(by Tim Tuttle si.com 8-6-09)
Team US F1 mobilized this week for the 2010 Formula One World Championship.
Announced in late February, the team founded by Ken Anderson and Peter Windsor finally completed the lengthy F1 approval process with the signing of the Concorde Agreement.
"Until we signed the Concorde Agreement, we weren't really able to push the buttons, pull the trigger on actually being a Formula One team that can live, breathe and sleep Formula One," Windsor explained on Monday.
"We're two days into being this official team and we're just now in the process of pulling a whole lot of legal and organizational triggers."
There will be important meetings involving sponsorship and technical partnerships because US F1 needs both to succeed financially long term. The substantial start-up costs have been funded by private investors, who sources have called very deep pocketed.
"We haven't gone out proactively and done what race teams normally do [chase sponsorship]," Windsor said. "We are lucky. We are a team that bears the name of a country and that country is the United States of America. It's got a great racing and Formula One heritage and beyond that, it has a huge economy. To be able to take that name onto the world stage, it gives us a great advantage in terms of marketing and presence in Formula One."
US F1 hasn't been standing still the past six months. It has secured a three-year contract with Cosworth to supply engines, and moved into a headquarters in the Charlotte, N.C., area in April. Anderson, the technical director and team principal, has hired a team of designers and engineers to produce the first American-built Formula One car in more than 30 years.
Building the cars is the next priority. Anderson has been chief designer and built them before in Formula One and IndyCar, and he's also built the manufacturing facilities a couple of times. He's also a first-class race engineer with Indy 500 victories on his resume at Penske Racing. Anderson also designed the first G Force, which won the 1997 Indy 500 with Arie Luyendyk.
"We're in the original Joe Gibbs [Racing] building and when we moved in, it was still a NASCAR-type building," Windsor said. "We've knocked down a whole lot of walls and we're just installing machinery right now. We've had a team of engineers and designers working on the car and luckily, we're in an era when they can just crank out their work from two or three offices working with very sophisticated CFD [Computational Flow Dynamics] coding, that's what Formula One design and engineering is about these days.
"We haven't lost any time at all, to be honest. We'll start manufacturing the car in the next couple months. We don't have to have the car built until early January. In reality, we've got a nice time frame and have it ready. In general, the design is completed, but you never say it's completely done."
Cars and sponsors are essential, but the question the racing public wants answered is: Who will be the drivers?
Danica Patrick, Kyle Busch and Scott Speed have ruled out their involvement. Windsor has a short list, but he's not revealing who is on it. It seems likely that in the first year, US F1 will have a young American teamed with a veteran F1 driver, and a second American will be the reserve and test driver. The team likely would evolve into two American drivers by the second or third season.
"We're looking at that scenario right now," Windsor said. "We need to make the effort to get Americans in our car. That was always our goal and it still our goal."
Jonathan Summerton, Graham Rahal and Ryan Hunter-Reay are the leading American candidates, according to sources. Summerton has a European racing background, with a victory in Euro Formula 3. He's also the only American to have won in A1GP World Cup of Motorsport. Other drivers who have raced in the series for A1 Team USA include Speed, Marco Andretti and Buddy Rice. Rahal and Hunter-Reay have both won IndyCar races.
Windsor admits to have spoken to Austrian Alexander Wurz, who has raced in 69 Grands Prix and has been a long-time test driver in Formula One.
US F1 also has been approached by non-American drivers who can contribute substantially to the budget.
"We've been offered well over three-quarters of our racing budget by two drivers already, neither of whom have raced in Formula One but both have won races in GP2 (F1's primary development series)," Windsor said. "Both of them have massive sponsorship they can bring us from their home country. Ken and I have got to be very strong, look one another in the eye and say, 'No, we're not gong to accept that money, we're not going to hire those guys because we're going to remain true to our convictions.'
"This team is about helping young Americans (drivers) as much as it is about anything else. But it is tempting when you see all this money dangled in front of you to take it and decide the first year we'll run two guys who aren't Americans."
American drivers in Formula One have been few an far between in the past 20 years. Michael Andretti didn't make it through a full season at McLaren in 1993. Speed drove a season and a half for Toro Rosso in 2006 and 2007.
It has been generally accepted that for an American to reach F1, they must go through the European development system to be accepted. Many have tried, but they typically run out of financial support before getting to GP2, the final step on the ladder. That was the case with Summerton, Charlie Kimball, Patrick Long and Phil Giebler.
"There are very good American drivers out there," Windsor said. "To be honest, shame on Formula One and shame on American motorsport that some of these great young Americans with single seater talent have not been nurtured more and given more opportunity. If they'd all been out there racing Formula Renault, Formula 3, GP2, we'd be in a different ballpark right now.
"The ultimate example is Danica Patrick. She's gone to Europe, she did reasonably well in Formula Ford. She made the commitment, then went back to America and she's done very well in the IRL (IndyCar). You could argue she's probably the best placed American in he premier single-seater American championship right now, give or take a Graham Rahal or two. Yet not one F1 team the last three years has bothered to give her even a test. I find that unbelievable.
Why doesn't US F1 approach Patrick, who is in the final year of her contract with Andretti Green Racing?
"A lot of people are saying to us, 'Are you interested in Danica? and my reply is in some respects, Danica is too big for us now. She'll probably go to NASCAR and she'll probably do very well there and she'll probably make a fortune. For her to do Formula One, it's a huge commitment at this stage of her career and her expectation level would be very high.
"We're not going to be fighting for the World Championship in year one. Reliability is going to be very important for us and driveability and just getting the car designed and built and a while new group working together as a team."