The saga that has surrounded Team US F1 has moved forward a great deal in the last 24 hours, with the Charlotte outfit and the FIA finally confirming that the team will not be on the grid in 2010.
While there remains uncertainty about its 2011 plans, with the FIA due to re-open the Formula 1 entry process in the next few days, team boss Ken Anderson remains in a state of flux about what the future holds for the Charlotte-based operation.
Although Anderson has kept mostly silent about the situation at the team over recent weeks, commenting only briefly as news of the team's troubles leaked out, he finally broke his silence today to explain what went wrong from his perspective.
In a lengthy interview with AUTOSPORT late on Wednesday, Anderson revealed how the political turmoil in F1 last season allied to sponsorship problems in January were the main factors behind its troubles, as he offered his side of the speculation about links with Campos, Stefan GP and Toyota.
Q. So what is the latest situation at the team?
Ken Anderson: We are waiting to hear from the FIA.
Q. Have you not heard anything from them?
KA: We went back and forth quite a lot last week, and they finally got all the information needed on Friday and they are looking at. I am waiting for them, and we hope to move forward in the next couple of days here.
Q. So is it now guaranteed that you will not be competing this year?
KA: Yes. The way the chips fell in January, that put us behind. [Then] there was really no point in trying to show up any time this year once you have missed the testing, and there is no testing during the year. There is no point in trying to miss races and show up, just to show up. That would just look bad for everybody. It has been very difficult for all the new teams to get to the first tests – but once the racing season starts, with no testing, if you have problems it is just very difficult to solve them.
What we want to do is regroup, finish the car for 2011, be testing late summer/early fall, and be really ready for next year. The irony of the situation is, we filed our entry in December of 2008 and we were supposed to know something by March.
We moved into this building [in Charlotte] in March, ready to go. Then, if you remember last year, that was when all hell broke loose with the FIA, FOTA, cost-cap teams versus non-cost-cap teams and all that. Everybody who wanted to get into Formula 1, all the new teams, [they] tried to get in with the cost cap regulations... and we didn't get approved by the FIA until June 12. Then the Concorde Agreement wasn't signed to absolutely know that we could go forward until July 31. Losing those four months was always going to be difficult to recapture, but we were on schedule right up until mid-January, and that was when some issues arose with sponsors that kind of locked us up.
Q. So are you saying the reason for the present situation is a sponsor who pulled out in the early or middle stages of January?
KA: Yes. There was a contract that we had that didn't come through, for whatever reason. It has been a struggle for all the new teams. Even after we signed the Concorde Agreement, the next day was August 1, and it was still probably two months before word really got around that the war was over, this was the direction and there wasn't going to be a breakaway series. That was tough for sponsors – so it was difficult to get what we had. Then, when that didn't come through we were well and truly locked up.
Q. So what is the situation at the moment? You put your staff on unpaid leave yesterday?
Q. Are you expecting to hear some news soon to bring them back?
KA: I think we will get a yes or no from the FIA relatively quickly. It doesn't do anyone any good to prolong this. They have been very understanding and very helpful, and no one is happy about the situation. I certainly don't get any impression that there is any vindictiveness or they want to shut us down. We have invested a lot of time and money, and built a proper F1 facility here, and have a lot of people carrying on it.
If they [the FIA] turn us down, then we are done. We can do a really good job for next year. This year was going to damage limitation, anyway. We gave it our best shot, but once you get a little bit behind then there is no catching up.
They understand [the situation]. We have offered solutions as to how we can be there for next year. A year ago they knew our business plan, and Charlie Whiting was here last week. We did what we said we were going to do. A couple of CFD people were here, parts were made, and companies made parts for us. There is no doubt we can make a car – the doubt is can we make it in the next 30 weeks, or however much time we needed to do it.
Q. Is it true that you offered a bond in case you did not make the start of 2011?
Q. And what sort of number? We are hearing all sorts of things – $5 million, $8 million, $15 million...
KA: Well, it is substantial. I am on pretty shaky ground here, because this is supposed to be confidential negotiations. But it is substantial and it shows we are willing. The other side of this is that we have invested over $20 million already, so to get shut down and walk away from it is going to be tragic. It is a bond that would get refunded once we showed up. The old bond was $48 million – and in 10 years only Honda and Toyota paid it, Honda for Super Aguri and Toyota on their own behalf. So, I think it was too restrictive.
Q. What was it that the FIA was looking at when it visited you?
KA: It looked at the facility, it looked at the car and it looked at the parts we were making. We showed that it was definitely F1 spec.
Q. So no looking at financial numbers?
KA: It just wanted to look at where we were with the state of the car, and we were exactly where I thought we would be until the money stopped in mid-January, and that was when production stopped. So the inspection was four weeks on.