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Is USF1 failing to make the grid a great loss?

Posted by Carrot on March 2, 2010 | No Comments

US F1 Logo

I’ll spoil the ending for you all. No. It is no great loss at all for the circus to line up on the grid in Bahrain in under two weeks without the supposed USF1 team. The only loss suffered is the time lost to allow a replacement team to develop themselves and their car. Luckily the likely replacement, Serbian outfit Stefan GP, find themselves in a similar position to championship winners Brawn GP during last winter having bought out the Toyota 2010 project so the sudden call up to the grid shouldn’t affect them that much.

It was more than a year ago that Ken Anderson and Frank Windsor announced their intent to form a Formula 1 team designed, built and based in the US. Press releases and reports from the mainstream and specialist motorsport media reiterated to the public again and again, with a great deal of thinly veiled arrogance, how American know-how, breakthroughs and talent would make them a force in Formula 1. By the end of July they’d been accepted by the FIA, after the breakaway threat from FOTA had been resolved, and signed the Concorde Agreement. Since then there’s been a lot of talk, some more talk, a picture of a nosecone and yet more talk. Then after a press release boasting about how they weren’t wasting preparation time by taking long Christmas holidays, silence. All the bravado ceased. We were told that the car would have shakedown early in February… still waiting to see that.

US F1 NoseTo contrast and compare, Virgin (then under the Manor banner) was accepted to the championshipat the same time as USF1 and their car was at the tests. Lotus only gained entry after BMW pulled the plug on its F1 foray and even with that short amount of time they’ve managed to test a car and attract two Grand Prix winners to their team. USF1 have given us talk and a nosecone.

So, what went wrong? Prevailing opinion in the specialist press lays the blame firmly at the feet of Anderson and Windsor chronically mismanaging the team and I’m inclined to believe that explanation. It can’t have been money, the Achilles Heel of Adrian Campos’ team, USF1 had Chad Hurley as a primary investor. Hurley earned over $300 million from selling YouTube. Even the early talk from Anderson and Windsor stated that they knew that money could be crippling for a team without a rich backer but that they had decided to structure their new venture to avoid this problem. So it couldn’t have been money, other teams with less time have managed to get a car ready, it must have been hideous mismanagement.

This neatly leads to the current news buzz, USF1 asking for deferred entry to the World Championship in 2011. USF1 want the FIA and Formula 1 fans around the world to believe that even though they announced their intent to create a team and car over a year ago and failed that given another year they’ll be able to race. I don’t believe it. Nor do I believe this big showy bond the press say they are offering to put up as proof of their intent to race. Seven figures the reports say. Seven figures is nothing in F1 terms, seven figures can be a maximum of $9, 999, 999. That’s pocket change under ten million, sounds a lot to you and I, doesn’t it? F1 magazine reported that in 2003 Sauber spent eighteen million on rebadged Ferrari engines for the season. It’s less than a quarter of the proposed budget cap. Seven figures is pocket change in F1 terms, you couldn’t cover the price of Kimi Räikkönen’s ice cream bill for that.

I’ll move back to the point, what great loss will we suffer when USF1 fails to show? Nothing that is obviously apparent. As they were never in the circus we can’t have lost any character that they brought. With the mass exodus of the manufacturers from F1 there’s no pressing commercial reason to ‘crack’ the US market. Without USF1 there’ll be no endless talk about having a US Grand Prix, Indianapolis put on some truly mediocre races and, ask Ralf Schumacher, was a generally unsafe place to be a F1 driver. There is nothing we’ve immediately or apparently lost, except for two arrogant team founders that dug their own graves.

I’ll finish by telling you what we have lost. The credibility of the American product for F1. Instead of Anderson and Windsor calling their team AW Racing or something similar they wrapped themselves in an American flag and associated themselves with as much Americana as they could get the press attention for. Now all of that is synonymous with complete and abject failure in the eyes of the world and now a backer, a sponsor, a boardroom executive could see their team negotiating a deal with someone with American roots and call the deal off. This could hurt the most important thing, the enjoyment the sport brings every fan. For every bad thing that comes from the US, we often get one that improves our sport. For every Scott Speed, we get a Juan Pablo Montoya, for every Sébastien Bourdais, a Jacques Villeneuve. One day we could get a honest, hardworking and competent team based in the US come into our sport that will enthrall and entertain us, but that is now going to be all the more harder due to the incompetence of two people who thought they could be a part of the peak of motorsport with just wishful thinking.

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