race of 2012. Marussia and Caterham were near bankruptcy. Besides Forza Rossa as well Haas applied for a free spot on the grid. Haas would debut in 2016 in the Formula One.

On the 11th of April 2014 Haas gained one of the spots on the grid by the FIA. They had two season to debut in the Formula One. How about Forza Rossa?  Well, in a statement given by the FIA on the same day they said that they were in the process of conducting further investigations for Forza Rossa.

It seemed only a matter of time for Forza Rossa to be accepted on the grid.  Colin Kolles said on the 26th of April 2014 that the FIA was to give the team their permission to appear on the grid in May.  However, from this point on the weird dead-ends of the Forza Rossa story start to appear. In May 2014, Caterham F1 Team was near collapsing as the team lacked their financial support.  Was the Romanian team to build their team on the fundaments of the presumably folded Caterham team?

Several websites came on the 4th of June 2014 with the story that Forza Rossa gained their entry for the Formula One. Colin Kolles was the one that would have received another “Letter of interest” from the FIA. If this was the case it would mean the team was granted entry, and make its debut in 2015 or 2016.  Keep in mind Colin Kolles was actively involved with the Romanian F1 Team. In a later stadium it would be denied that Kolles was not involved with the team. As he would become the principal of the nearly folded Caterham F1 Team.

There is no proof to find on the internet that Colin Kolles did receive that letter of interest from the FIA. The fact is that Forza Rossa or officially FRR F1 (Forza Rossa Romania F1 Team) still had to pay the FIA 20 million fee. The original deadline was for the 30th of May though the FIA expanded it to the 23th of June. Whomever responsible for the payments the team never paid. Bazac’s capital at that moment was worth just over 16 million.

Forza Rossa received on the 2th of July 2014 a letter from the FIA stating they were happy with the efforts the team put in their attempt to enter the Formula One. However, the FIA believed that the entry for 2015 was not feasible. Besides the lack of payment there was another issue with the ACR license, which the team did not have, this would be clear in a later stadium.

What is known of the Forza Rossa team?  Well the operational part, as already said, was at Kodewa in Munich. Speculations went that the team would use the Renault engines presumably to gain more interest in the Dacia car manufacturer in Romania, which is Renault. On the other hand, there was the Ferrari connection. Forza Rossa is the official importer of Ferrari in Romania. Besides that, Renault already supplied four teams with engines.

Just after the team received the FIA letter, on social media the stories appeared of a financial injection by the Romania government. Some sources came with the number of 50 million while others kept it to 20 million.  So you could ask you self was Victor Ponta involved with Forza Rossa?

From this part of the story, the political involvement would become clear. As well the strings with Caterham F1 Team. On the 2nd of July, it became known that Caterham F1 Team was sold to some Swiss/Arab consortium named Engavest S.A. Tony Fernandes was in an earlier stage in late 2013 already done with Formula One.  He was to focus only on the road cars Caterham was producing as well. The consortium hired Colin Kolles. He fulfilled the position of team principal. While Christijan Albers and Manfredi Ravetto would do the daily management of the team.  Albers would leave the team a few weeks later already.

First Colin Kolles was linked with Forza Rossa, now he became the teams principal was he still? Well Kolles came with a statement on the 25th of July 2014 at the autosport website stating that he was not involved anymore with the Romanian F1 Project. He was to focus fully on Caterham F1 Team. However, Kodewa would still produce the Forza Rossa F1 car. At that point, Kolles was to fulfil the role as team principal temporarily until the team was healthy again. Little did anyone know that some dirty games were going on at that moment!

July would mark the beginning of the end for the FRR F1 Team. Victor Ponta was close with Ion Bazac, and in the summer of 2014, there were election in Romania.  Ponta was one of the candidates; it meant that the future of Forza Rossa was in the hands of the Romanian voters. If Ponta would stay as Minister President Forza Rossa would be granted with the needed money. If not, the team had no future in the Formula One. However, we have to dig a bit deeper in the Caterham team from this point on.

Colin Kolles is well known for his, sometimes hard, way of management to keep or to get a Formula one team healthy.  Take as example Midland / Spyker of the defunct HRT team.  You could say it was obviously the Swiss / Arab consortium was to hire Kolles. On the 24th of Oktober 2014 Caterham F1 Team went into administration. Was there any mean to believe the team would survive and reappear on the grid?  Not really. With approval of F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone himself the team was allowed to skip the races in America and Brazil.

In the given time the team was to see what could be saved. Indeed the team seemed to be saved as they arrived in Abu-Dhabi for the last race of the season! Was the team really saved? No not at all. Via a crowdfunding and a Twitter campaign started by the teams curator Finbar O’Connell the team received just enough money to make the trip to Abu-Dhabi.  Already 200 employees were sacked at that point.  What many didn’t know either was the fact that the cars were shipped to Munich instead of Enstone to the factory. To prevent a sale off.

The story for Caterham becomes only stranger. In July, Manfredi Ravetto announced Rubens Barrichello to race the last three races of the season for the team. He would replace Kamui Kobayashi. In an interview with Globo Rubinho said that he would only race in Brazil for a definite goodbye of the Formula One fans.

Rubinho would never race a single meter in the car, several lawsuits were held against the team by personal and suppliers as the team failed to pay.  Most of the employees did not receive their payments anymore. In 2019 the former employees would receive a part of their loan eventually..

To make the story even stranger, Constatin Cojocar, a former Romanian football player, purchased Caterham Sports Ltd. (CSL) for the symbolic amount of one dollar. CSL manufactured the components for the Caterham F1 cars.  Constatin worked just a couple of weeks for the company as a cleaner before he became the CEO of CSL.

Constatin Cojocar said in an interview that assumable an Italian guy who was more or less the boss at the factory spoke with him.  It has to be Ravetto. Ravetto said to him that an old international footballer should not be cleaning; he probably searched for Cojocar on google, and promptly gave him the title. This all happened after the Japanese Grand Prix when the Caterham cars where flew to Munich. The same time the UK tax authorities was knocking at Caterham’s doors. The team had a debt of 20 million. Searching for CSL in the British companies house Cojocar was indeed the director.

Now Caterham is near bankruptcy Forza Rossa reappears. Caterham Sports Ltd. was to build the cars for the team. On the 30th of October 2014, Cojocar was said to appear in front of the court and stated that he saw a letter from the FIA already in June stating that Forza Rossa had granted an entry.  Two things are wrong; the letter mentioned was from the FIA announcing they do not believe Forza Rossa would be able to debut. Another one, if we have to believe Cojocar, there was no court trial on the 30th of October 2014. So what is going on?

On the 31th of October 2014, Forza Rossa published in a statement that they did not receive an entry to debut in the Formula one. The same time rumours suggested that Forza Rossa would continue on the remains of the nearly folded Caterham F1 Team.

It is hard to give an answer on whatever happened with Forza Rossa at this point. I contacted Victor Ponta though did not receive any reaction. The same counts for Ion Bazac who did not reply on my questions. What now?  To make it more complicated the father of Colin Kolles, Romulus Kolles, stated in an interview that spies were working within Caterham who reported to him personally, what was going on.

Before Constatin Cojocar became the director, Romulus Kolles filled in the same position.  He said this in an interview with the Romanian ProSports. As well, he told that his son was involved with Forza Rossa though he did not know anything about Forza Rossa. It is impossible to proof if there were spies in the Caterham factory. All we can do is speculating, honestly I wouldn’t be flabbergasted if they really deployed spies.

The rumours even went further Colin Kolles was said he sacrificed the Caterham F1 Team I favour for Forza Rossa. The team would be able to purchase Caterham F1 Team via an auction for cheap. It was said as well that Manor was on the list to be purchased by Forza Rossa. Manor was already powered by Ferrari and their results on the track were much better that those from Caterham.

However, on the 30th of October 2014 a former employee of the Caterham F1 Team Joe McNamara, now working for the Renault F1 Team, that the Forza Rossa FRR01 would be similar to the unraced Caterham CT-07. The design for the 2015 car was already finished and a scale model was already been tested in the wind tunnel. From this point on the similarities with the Phoenix F1 Team. Tom Walkinshaw and Charles Nickerson bought the assets of the folded Prost Grand Prix team in 2002.

Meanwhile on the 14th of November 2014 the second round of elections were held in Romania. This was between Victor Ponta and Klaus Lohannis. Coincidence or not the FIA awaited two weeks after the elections in Romania to publish the list with team to appear on the grid in 2015.  Was it because Bernie Ecclestone was not a stranger to operate in the grey field?

However, on the 11th of November 2014, just three days before the elections would be held Forza Rossa came with an official announcement that they did not had the intention anymore to debut in 2015 in the Formula One. While Victor Ponta lost the elections, he was still in the news regarding Forza Rossa. Officially, Victor Ponta was not involved. He did sign documents for the ACR license. This would mean Forza Rossa would be racing under the Romanian banner. The ACR never received any documents.

There is one question left, how did Forza Rossa thing to finance itself? There was no information or speculations at that point any companies were interested to sponsor the teams. It is known that Victor Ponta was to finance the team. Though there were rumours that a consortium of Romanian companies was to invest in the team. The team would not appear in the Formula One. And the plans for 2016? Never heard of it anymore.

If Victor Ponta had won the elections, Forza Rossa would probably have debuted in 2016 financially supported by the government.  There is one problem, if your country isn’t that rich how do you tell your own people you inject millions in a Formula One team while it could be invested as well in the healthcare for example?