Commentary

American F1 effort gaining steam

Updated: February 25, 2009, 8:37 PM ET
By Dan Knutson | Special to ESPN.com

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It is all systems go for USF1, the first Formula One team that will be based in the United States.

An entry form has been filed with the FIA for the 2010 season, and USF1 team principal and technical director Ken Anderson told ESPN.com that 90 percent of required funding to set up the team and build the cars is already in place.

Anderson and USF1's sporting director Peter Windsor held a news conference at Speed TV in Charlotte on Tuesday to officially announce the new team.

The raft of new cost-cutting rules introduced by the FIA along with those agreed to by the teams make it feasible to run a lean, mean F1 team. USF1 plans to have a total staff of 100 to 130 and will outsource much of the work. The big F1 teams have 500 to 1,000 employees.

USF1 always planned to be a very cost-effective unit, and the recession has played into its hands in the sense that it does not have to scale down.

"We are two guys who can say we want to do an F1 team because we have the capital to do it, and to some extent the recession has helped us a little bit," Windsor said. "For those out there who say where is the money? Where is the huge facility? Where is the money pouring out of the sky? Well, that isn't going to happen with USF1. We have always had a very different approach, and that approach will become visible as time goes on and this year unfolds."

Although the team's exact base has yet to be finalized, it will be in the Charlotte area, NASCAR's Silicon Valley.

"Most of the technology in F1 comes from the USA, going all the way back to carbon brakes and carbon fiber chassis," Anderson said, "and the cost of doing business here is much cheaper than running a team in Europe."

"F1 technology is really a trickle-down from the United States aerospace technology in a lot of ways," Anderson added, "so those companies are here. There are a lot of technology, computer, simulation software and CFD [computational fluid dynamics] companies in Los Angeles.

"Los Angeles is also really good for the aerospace and exotic metals. For example, most of the axles on all F1 cars are made in Los Angeles."

And Charlotte?

"Because of all the racing-specific things in Charlotte -- the wind tunnel, the shaker rigs and so on -- it is an ideal base for us," Anderson said. "Charlotte has a $6 billion racing industry, so there are a lot of good people and a lot of good equipment here. There are a lot of good machine and composite shops here, so we can have our pick of the litter."

USF1 will use the 180 mph, rolling road, full-size Windshear wind tunnel in Charlotte, which Anderson helped to design and set up.

With more and more F1 races being staged outside Europe, having a team based in the U.S. makes more sense than it would have in the past, when the cars and equipment were sent by truck from England or Italy to most grand prix events.

USF1
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonKen Anderson, left, and Peter Windsor, right, speak during a news conference where they announced plans to form USF1, a Formula One auto racing team based in the Charlotte, N.C., area.

USF1 plans to fly its cars back to Charlotte after each grand prix unless they are on back-to-back weekends in Europe or on a distant sequence of races such as Australia, Malaysia and China. As for races in Europe, the USF1 cars actually can be flown back to Charlotte quicker than it takes some teams to truck their cars back to their bases in England.

But USF1 will also have a second base -- almost certainly in Spain -- where it will house transporter trucks, hospitality units, equipment and spares.

It is the team's stated goal to have two drivers from the United States, but Windsor told ESPN.com that USF1 will consider hiring one experienced F1 driver to help steer the team in the initial year or two.

At the moment, there is only one U.S. driver with current F1 experience -- Scott Speed -- so unless Speed returns to F1, one of the drivers might not be American.

A number of U.S. drivers in the lower ranks of the sport could make the step up to F1. There also are a number of big stars in other racing series, including Danica Patrick and Kyle Busch.

What sort of PR value would Patrick or Busch bring to USF1?

"Both of those drivers bring with them a lot of reputation and a lot of PR and a lot of pizzazz," Windsor said. "The question is, is that the right thing for USF1 in its first and second years? Because we are going to be a small team walking before we can run, and we want our drivers to be commensurate with that level of improvement.

"What we don't need is a driver coming in and dominating the team and expecting more than the team can give. Equally, we don't want a driver who is going to underperform because he is so inexperienced. So it is a very difficult balance to strike.

"But it goes without saying that concept of taking somebody like Danica to F1 and being successful with her is mind-blowing, and equally taking a NASCAR star and putting him into F1 and seeing him do well would be just as great."

Two of the biggest stars in F1 and the entire racing world -- Mario Andretti and Dan Gurney -- have voiced enthusiasm for the new team.

"Clearly, this is the best news I could have hoped for as a F1 fan," Andretti said. "It's got to be great news for F1, period."

Andretti won F1 races driving for Ferrari and Lotus, and he won the 1978 world championship with Lotus. Gurney won F1 races with the Porsche and Brabham teams, as well as winning the 1967 Belgian Grand Prix with his own All American Racing team and Eagle chassis.

ESPN.com asked Windsor what sort of support USF1 has received from F1's two power brokers -- FIA president Max Mosley and commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone.

"I first told Bernie Ecclestone about this in Brazil 2006, and he was his usual specific self," Windsor replied. "He just said, 'Great, get it done'. So I said OK, let's go and do it.

"He has kept in touch ever since and has always been supportive. Anything that we need, he has tried to help us with.

"The FIA equally have known about this in detail now for about five to six months, and instantly grasped the program and instantly accepted the way we wanted to do it as, dare I say it, the poster child for how a F1 team should be going into the next generation."

USF1 plans to be a lot more accessible to the fans and media than most F1 teams.

"Well, certainly something I have learned just in the time I have been here in Charlotte is how good a job the NASCAR teams do for the fans," Windsor pointed out. "We are in the entertainment business, and we want it to be a TV-led F1 team. We are to be that by definition, being so close to Speed TV, and we are also going to have our own TV production facilities inside our factory headquarters.

"We are going to make this a very fan-friendly team, not only in the States but globally. We are going to design the fan route -- they will be welcome to come to our HQ; they will be able to tour, look at an F1 car being designed and built. They will be able to touch and feel an F1 team for the first time."

Anderson, who has a background as an engineer, technical director and designer in F1, Indy cars and NASCAR, already has begun designing the 2010 USF1 car along with several colleagues. The car should run for the first time in October.

Just what engine will power the car has yet to be determined.

"We are going to send a proposal to all the manufacturers currently in F1, to let them know we are here and to entertain them," Anderson said. "Every manufacturer in F1 now, their biggest market is the U.S. The only exception to that is Renault, but they have an alliance with Nissan, so it could still make commercial sense for them."

Anderson pointed out that the new low-cost engine rules are a perfect example of why USF1 can compete.

"An engine package in 2010 will cost 5 million euros [$6.4 million]," he said. "Compare that to the 20 to 30 million dollars teams spent leasing engines in recent years."

USF1's total budget for 2010 probably will be in the $65 million range. It sounds like a lot until measured against the big teams' forking out between $200 and 400 million a year.

And a timeline is already in place for USF1.

"We have come up with a timeline for the year by which time decisions have to be made," Windsor explained. "But they are all things that race teams do anyway; they are not things that are going to be massively difficult to achieve now we are where we are.

"We are a team, we have a budget and we are going to be spending that in the correct way achieving those goals when they need to be achieved.

"In no particular order, they are going to be drivers, engines, European location, the building here, sponsors. All those things are things to be doing now. That's what we are going to be doing from 2009 onwards."

Dan Knutson covers Formula One for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.

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