Monday, February 09, 2009

USFWhat?

While enjoying the fantastic entertainment (read that: dozens of minutes of caution flag laps, and a "halftime" break that felt like it was 40 minutes long) during Saturday's NASCAR Sponsor Splatter (or, as my friend Rick calls it, the Tequiza Tangle), I had plenty of time to let my mind wander over the racing world's current events. I really managed to cover a lot of territory up there in the ol' brain bin. What's the car count going to look like in IndyCar this year? (20+, and that's fine, methinks.) Why does having the same size front tires as the rears make the new Acura LMP1 car look so weird and lumpy? (Dunno, they just do.) How could the FIA have screwed up the World Rally Championship so badly, when just a couple of years ago they had four or five manufacturers signed up long-term and a crop of drivers that includes possibly the greatest driver of all time? (Because screwing things up is what the FIA does best.) If a Porsche-engined car wins the next GrandAm race at VIR in April (three months off?!?), are we going to get to see a full-on kicking and screaming podium tantrum by Memo Rojas and Scott Pruett? (Yes.) Am I going to spend 2009 like I have the last three years and mainly write my blog posts in parentheticals? (...) (I hate me sometimes.)

But, the tastiest bit of racing-ish "news" that I kept coming back to during my NASCAR (and malted hops) induced slumber was the recent breathless conjecture over the supposedly forthcoming announcement of the new USF1-All-US-All-The-Time Formula 1 Team. Let me preface all of the following by saying that I'll be the first guy to hop aboard an All-American F1 effort. Believe me, I was one of those dudes going around racing message boards back around 1998 when BAR was just coming into the public consciousness (as a theoretical British-American concern), and debating who should be Jacques Villeneuve's teammate in '99. My pick was Jimmy Vasser, but if you've read me at all in the past, you get zero points for having guessed that. So, I'll be all about an American Formula 1 team, if it ever comes into being...

However. Wow. Where to start? The team's supposed principals are Peter Windsor (will he take along the unseen Jean-Michel, Pressdog?) and Ken Anderson. While I do not question either of those guys' credentials, are either of them really well versed enough in F1 circa-2009 to have a team up and running for 2010? Peter's been around F1 for, roughly, as long as Bernie Ecclestone's been interested in money, and Anderson's been around racing since before Rick Mears developed a limp, but recent F1 experience? Not so much. Windsor's been out of team management for the better part of the last decade, and while Anderson runs the Windshear wind tunnel, a fancy-shmancy wind tunnel does not an F1 team make (ask BAR/Honda; and besides, aren't wind tunnel hours being drastically cut by the FIA this year?). Also, has Anderson's recent history of projects been quite at a 100% hit rate of happening?

Sure, the arguments laid out by the always reliable Adam Cooper in that SpeedTV column I linked to above sound pretty decent. The FIA has slashed costs in F1 going forward. However, it's still going to take upwards of $50 million to start up and run a back marker F1 team. How many sponsors are floating around with that kind of cash right now? There are hundreds of recently laid-off NASCAR folks down in the Carolinas right now. Uh, those guys don't even use data acquisition during race weekends. Or fuel injection, ever, for that matter, let alone carbon fiber and titanium. All of the tube benders and sheet metal hangers in the world can't manifest an F1 car onto the grid in Melbourne in 14 months. A satellite base of operations can be had in Spain, with the Epsilon organization. OK, well, running a Renault World Series team and building a shoestring-ish LeMans prototype is still a world away from F1 (ask Prodrive or Dome about that). An off-the-shelf engine and transmission combo is supposed to be available for next year from Cosworth and Ricardo (big blue "R" represent!). OK, well, I'd feel a lot better about that being an option for 2010 if those pieces were running on dynos right now. Could 2012 or 2013 be a possibility for an all-new team? Sure. But 14 months from now? Hmmm. Maybe we all ought to take a deep breath and sit down before we all get too light headed about the whole thing.

Again, I really don't want to sound like the wet blanket here. I'm not one of those guys who think that the euros know better than we do, always, and that we could never catch up to them in an arena that they call their own personal playground. There are plenty of good people in the States who can wield a CAD digitizer or lay up carbon fiber with anybody in the world. I've worked with some of them. Unlike some of the greatly nuanced commenters on the SpeedTV article pages (have you read those guys? Yikes.), I also think that within a couple of years, the US could also have some top-line road racers who could be just about ready for F1. A kid named Rahal comes to mind. Another kid named Summerton has had some great results for a usually sub-par US A1GP team. If somebody were to come up with the $50 million to get a team off the ground in 3-4 years, I'm sure that that same somebody could probably front the necessary $3-4 million to get those two guys a season in GP2 or F2 to get them some European training.

I sort of hope I'm wrong on this. More details are supposedly due later in the week, or maybe they're even coming out right now, which would make this bit of word-hackery obsolete the moment I hit the "publish" button. Having a team on the grid in 2010 would be OK with me. On the other hand, I also think that US Formula 1 fans and fans of new F1 efforts the world over would be better served if the USF1 cake got a little more time to bake. That said, maybe an undercooked effort would turn out OK. After all, who knew that chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream would be so tasty?

1 comment:

Too Much Racing said...

I wondered where Adam Cooper went. He did some excellent stuff for Autosport.com on the aftermath of the Indy non-GP of 2005.

USF1 seems to be promising. Windsor is usually all bluster - I'm not familiar with his Speed work but did you ever read his F1 Racing columns? - but I do think that could work for him this time.

F1 has been waiting for this since Penske (and Haas) left. Despite us Euros having a reputation for not liking things US, there are a lot of people inside F1 who want this to succeed, and not just Bernie. Quite a lot of us outside F1 want to see it too.