Will Gray

Gray Matter: Is USF1 bad for F1 in US?

Will Gray

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The all-American dream is fading - and as the new USF1 team fights for its life before it has even turned a wheel, just how damaging could it be for F1's American future?

There is no doubt the United States has its F1 fans, but claiming a significant share of the country's well-packed sports sector has always been tough for grand prix racing - so when Peter Windsor and Ken Anderson announced plans to create a homegrown team there was hope that the sport could finally secure a stronger presence 'across the pond'.

Well before the USF1 dream was begun, crowds flocked to Indianapolis for the F1 race at the famous Brickyard and Red Bull put a significant effort into building on the sport's popularity by launching a search for a US F1 star that could make it to the top of Formula One. But those efforts to drive F1 forwards soon went into reverse.

The Indianapolis crowd revolted in 2005 after just six cars started the race as the other 14 had tyre issues - and just three years later the race was off the calendar. At the same time, great American hope Scott Speed was booted out of F1, in the middle of the 2007 season, after failing to perform at Toro Rosso, and there was little left for the US to focus on.

The diehard fans will always follow the sport, of course, but there is no denying the mainstream sports fan will typically only follow if they have a connection. If the USF1 idea worked, a car draped in stars and stripes could surely be just the connection the mainstream sports fans needed.

But unless miracles happen, USF1 has not worked.

After launching the team, Anderson and Windsor said the chassis would be built by August. It then moved to November/December. It was then due to run for the first time, in the US, in early February. But as March closes in, there is no sign of the team's car in anything other than design drawings.

The delays, the team claims, have been unavoidable - but some of their comments suggest an air of naivety.

Anderson says some issues were caused by having to wait to get their hands on trained F1 staff from other teams. But with lay-offs aplenty before the start of the 2009 season, surely that was avoidable? Political battles were also blamed for delaying design plans, moving the start date from March to August. But while it's true there were some issues, it didn't stop some of the other (failed) applicants for the new grid slots from completing their designs ahead of time.

Ultimately, the USF1 team could suffer from the very determination that grew it in the first place. Anderson is the design driving force, but he has not worked in F1 in 20 years and his only previous projects were Ligier and Onyx. When he launched the latter, he had to push-start it down the pitlane in the opening race.

His reflection back to that moment in a recent F1 Racing interview, suggesting similar things could happen in F1's modern era, does not instil confidence in the strength of the team's confidence; nor does a comment from Windsor claiming, when discussing driver choices, that it's "not going to help us as a start-up operation if a driver's saying 'well, this is how we did it at McLaren'". You would think that would be exactly the kind of direction a new start-up would be looking for.

"I think being at the back may be the best option," joked Windsor in the interview. But some weeks after that, it seems that hope of even being at the back is fading.

Apparent attempts to merge with similarly struggling Campos could yet prevent a stillborn USF1 project, but if the American dream does end before it has begun, it may not have too much of a negative impact on F1's US fan base - because very few people in the team's NASCAR-driven home of Charlotte even know they have a team about to enter the 'pinnacle of motorsport'.

Unfortunately, the bigger danger if it does fail is that the whole experience could put American businesses off investing in the sport in the future.

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