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Can the USF1 team get off the ground?
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Can the USF1 team get off the ground?
Posted By:   |  25 Feb 2009   |  10:19 am GMT  |  0 comments

Peter Windsor and Ken Anderson did a press conference on the US racing channel Speed TV last night with details of their USF1 project.

On the face of it, this is an crazy time to try to get a US based F1 team off the ground, with a credit crunch, which is biting savagely in America, no US Grand Prix, and the eternal problem of logistics with most of the races being based in Europe and all points East. Also, whisper it, it’s not very green to fly racing cars back and forth across the Atlantic, when you could just as easily be based in Surrey or Oxford.

The key to this initiative is the FIA’s move to slash costs and the Formula One Teams Association’s desire to do likewise. Now a team like USF1 knows that it can get an engine and gearbox from a front running team like McLaren or Ferrari for £6.5 million a year. The FIA wants to restrict many other areas of technology and make them available in a similar fashion. The teams are moving slowly towards finding what they consider the right level. If the teams stick to stereotype and resist radical change, then USF1 will really struggle to be anywhere other than the back of the grid with only 100 employees based in the USA.

But if budgets do come down to around £50 million a year and the FIA gets its way so that any new technology a team like McLaren comes up with, has to be made available at a capped price to a privateer team, then USF1 will be the first of several new F1 teams having a go, recession or no recession. There are three empty spaces in pit lane (without Honda) and they will fill up fast if F1 becomes affordable.

F1 still offers a sensational return on investment in terms of advertising spend. A £20 million sponsorship will do far more for global brand awareness than twice that much spent on TV advertising. And if the budgets come down as they are talking about, then the business model works.

But we’ve been here before, seen many a wide eyed optimist launching in, ultimately to be disappointed. F1 is a bear pit, a piranha tank and the people who’ve been around a long time and have a lot to protect are not going to make it easy for new boys to come along and make them look foolish.

I know Windsor well, he helped me a lot with the Nigel Mansell autobiography in the 1990s and I’ve helped him out too in TV. He has always dreamed of his own team and he has been around in F1 long enough to know the harsh realities. There is a hint of fantasy about his project and I do think that they were rushed into this announcement because of leaks, where they might have liked more time beneath the radar.

But they are now committed to putting two cars on the grid in 2010 and representing the USA. How will they do it? Well there is quite a silicon valley of motorsport technology in Charlotte and Indianapolis. I’ve been there and seen it. Most of the car build will be outsourced, they have the state of the art Wind Shear windtunnel which Anderson built, just a few miles down the road. You’d also need state of the art F1 technical knowledge; Mike Gascoyne is sitting in Oxfordshire twiddling his thumbs and there are some designers in Brackley who might be available for hire shortly…

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  1. guy says:

    Another good article, James. Do we know how much Windsor has invested and for how much the ‘small stake’ was sold / is worth? Windsor, certainly from his background and well informed articles in f1 magazine seems to have a lot of savvy therefore why would he pursue such a risk (please don’t say it’s his dream!!).

  2. Stephen Kellett says:

    At least unlike with BAR, there won’t be any comments along the lines of “our car designer, every car he has ever designed, first race, his car has won”. When I heard that I thought BAR had a long hill to climb. And of course, it wasn’t until that guy was replaced/moved to one side that things started to improve.

    Reading the USF1 stuff on ITV F1, its a bit of a chuckle, claiming they’d like an engine from the big three in the US – but you only have to look at what they design to know they wouldn’t be up to it, credit crunch or not.

    I’m a skeptic, Americans are great at space programmes, aircraft carriers and fighter planes. It doesn’t appear that the same applies to cars or racing cars, buses or trucks. I don’t hold out much hope for the USF1 car if it is designed exclusively with US staff.

    In a different article USF1 claim now is the right time to do this limited budget thing because the budgets are coming down and they always used to walk up and down the pit lane wondering why money was spent on this and that and that they could do it more effectively for less. But surely if that was your attitude, you should have entered years ago, as you’d do your operation for a fraction of the costs and still be just as good. Thus, that story doesn’t sound right, something about it doesn’t ring true, there is something missing.

    The whole focus on “everything must be US” seems to me to be a liability. Surely you should get the best talent (which is what they keep mentioning) from whereever it is available? If by lucky coincidence that happens to be the US, sobeit, but most teams seem to be full of folks from all over the place.

    It’ll be interesting to see if the extra air freight is a penalty or not. Maybe you can arrive at the various European tracks more effeciently than trucking through the night from the UK? Or will they have to base themselves in Europe for a few weeks at a time, several times a year?

  3. Jon says:

    Good luck to them. It’s a tough task and it’s hard to be see them anywhere but at the back of the grid. It’s great to see a new team that wants to build it’s own cars though. The USA is such a key market that it’d be good to see a team based from there. A bit of variety to spice it up, especially if they had some publicity drivers like Danica. If they got serious down the line, there would always be better drivers to select, and if more American’s tuned in to the races, it can only be a good thing.

  4. F1 Boston Fan says:

    - There’s so much potential to do a great job and just as much to screw the whole thing up.

    - I really like Red Bull’s approach; most F1 drivers look and act like business cards but because of the Red Bull image and mentality they’re allowed to be funny, throw wild parties, and publish (until recently) that parody F1 newspaper.

    - I hope USF1 takes a similar approach; not too “American”, that is, I’m hoping that when they hire Alexander Rossi he doesn’t stride down the pit lane and say to Sebastian Bourdais “we saved your asses in WWII”. They can however, take some pokes at the typical F1 attitude by being more relaxed and laid back, and in that way, more “American”.

    - Also, while I am an American I’m not full of joy and pride in my country; humility is the best approach. That being said, if they were to come in and after a couple years dominate the European aristocracy, kind of how the Ford GT did in Le Mans way back when, I would be ecstatic.

  5. Snowy says:

    SK – you should read that stuff on ITV-F1 again so that you don’t misrepresent their wishes/expectation. Windsor makes it very clear that they will not be using US-built engines and have no expectation that they could:

    “Windsor admitted that USF1 would have to accept a non-US engine supplier, but believes the American connection will be attractive to the manufacturers already in F1.”

    “As much as it would be great to have one of the top three (car companies) from Detroit, no (it won’t happen),” he said.

    “In fact, the Formula 1 regulations won’t even allow that anyway because the engine is now frozen, the regulations are frozen, you’ve got to run an engine from one of the existing Formula 1 suppliers, and we all know who those are.”

    “It’s just a question of doing a deal with one of those companies.”

    It couldn’t be much plainer than that.

  6. Snowy: I didn’t misrepresent their view.

    “As much as it would be great to have one of the top three (car companies) from Detroit, no (it won’t happen),” he said. It’s clear, that if they could, they would. Hence the chuckle. As you said, it could not be plainer than that.

    Frankly, for F1, its a good job the big 3 can’t supply them, they’d be at the back of the grid if it could.

  7. Frenchie says:

    Thank you for this great article. Here’s my 2 cents worth. Here in Australia, ‘Ten’s very own Peter Windsor’ tends to have an opinion on just about everything in the F1 business (during the pre-race show on Network Ten) and I am glad to see he puts his money where his mouth is.

    However, F1 being (by nature) so competitive that even car giants like Toyota are yet to win a GP, I see USF1 fielding 2 of the 6 lasts spots on the grid (along with FIF1 and Honda’s future self) for years to come.

    This said, I love the idea of a different concept (ie F1 is part of the entertainment business) which somehow gives them more credits than Honda’s (if there’s such a thing as a concept at this stage).

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