February 24, 2009 ? a date which will live in obscurity ? Peter Windsor and Ken Anderson appeared on SPEED Channel to launch USF1 (later called USGPE, and then USF1 again). Their plan was to operate Formula One team inside the United States. The plan had only been limited to whispers and ?what ifs? before this point. In fact, the name USF1 was only intended as a working title. This announcement appeared to have been made out of a desire to save face. Despite these initial shortcomings, Windsor and Anderson were certain that locating the team in Charlotte, North Carolina would make parts and labor cheaper and easier to acquire than they would be for a team based in Europe. Eventually, real life happened and the team was out of business in one year. I would like to know who to blame. Who killed USF1?
Ken Anderson is an interesting character. He had previously worked with Michael Kranefuss on Falcon cars which tried to become an IRL IndyCar Supplier in 2003. The business shut down after building one rolling chassis that was never fitted with an engine and no orders were filled. From my research, this is the only car Anderson ever tried to build from scratch before forming USF1. Rumors and shadowy sources have it that Anderson had to personally approve every part that went onto the car. I find that the best management style is to hire the most knowledgeable people possible and let them do their own jobs without micromanaging; this is the exact opposite of that strategy!
Peter Windsor is the other half of our ugly equation. Windsor had worked in management at Williams and Ferrari in the 1980?s giving him some idea of how to run a team. In an interview for USF1?s YouTube account, Windsor mentioned working with a small group at Ferrari to build several cars on a tight deadline. This confirms Windsor knows how to build a car. He spoke quite romantically about building the new USF1 chassis on the team?s website:
?And the first chassis ? top, bottom and nose ? sits upon the Bay Cast flat plate in the R&D shop; it looks gorgeous. Soon we will be fitting all the electrical components, spring/damper units and suspension arms; the front and rear wing main planes are nearly finished and over in California Kenny Hill and Gordon Kimble are not too far away from completing the first batches of axles, hubs and bearing clusters. The car grows, in other words, with every passing day. It draws you like a magnet, away from your desk, just for a few moments, again to see its line. Then you quickly walk over to the boys in the composite department, where they're laying-up another mold, or to the machine shop, where the guys are programming another front upright. Then the phone rings and you're back in your office, talking on speakerphone, watching out the window as yet another group of visitors pulls up and walks towards Reception. Some are fans, flying in on spec from places like Florida or Wisconsin; most are suppliers or contacts, keen to help and only too happy to play a role.?
According to Adam Cooper?s blog, the only remains discovered of any car at USF1?s shop was that of a mockup. Since we know Peter Windsor understands cars, we must conclude that he is a liar.
The next area of concern comes from the word Windsor and Anderson used to describe their new business: ?Skunkworks?. Skunkworks describes a small number of people working on a secret project. Formula One may seem like a secret in the United States, but that does not justify using the term. The greater concern comes from the small number of people. While the intention is to reduce bureaucracy, constructing an all new Formula One car is a massive undertaking requiring a large staff. An older team may benefit from such a business model as cars from McLaren and Ferrari are more evolutionary than revolutionary; however, an all new team needs all the help it can get.
Being a new team to all of motorsports makes this worse. It takes time to find a shop, fill it with equipment (dynamometers, spray booth, air compressors, computers, etc.), hire and train engineers and mechanics to build the car, and hire and train support staff (receptionist, secretaries, accountants, custodians, etc.). The easiest way to get into motorsports (as an owner) is to buy a struggling team as a turnkey operation; even if you intend to relocate you?ll have a starting point. It is more challenging to create a team in a feeder series and work your way up, but this may give you better access to driver talent in the long run.
The Charlotte, North Carolina base gave USF1 its distinctive flaw. Conveniently located 4,000 miles from the nearest F1 team, many expected the geographic isolation to kill the team. USF1 depended upon a safety net of NASCAR talent and disenfranchised Americans. For better or worse, we are forced to live in a global economy, and logistics count for nothing in such an economy. Being in Charlotte did not hurt USF1 as much as detractors would have you believe, nor did it help USF1 as supporters would have you believe.
So who Killed USF1?
Windsor and Anderson are guilty. They lacked the mechanical and business skills needed to make a Formula One car.
Skunkworks is guilty. When creating an elaborate project with no reference point to start from, a skeleton crew is the least productive way to start.
Charlotte, North Carolina is not guilty. Separation from traditional powerhouses will not keep the most eager of Europeans from immigrating in the hopes of working in Formula One. A generous relocation stipend will get them here faster. The United States may have its domestic F1 team someday. USF1?s failure has probably set that date further back.
Windsor?s interview: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-52-F2rWZ0A&feature=related
Adam Cooper?s blog: http://adamcooperf1.com/2010/06/10/us-f1-is-history-as-auction-kicks-off/
USF1?s blog: http://www.usgpe.com/blog.html
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