Formula 1 has always viewed the United States as a key market, and it's fair to say that interest in the sport in America has taken an upswing in light of the announcement earlier this year that Team USF1 is planning to compete from 2010. With more than one month passed since USF1's plans went public, AUTOSPORT caught up with sporting director Peter Windsor to find out how the team was coming along.Q. How is progress going with the team? What's been going on since the team announcement was made?
The announcement was to say that we were doing it, and that we had the money to become a team in 2010. Having said, we have now been formalizing becoming a team. That has meant a lot of work on our side, in terms of paperwork and administration work, and a lot of work with the FIA and FOM in terms of formalizing that entry. We are still in the process of that.
From our side, we are up and ready to go. But as everybody in racing knows, the 2010 championship is still very much something that has not been defined in terms of technical regulations. We are doing everything we can in terms of formalizing it and paying deposits, etc., but the reality is no team becomes a team, even the existing teams, until the FIA says these are the regulations, and these are the teams competing in 2010. So we are waiting for that, and that should be in the next month or so.Q. Has your official entry been lodged yet?PW:
Yes. Absolutely. It has been accepted. In fact, it was lodged a long time ago - well before we even did the announcement. And it has been accepted in so far as it can be accepted – in that nobody's entry has been accepted it. Until the 2010 regulations are defined, there is no 2010 championship as such. But we are very confident that we are in great shape, in terms of the entry, and it is looking good.Q. What is the situation with your team name? There were lots of wild reports recently suggesting it had been changed?PW:
The USF1 name was basically a place mark name that Ken [Anderson] came up with. It is a great name! It was a working title for a work in progress that we began four years ago.
Like everybody, we know that "F1" is a protected name, and we always wanted to do the correct thing. But until we were an existing operation there was no point in doing that because it was just a working title. As soon as we had a position publicly, and we were going to become a team, then we needed to sit down and see what the situation was.
Ken had registered several domain names for that situation, so we immediately kept everything on ice with another domain name to keep it ticking over. The new name, which is not too far away from the original name, is due to be announced soon. When the entry is formalized, when the 2010 championship is announced by the FIA, that is when we will come on line with a team name and a few other really good announcements as well.Q. Q. What is the next step for the team in terms of personnel?PW:
Personnel is an interesting one because a lot of the personnel that are involved in the design and build of the car, we are going to be hiring them very, very soon. And we will be up to full capacity by July/August in that area. In terms of marketing and other stuff like that, that will gradually rise as the year progresses. The interesting area is operations – which is basically race team and a little bit of testing.
That really, by definition, is something we cannot do until October/November. Virtually all the guys we get will be from existing teams - be that F1, or American racing - and we cannot get them until the current season is over. That is something that will happen much later in the year.
We can talk to guys, and we will be and we are, but it is quite a thing to build a new team from zero. It is not the same as Brawn GP taking over from Honda, or Midland taking over from Jordan. Actually creating something from zero, there are some things that you cannot actually do until a certain date arrives – and operational personnel is one.Q. What about your engine situation?PW:
The engine decision is part of the whole rebirth that F1 is going through right now. The Cosworth engine is certainly an attractive proposition. It is homologated, those guys were doing a great job with Red Bull Racing when Red Bull suddenly switched to Renault.
A lot of people who were at Cosworth have left, but equally there are a lot of good people still there too. That is a really interesting thing for us. Apart from anything else, Cosworth is now owned by an American [actually an Australian -Ed.
], Kevin Kalkhoven, and that is a nice little link for us as well. The idea of working with a small specialist company is kind of in-tune with the way we are operating as a race team as well.Q. So is that your preferred option?PW:
I wouldn't say preferred, but it is definitely an option we are looking at very, very seriously.Q. And what about your facilities in Europe? There has been talk about you using the Epsilon base in Spain, or even Paul Ricard now?PW:
We haven't defined that. It is a little bit further down the road because it only comes into play once we get towards the operational end of it. That will be the back end of the year.
We would like the logistics base in Europe to be in a nice place, that is the first thing we want. We want people to enjoy going there. That is not casting aspersions on Milton Keynes, but there are nicer places perhaps for Americans to go to! So Spain has a great facility that Joan Villadelprat and Sergio Rinland have got, near Bilbao.
Pedro de la Rosa has introduced us to a really interesting new facility in Aragon, between Barcelona and Madrid where there is a nice Tilke circuit which looks really interesting.
And equally with Toyota leaving Le Castellet, that looks really cool too. It is a great part of the world. There is a lot of history, and a great place to fly people into - not just for testing, but to do a couple of days with the drivers in road cars or Formula Renaults. Ricard has got a lot going for it. That will be one of the nice decisions to make later this year.Q. Drivers is, for a team, the thing that fans talk about the most. Is that your last priority now?PW:
No, no. We want to get on with it, as quickly as possible. Again it comes under the header of uncharted territory for a new team starting from zero. And in our case we are restricting our choice to nationality – and bearing in mind none of those guys are in F1 at the moment, it makes for an interesting situation in terms of who you go for. It means we can take a bit of a risk. By definition we are going to be running rookies so we can be a bit creative there.
Having said all that, I think you will find that the way the budget capped teams approach drivers, and the sort of drivers they hire and how they pay them, it will be changing dramatically over the next three to four years as well.
There are certainly some very good Americans out there who Ken and I are confident will do a good enough job for us in our first year and, if not, in our second year. Equally, the way the driver market could be going, there could be some really quick experienced guys out there who are going to have to drive for a lot less than they are being paid for at the moment.
If that happens, teams like ours are in a position to look at some quite serious names, so although we have been saying from the start that we want to run American drivers, I guess we need to add a precursor to that which is, if there is someone really good and really quick out there who is available at the right price, then we wouldn't just turn away from that option.Q. So is it conceivable you have one American and one non-American?PW:
It would be – not because we want to have one experienced driver, but if there was a very, very good driver available, and it was a deal we could put together relatively easily in terms of finding the money that he would want, then we would definitely look at that for sure. There is no doubt at the moment that one of our biggest problems in the first year to two years is going to be, and it is not a bad thing, that we are driver limited because those guys are so new.
We are ready for that challenge, but equally if there is someone really good we would have to look at it – and the new regulations may create that situation. But I am only guessing.Q. How has the interest in America been since the launch, especially when it comes from sponsors?PW:
Ever since the announcement, we have just started turning the wheels on that. The announcement marked the point where Ken and I stopped being guys putting together a start-up operation for which we needed to get investment, and from then onwards we have evolved into being a race team. When you have a race team you have things to buy, you have property that has equity, and we are getting to that point now.
As soon as we are formalized as a race team, then we can go out to the marketplace with the other race teams and be a part of that marketplace. Certainly in American we have had quite a few companies contact us and say, 'wow this looks interesting. What's it all about? Come and talk'. We've had several of those meetings, which have all been really positive.
The catch word in America now, especially on the East Coast, is that American companies need to globalize. And globalizing is something that F1 teams do very well for multi-national companies. So my gut feeling is that I think we can do a really good job for some great companies out there.