Reports linking Panthera Team Asia to a renewed bid to enter Formula 1 in 2026 have emerged in the wake of Andretti Global's announcement of a partnership with General Motors.
Panthera first expressed an interest in joining F1 in 2019, but their hopes were dashed by the emergence of the COVID pandemic the following year which put everything on hold.
But now the prospect of 2026 rule changes governing engine specifications has given the squad a new opportunity to enter the running with an Asian team comprised of an Asian base, an Asian academy and an Asian driver.
“It’s been a rollercoaster,” team principal and co-founder Benjamin Durand told PlanetF1.com's Sam Cooper in an exclusive interview this week. “We could have given up a long time ago on this project, but we believe in it.
"Formula 1 is focusing a lot on the US which is normal because it’s growing, but once that market is there, Asia and Africa are the next big market for F1."
Durand pointed to the excitement generated by the arrival of Zhou Guanyu at Alfa Romeo as F1's first Chinese driver, with Japan's Yuki Tsunoda heading into his third season with ALphaTauri.
“We still think that the Asian market and Chinese market are the next markets to be developed,” he insisted. "Especially now that Zhou is in the championship.”
Durand said that he hoped this could mean that the timing is finally right for an Asian team like Panthera to make the jump into F1.
“The particular issue you have when you want to try to create a Formula 1 team is to have all the planets align,” he explained.
"When we had the money, the FIA and F1 were not ready because at the time they were renegotiating the Concorde Agreement.
“Then we also talked with Renault to be partners on the technical side, [but] they went through a lot of management changes.
“Things were back again for the possibility for us to enter then the pandemic arrived and we lost funding so we had to work again on the financial side.
“We are ready to resume. We have several people that are ready to jump on board that are not, for most of them, committed yet in Formula 1, so they don’t have the garden leave etc.
“[But] there was no point for us to move ahead until we secured all the other aspects of the project," he added. "We want to do this thing seriously."
The FIA's new 'Expression of Interest' process designed to make it easier for new teams to apply could be the crucial development, although details are still thin on the ground.
“We know what the process has been for Haas," said Durand, referring to the newest team on the grid which joined F1 in 2016.
"In the discussion we had with the FIA and the legal team, they told us that they will more or less replicate what was the process before.
“We need to have confirmation, that’s what we’re waiting for right now. We’ve been told that by the end of the month, they will release exactly what they expect from the teams."
"I don’t think we’re far from the truth in what we already have Durand said, adding that Panthera already have a “pre-agreement” letter of intent on paper with an existing power unit supplier.
"The good thing with the current regulations is that you can purchase 70% of the car from another manufacturer," he said.
“We don’t plan to build, for example, a wind tunnel right away," he added. "You can make an agreement with an existing team to share the wind tunnel. Or there are wind tunnels available in Europe that can be used.
"The basic things that they told us at the time are the financial security of the team, the technical and management know-how and then what we can bring to F1 to make the Championship grow.
"Those are the main factors where we need to tick the boxes," said Durand. “But again, it’s a long term objective. We are very realistic. The first thing is to exist. Start and not be ridiculous and then see where we are.
“We'll do it step-by-step. There is no point for us to start chasing dreams about podiums and titles and stuff like that. We need to learn to walk before we learn to run.”
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