In what is turning out to be a rough start to the 2012 season, it looks as though the MINI program is set to implode on itself as soon as tomorrow. The team that has been run and operated by Prodrive indicated that a board meeting was taking place and that a decision would be announced tomorrow on the future of the operation. This coming after a second place finish at the Monte Carlo rally but a couple weeks ago.
There are a number of issues that could be contributing to this sudden change in heart. First, the Prodrive budget has not materialized. Even though it was understood the team would be a lower funded effort, no significant sponsorship has been added to the operation. A task that Prodrive was looking to complete this season off of strong performances. Unfortunately, there has been some tension between BMW and Prodrive over the budget. Prodrive thought sponsorship could be obtained quicker and when it wasn’t, BMW refused to put anymore money into the program. It was realized over the holiday season the program was going to fall short for 2012 and Kris Meeke was then put on the shelf to make room for paid drivers.
While money is a crucial factor, the current promotional crisis certainly hasn’t helped either. Current talks between Eurosport and the FiA have hit a rough patch after it was discovered legal issues could cause the deal to fall through. We will leave the European Union law to the attorney’s, but it is obvious the crisis and lack of exposure certainly does not give MINI any extra desire to funnel money into the program.
The folks over at Prodrive were not made aware of the situation as of earlier this week. Talking with Autosport, Richard Taylor (Prodrive Boss) indicated that any news of MINI pulling support was in fact news to him and the Banbury based organization. I even thought at the beginning of the week that this story was complete rubbish. I mean why would a company like BMW pull the program after the level of success they have already enjoyed? It simply does not make much sense at all to me.
So what now? Well not all is 100% lost. There are three rumors currently being mentioned as options. Some believe that perhaps BMW will take the operation in house and prepare the cars. I personally don’t believe this will be the case. Why would BMW stop paying money to Prodrive to only turn around and spend the same money building the car and fielding it themselves? There is further rumor that an Italian outfit similar to Prodrive may take over the job. Again, why would you leave a name like Prodrive? A possible reason could include the Italian firm doing the job cheaper. I understand the need to limit the costs of the program, but eventually you are going to get what you pay for. The third option and most likely in my book is that the program will be scrapped all together. That is the worst possible outcome and the most likely.
It is a real shame honestly if the program is left to die. The MINI has been a rocket since hitting the stage. I am surprised that BMW would pull the program after all the early success. I think that if MINI stay in the championship, they will claim at least one rally victory with Sordo at the helm. If tomorrow does indeed bring bad news, it will be another dagger into the WRC and the loss of a great hope in 2012.