Formula 1 has always prided itself on attracting the sharpest brains, but the new Team US F1 will have some envious eyes looking at it from now on after signing a deal with YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley to be its primary investor.
Hurley will bring with him money and, perhaps more importantly, the brains that have helped turn YouTube into a global phenomenon. His business acumen will be a huge asset to the team - and could well benefit F1 as a whole.
In an exclusive interview with AUTOSPORT, Hurley explained the reasons behind his involvement, what he hopes to bring to US F1 and the sport, plus his plans for the future.
Q: What got you interested in F1 and the US F1 project?
Chad Hurley: Where do I start? I guess first of all, you look at the opportunity. It was a mix of technology, design and sport, and for me personally it was a perfect blend of my personal interest. And that's what initially raised my interest in this opportunity with Ken [Anderson] and Peter [Windsor] and US F1. Really, beyond that, coming from my perspective as an entrepreneur, I thought it was a great business opportunity and a good investment.
Q: Nothing in your background suggests an interest in racing specifically – have you become interested in the sport, or is it literally a business opportunity?
CH: It's more than a business opportunity for me. Because of the design and the technology aspects, and the sport aspects ... I love all sports. I love competition, and it's just an honor to be involved in US F1 and to be racing next year in the World Championship.
Q: You're talking about the challenges and the sporting aspect, but I understand that your first grand prix weekend was the British Grand Prix weekend, which was pretty fraught. What were your first impressions?
CH: It was quite a good experience. I have obviously been able to watch a lot of the races on TV, but seeing it in person ... I guess it's like watching any sport in person. In the states, watching football and then having a chance to go to the stadium, and being able to capture that atmosphere in person, is wonderful. So from that aspect it's great.
Q: You met with Bernie Ecclestone. He has come down hard on the users of YouTube in the past – were your discussions very constructive with him?
CH: We had a productive conversation. We just talked about the opportunities for US F1 and the future of F1 in general. Obviously there have been controversies and they've finally ironed out their differences, and it's great that we can finally move forward. But our conversation just focused on US F1.
Q: What synergies do you see between F1 and new media?
CH: I see tremendous potential for all sports to integrate more media, more social connections, connect with the fans and build a fan base. And that's exactly what I hope to bring to US F1, bringing my experience and perhaps my opinions of how we could go about that. Obviously video is something I am deeply involved with today, and that is going to be a big part of what we do at US F1. Hopefully we can create compelling content that individuals around the world have an opportunity to view and share, and really feel like they are part of the team.
Q: You obviously have a passion for start-ups, and obviously US F1 is THE start-up. Why do you have a passion for start-ups? Is it to do with coming in at the ground floor with PayPal and YouTube?
CH: Exactly. Again, kind of from the business aspect of what attracted me to US F1 is just that, that it is a start-up. And it's a very similar situation to one that would be in Silicon Valley – it's a small team of talented, smart individuals trying to break the mold, trying to accomplish something that others think is impossible. I believe in Ken and Peter and the team that they have put together, and I believe that we have a chance to hopefully start from a clean slate and try to build a team in a different way.
Q: Have you set the team any objectives?
CH: Obviously we want to be competitive. I know there is going to be a lot of competition – it's going to take quite a few years to ramp up this team and get the cars into a position where we are competing for the world championship, but ultimately that's our goal. We're not necessarily going to get involved and be satisfied with just getting a car onto the track. Our aspirations and goals go much farther than that.
Q: Had you been approached by any other teams over the years?
CH: You always get letters and emails with opportunities looking for investment, but I don't remember any in particular that were dealing with F1. Again, I just happened to meet with Ken and Peter when they were in the area. We had a chance to sit down and discuss the opportunity through a series of meetings, and at the end of the day it seemed like a good investment and a great fit with my interests. I believe in their model and I believe in their team.
Q: You are obviously well-connected in Silicon Valley – do you believe that you could find additional support for the team, technical as well as financial?
CH: I hope so, and I hope it goes beyond Silicon Valley. I am definitely going to be involved in helping the team with sponsors, helping the team with business relationships, and helping the team with integrating technology – ways that they can leverage and benefit from social media and the Internet broadly. So in many ways I hope to add benefit to the team and what they are trying to accomplish.
Q: How did you meet Ken and Peter? Was it a proposal that came across your desk, or were you introduced?
CH: We had an opportunity to meet during a presentation when they were initially trying to gain support for their model and for the team. They came to Silicon Valley. I happened to hear about it and went to check it out. From there, I didn't have a real idea that I was going to move ahead with the investment but over time, learning more about the opportunity and learning more about the team and the approach that they were taking, that's when it all sort of came together.
Again, looking at the details of what was involved – the technology, the opportunity to innovate, and having something that potentially benefits transportation, or safety, or other technologies. And really, building a car, designing a car – my background is in design, more in graphic design, but ultimately the process is pretty much all the same. You're trying to build something that is truly functional, you're trying to build a team that operates together effectively, and at the end of the day it's really coming down to design. And all of it is revolving around the spirit of competition and sport.
In my past, I have been involved in racing, but using my legs in cross-country and track, and in a way it kind of captured the spirit of what I had been involved with in the past. So it is the combination of all those things coming together on a global platform. It's just a great opportunity. And the side benefit to all of this is that we are trying to do something new and we are actually creating jobs.
Q: Will you be at another race this year?
CH: I hope so. My schedule is quite hectic, but I always love an opportunity to see another race. I'm looking forward to all the work we have ahead of us. We're going to have a lot of fun. We're honored to be a part of all this, and in years to come I believe we can be quite competitive on the track.