USF1 Launches in NASCAR Country

In what might be one of the most unlikely stories in Formula 1 history, a member of the press and a shock specialist are starting a U.S.-based F1 team. More interestingly, this team will be based out of NASCAR country in North Carolina with a testing base in Europe and using (ideally for the team) two American drivers to pilot the cars.

The men in charge are Peter Windsor (Speed Channel reporter, F1 interview room questioner, former Williams team manager) and Ken Anderson (former CART team manager, wind tunnel designer, Indycar designer). Their plan is to create what they call a “Skunkworks.” This name comes from the special ops division of Lockheed Martin which was staffed by the best of the best. By taking this approach and with all the cost cutting measures that the FIA have imposed on F1, they believe they will have a competitive team in a few years for a budget of around $100 million. But can this actually work as well as they hope?

While Windsor and Anderson say they have the money, access to all the technologies that the top teams can get their hands on, use of the Windsheer wind tunnel (a full-scale windtunnel the likes of which only one or two teams own), and a viable plan to be the next generation of F1 teams that the FIA is looking for. With the FIA working to cut costs, USF1’s plans to have about 100 employees and base themselves at the heart of the US racing infrastructure seems to be the right way forward. That still doesn’t answer what their plans are going forward. So I’m going to do a little educated speculating.

Drivers:
Two names that seem to come up fairly regularly around USF1 are Danica Patrick and Scott Speed. Both have European racing credentials. But while Danica may have been a good road racer in the past, she’s become an oval specialist and is better known for this than driving. Speed does not seem interested in leaving NASCAR for another tour of Formula 1 despite an almost guaranteed position of team leader. Heading to USF1 would likely mean being dropped by Red Bull and with Red Bull’s investment in him likely meaning permanent employment for life, he’s unlikely to risk that for another shot with F1 with a startup team. Two other NASCAR drivers have been connected with USF1. While Kyle Busch is likely the best American driver in the world right now, success in NASCAR isn’t likely to translate to F1 and neither will the money. A.J. Allmendinger was the next big thing in Champ Car and seemed destined for F1, his move to NASCAR (and more money) sidetracked that. If his ride gets full time sponsorship, I would expect him to stay in stock cars but if he finds himself unemployed, a move to F1 is in the cards.

As for some more realistic drivers to pilot for USF1 in 2010, look for A1GP standout Jonathon Summerton to get one of the seats. His experience on F1 circuits in A1GP and F3 gives him a smaller learning curve than most US drivers and his success against top flight drivers in A1GP makes him a shoo-in for one seat. If I had to bet on a second driver, look for Jenson Button to take the other seat. With Jenson likely unemployed for 2009, any development work he can provide as an experienced F1 hand will shrink the team’s starting gap to the back of the grid.

Engine:
New F1 engine regulations for 2010 allow for teams to purchase a season’s worth of engines from Cosworth for €2 million up front as a one-time payment and €6.5 million per season.  Not only does this apply to Cosworth but the FIA mandates that all engine supplier must charge this amount.  Finding an affordable engine won’t be an issue.  It will be interesting to see, however, if USF1 will get a better deal on engine supply.  Because America is such a big market for car manufacturers, it’s likely that they can get an engine deal with a team at lower than mandated cost.  With Alfa Romeo’s re-entrance into the US market, Ferrari (who like Alfa are owned by FIAT) engines are a possibility.  Again, if I was to go out on a limb, I would look at BMW to show some interest.  They don’t do customer engines at the moment but a chance to add sales in America would be worth the costs of ramping up production.

Logistics and Finances:
One of the questions that keeps coming up is if USF1 can handle the costs of shipping the cars, equipment, staff, and drivers from Charlotte to a race and back. With only eight races in Europe next season, the importance of having a base in Europe is decreased. Also, Windsor claims that moving cars by ground (as most F1 teams do) is slower in moving cars back to the shop after a race than flying them. As for finances, they claim that they have the capital ready to hit the road and have been talking to investors and sponsors for additional backing.

So, can this actually work? Well, in theory all the pieces are in place and it has all ben well thought out. The only thing standing in USF1’s way is money. They have the money to operate in 2009 and should be able to manage into 2010. After that, getting $100 million of sponsorship in economic times like these will be hard. F1 and NASCAR teams have lost sponsors who have claimed the recession has forced them to cut costs. With US companies used to spending at most $30 million on sponsorship on a NASCAR team, getting upwards of $50 million for a title sponsor will be a tall order.

One thought on “USF1 Launches in NASCAR Country

  1. Solid post here, well researched….fun to read now that our US F1 team has been accepted. Even more fun to read your driver choices. i couldnt agree with you more. While Scott Speed would make a solid choice, i agree that his return to F1 is probably not gunna happen due to his red bull contract. I would love to see Danica Patrick behind the wheel of an F1 car, she surely has recently made a name for herself more so on the tack this recent season (most notably a 3rd place at Indy this year) but while she will go down in certain history for being an indy car driver, is F1 worth the jump? Probably not…. Oh how i wish you were still right about Jenson Button being unemployed this year (damn you Braun GP lol)…so while we all want US drivers, the closer US F1 gets to 2010 the more it looks like we wont have US born drivers. Something also to consider is several names already driving in F1 but not competing at their teams level ( heiki for maclaren and mini piquet for renault ). While i wouldnt list those drivers as ideal candidates something is to be said about not having to teach a driver not only the F1 races, but driving an F1 car is nothing like driving in nascar or in indy.

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