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Can the USF1 team get off the ground?

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Can the USF1 team get off the ground?
Feb 25, 2009, 10:19 AM

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

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...

Windsor said last night that he has sold a small stake in the team and that they have the capital to start the team and go racing in 2010. He did not give details, but he did have US racing legends Dan Gurney and Mario Andretti on the phone supporting his plans. Andretti sang the praises of his grandson Marco,

"If I were to design an F1 driver today, I would design Marco. He learns quickly, he's very much of a free spirit. He wants to do it and he'd excel at it."

Sure Marco Andretti and Danica Patrick would get some serious publicity if they were announced as the USF1 drivers next year, but both would have a mountain to climb in terms of learning the tracks with almost no testing allowed. I worked closely with Marco's Dad, Michael, when he came over in 1993 and even with all the testing McLaren did in those days, he was struggling to get up to speed.

The buzzword is 'skunkworks' - it's what Anderson and Windsor describe as their approach to the F1 project, a small number of very good people, team meetings in Starbucks, the spirit of the 1970s really, using pretty much standard engines and gearboxes. It's Max Mosley's dream too of where F1 should be, but Bernie Ecclestone yearns for the highest standards of professionalism, so there is a tension there.
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