The reports that a new American team called USF1 could enter F1 in 2010 have been met with a largely enthusiastic reaction. But the hope that F1 might get a new team soon and that it could come from a country where Formula 1 has struggled to gain national attention is tempered with a degree of scepticism about whether it could ever happen.
Given the shocking state of the global economy and the fact America has no Grand Prix drivers nor an F1 race, fans have good reason to question how likely we are to see USF1 on the 2010 grid. Their plan seems to be to bill the outfit as an all-American team, but recent efforts to brand teams in line with nationalities have not been successful.
America has entered F1 teams in the past, including Parnelli and Penske in the 1970s. The latter even won a race, John Watson taking the victory at the Osterreichring in 1976, one year after the team lost driver Mark Donohue in a crash at the Austrian circuit. Now a group of people are planning to create a new, all-American F1 team.
Many people reacted to the announcement of USF1 by suggesting whether the team would be better suited to A1GP, the self-styled “World Cup of Motorsport”, which already has a Team USA (sadly not ‘Team America‘).
Racing car designer Ken Anderson and journalist Peter Windsor are running the project. (An early report on GrandPrix.com saying Gene Haas was going to be involved in the project has now been amended.)
They apparently plan to run their operations from North Carolina, potentially with a European base in Bilbao, Spain, and have an all-American driver line-up. Inevitably the next question is ‘where are they going to get their money from’?
Raising funds from the American car industry is out of the question. America’s ‘big three’ (Ford, GM and Chrysler) went cap in hand to the government at the end of the year to ask for a multi-billion dollar bailout. GM and Chrysler eventually took the money, but even though Ford has pledged to do without it, all three have suffered huge falls in sales and may not have seen the worst of it yet
Problems with ‘national teams’
The idea of using ‘national pride’ to market a team and drum up support and that all-important sponsorship is not new, but nor has it proved a very successful model.
One of the most recent teams to try it was Super Aguri, which arrived in 2006 with four year-old chassis and a pair of Japanese drivers. Only one of them, Takuma Sato, had the talent to justify his place in the sport, while Yuji Ide looked worryingly out of his depth and was soon replaced. Sakon Yamamoto eventually took his place but Super Aguri’s driver line-up was unquestionably at its best when Sato was paired with Anthony Davidson or Franck Montagny.
Finding two sufficiently talented drivers that a team can afford to run is difficult enough without also stipulating what nationality they are. Vijay Mallya figured this out, and wisely Force India hasn’t rushed to put a young Indian driver such as Karun Chandhok in the car when he is arguably not ready yet.
The other problem Super Aguri had was that too few Japanese sponsors jumped on board with the idea of an all-Japanese team. Even with Honda paying its biggest bills, Super Aguri struggled for sponsorship money, and got into a payment dispute with one of its backers.
American drivers have struggled make it into F1 because of the strength and popularity of rival domestic series. Domestic sports in America tend to draw the crowds and the money more than international events, whether it’s baseball, basketball, American football or, in terms of motor racing, NASCAR. Many up-and-coming American single seater drivers have ended up in stock car racing, from Jeff Gordon to A.J. Allmendinger.
That said there are plenty of young American drivers with potential in the lower leagues. In the comments to an earlier article Gman and JLS suggested Jonathan Summerton, Charlie Kimball, Jake Rosenzweig, Conor Daly, Alexander Rossi, Sean McDonagh, Liam Kenney and John Edwards among others.
Could it work in 2010?
But even if the nationalism model didn’t work for Super Aguri, perhaps it could work for USF1. I see two key differences. First, we’re talking about different countries – and few are more renowned for their sense of national pride than America.
Second, and perhaps most importantly, the cost of competing will be slashed by 2010, the year it plans to arrive in F1. With a supply of engines and gearboxes set to cost around $6.5m/?óÔÇÜ?¼5m, team budgets could fall to around $65m/?óÔÇÜ?¼50m. That means less advertising revenue to be found in the first place.
If USF1 becomes a reality it would fulfil two things F1 badly needs: increasing the number of teams in the sport and raising its profile in America. I hope it happens.
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