Ingram's Flat Spot On The Troubles At US F1 by Jonathan Ingram Given the events of the past seven days, it's difficult to predict precisely how things will turn out for US F1, especially now that the attention is once again focused on the...
Ingram's Flat Spot On
The Troubles At US F1
by Jonathan Ingram
Given the events of the past seven days, it's difficult to predict precisely how things will turn out for US F1, especially now that the attention is once again focused on the track and testing at Barcelona for the upcoming world championship season.
There are some established facts in the rearview mirror that shed light on what is a very difficult and tenuous situation for US F1 at best and more likely an impossible scenario.
What has gone wrong to this point has become clear beyond the fact there's no chassis available for the season-opening event in Bahrain on Mar. 14. To make matters worse, it's a two-part problem.
The vision of founder Ken Anderson to establish a team in the middle of the technology of NASCAR valley in the new era of a lower cost F1 was indeed a good one. Unfortunately, it was under-funded and mismanaged.
That's what will make any decision by sanctioning body FIA about the future of US F1 difficult. The FIA's technical delegate Charlie Whiting has visited the team's shops in the Charlotte area for a first-hand look at both the capacity of the facility and the progress of the yet-to-arrive Type 1 chassis. It will be clear to him, as others who have visited, that the facility and the veteran workers on hand are fully capable of producing a car. But when -- and with what financing?
Despite a staff deep in F1 experience and capacity, team principal Ken Anderson created a bottleneck on all fronts with micro-management. Some employees and ex-employees have been quoted off the record about the difficulties at US F1 when it came to getting a production schedule in place and executing on the parts and pieces. Others familiar with the situation confirm these comments are accurate. The key issue has been the slow manner in which Anderson and his son Jason Anderson -- who is the team's design director -- have issued the drawing plans. Also, there's been a fair number of re-do's.
Is there any way for primary investor Chad Hurley to help right the ship and sustain operations in Charlotte? He, too, is part of the problem in that his initial funding was not enough to get the team to the grid and he has not been able to capitalize on what was supposed to be an active role in locating sponsorship.
There may be some incentive for the FIA to maintain the US F1 team's position among the maximum of 13 teams allowed to participate under the Concorde Agreement. The FIA needs to sustain avenues for new teams to enter the sport in an economy that remains uncertain and unpredictable for the foreseeable future. If US F1 is abandoned, will it hamper future efforts by privateers without factory backing?
On the other hand, if Campos Meta moves forward with its Dallara chassis and Cosworth engines under the ownership of Spanish businessman Jose Ramon Carabante and under the direction of F1 veteran Colin Kolles, that would give the FIA three of its four new teams on the grid.
The FIA could also have an incentive to sustain the 13 signees of the Concorde to avoid a legal hassle with Stefan GP, which has already sued under European Union regulations after it finished second to Peter Sauber in the bid to fill the slot vacated by Toyota's withdrawal from the sport. Finally, in the ever-changing power struggle at the top, there may be some incentive to demonstrate the FIA runs the series and not necessarily Ecclestone's Formula One Management.
But how would US F1 continue on a project that's already been mismanaged? If the team has not been able to sign commercial sponsorship when its halo was still shining brightly, what hope is there for the future? If the team was given the time -- as requested by Anderson -- and managed to put together a car in time for the Spanish GP in May, it would be light years behind the other teams in development. The same vicious cycle would likely begin again when it comes to developing the car and catching up.
Now that Campos Meta's appears to be headed for the grid in a reasonable time frame, it seems highly likely that sponsored Argentinean driver Jose Maria Lopez will exercise his legal option (there's no car at US F1...) and switch to the Spanish team.
What about the remaining members of the US F1 team, who hitched their lives and careers to the Anderson wagon like so many others in this sad affair?
Is this the end in the near term for any U.S. involvement in F1? That, too, is an incentive to find some avenue forward.
At this stage, who among those involved -- from the FIA to FOM and the team members in Charlotte -- would want to attempt to go forward with Anderson? Would it even help if he tried to move the team into the hands of Hurley and leave in favor of new management and a new design director?
It's indelibly sad to see one man's dream crumble in plain sight, especially when the dream was very close to being attainable and had so much support from so many quarters in U.S. racing.
But so it goes.
Jonathan Ingram can be reached at email@example.com.