Project de Bono

Project de Bono the kick-off for BAR


Everything has a begin, and if you look at the Formula One also an end. Many teams, and many circuits came and left the sport. A good example of this is the BAR (British American Racing) team that mate it’s debut in 1999. Behind BAR was BAT (British American Tobacco) that were to expand their brands like 555 and Lucky Strike more. Project de Bono is were it all started! Interesting? Yes it is! From a Grand Prix in China in 1998 and the plans to purchase the Minardi team in 1997. Join me on the road from BAT to BAR.

Before we go deeper into the story, the story is written based on documents that have been released years ago. The documents are tough to read and lots of the information in it is understandable. The article is written as how I understood the documents and the story that is behind it. Therefore I hope it is clear how BAR came to it’s form.

The first time there were talks about a team from BAT were in late 1996. What I could uncover in a magazine is that an unknown group was looking into Formula One to expand their brands across the world. Focusing mostly around China and India. Later on it became known as Project de Bono.

Project de Bono was launched in the spring of 1997 by BAT. What did it meant? They were looking for ways how they could facilitate their brand the best wat in the Formula One. It came very soon clear, according to the documents that BAT was looking to purchase a Formula One team in the Formula one. Though, how did they come tot his decision?

From a summary of a meeting from the 4th of July in 1997 it is clear that BAT was looking to race in the Formula One with two liveries. The plan was to bring two of their brands on the track, 555 and Lucky Strike. The team basically worked as a umbrella were the brands would hang under. They were aware that they had to come up with a proper name and bring this name early in the media. In that case the media would announce the team as, in this case BAR, instead of Lola wat has happened with Larrousse before. Lamborghini had the same in 1991, the team was called Lambo, Lamborghini and Modena.

The name British American Racing was chosen, as I understood, the 4th of July 1997 (officially announced the 21th of July) during one of the first meeting. As the name appeared for the first time on paper. Project de Bono would have a budget of 3,359 million Dollar to start with in 1997. This was mostly to investigate the market and Formula One and basically to pave the road for the months to follow and for the team. The budget was used to begin their media campaign, the creation of the teams branding by logo’s and so on.

On the background the team would exist out of two entities.
HoldCo: Basically the entity that goes about the sponsorship deals, TV Rights, contracts with personals, contract with the drivers and all. You could say HoldCo went about the contracts an financial related subject.   
NewCo: The entity that is responsible for the design and manufacturing for the cars. As well they were responsible for the operational part of the team.
Interesting to know, according to the paper from Project de Bono they did not want to become a British based majority. This means that they did not want to have an management existing out of only British citizens. At that point, in July 1997, Reynard, Gorne and Jakobi were British. And Pollock was, on paper, a Swiss citizen.

The 18th of July 1997 an intern memo was send from Tom Moser towards the management board. The memo title was Project de Bono Update which shown some concrete agreements made.
– An agreement, intern, was made that partly the sponsor budget for the 500CC and the WRC would be-redirected to the F1 project.
– A joint venture was signed with Reynard Card who would build the car.
–  Craig Pollock was assigned.
– Acquiring full right of the Concorde agreement by purchasing a team, specifically is named Tyrrell.
– There was a contingent on a signed agreement with Renault/Mecachrome to supply them with engines.
– There was a contingent on a signed agreement with Jacques Villeneuve to be their driver.
Perhaps the most interesting is their protection of interest in China and India for events (see also Grand Prix’s) and broadcast rights in those regions.

The team planned a two cars team on the grid that would use different liveries, so they could put two of their brands in the picture. One car would have the 555 sponsoring, the other one would have sponsoring from Lucky Strike. This is how they appeared with the team in the media in 1998 and 1999. However, the FOM came quickly with a rule that stated that the cars from one team should have the same livery.

While this memo was send there were several talks going in with engine suppliers. While there were talks with Mecachrome (Renault), a concept contract lay on the table. There were also talks with Ford to supply the team with their engines. While in a document that was from a month later they were also speaking with Honda. Could it be that around that time, August 1997, the deal was already signed that BAR would be powered by Honda in 2000?
Engine costs can be significant and may vary from year to year . The working assumption is that payment is made in 1998 (f5m) and 1999 (£9m) with free engines thereafter.

Another interesting fact, which will be written down in a separated article, is that according to the Project de Bono documents BAT was to purchase the Tyrrell team. They only needed the licence to start. That’s why Paul Stoddart purchased the infrastructure, cars and so on from the Tyrrell team in 1998. However, during the meetings Minardi was one of the teams they were to purchase. As said, this story will be published another time.

Another subject that will get it’s own article is the fact that BAT was pushing for a Chinese Grand Prix and a Grand Prix in India. Those were two of their markets they wanted to use the brands 555 and Lucky Strike for. As revealed in documents the Chinese Grand Prix would be held in 1998 and later on 1999. BAT eventually pushed hard at Bernie Ecclestone to have the Grand Prix happening.

To give you an idea how much BAT spent, according to Project de Bono, the first three years (97, 98 and 99) 57million dollar. This money was reserved for the plant, machinery, wind tunnel, factory and you name it.  

The documents I could find about Project de Bono can be found on my mega account, or visit the page UCSF and search yourself.