One of the chief designers at USF1 – the most under-fire of the four F1 2010 newcomers due to swell the starting grid for the Bahrain Grand Prix curtain-raiser in mid-March – has lauded the 'unbelievably long way' the North Carolina-based operation has come since its formation, and revealed that the team is 'doing a few things quite differently than they have been done in recent years'.
USF1 has been plagued by doubts and cynicism ever since it was launched, with rumours flying around that it may not even join the fray until the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona in May as conventional wisdom goes that a team based on the other side of the Atlantic to every single one of its rivals will struggle to succeed.
Worse still, it remains the only one of the 13 registered entries for 2010 to have still to sign up any drivers for the rapidly-approaching campaign, and technical director and co-founder Ken Anderson's most recent F1 experience dates back to the late 1980s.
However, the first American outfit in the top flight in more than two decades has repeatedly stressed that not only will it make the field in Sakhir, but moreover that it is resolutely serious about its ambitious project and to that end is ploughing its own furrow regarding the concept of its Cosworth-powered challenger, without borrowing any ideas at all from any of its competitors.
“Almost nobody knows it, but this team has come an unbelievably long way since it was first announced eleven months ago,” senior designer Scott Bennett wrote on the official USF1 website. “I was at that press conference, and I was one of the first three or four people to start working on the design of the car shortly afterwards, all of us crowded with our computers around a wobbly conference table in a dreary, poorly-configured former NASCAR shop.
“A strange quirk of my career is that every vehicle I have ever been involved in designing – including a few IndyCars, an off-road trophy truck and a composite aircraft – have all been clean-sheet-of-paper designs. I don't know what it's like to start with something that already exists and try to refine it. When we started this car, we started with nothing but fundamentals. The majority of a modern F1 car is tightly-defined by the rules, so there isn't scope these days to come out with a Lotus 88 or Tyrrell P34.
“There is still a daunting set of basic parameters that you have to define before you can even start designing anything, though – things like wheelbase, drivetrain configuration, suspension layout, weight distribution – and when you're doing it for the first time, you don't have an in-built knowledge of what's worked in the past. Throw in some major rules changes in each of the last two off-seasons, and there are even more unknowns.
“On the other hand, knowing that you're facing a lot of unknowns also means you don't think you already know everything; hubris has dashed far more dreams than humility. I'm extremely fortunate in that I've been able to do most of the car's layout from day one – I've seen and had a hand in almost every step of its evolution. Primarily I've been responsible for the front and rear suspension, particularly packaging.
“This has been a huge challenge. F1 cars are small, we are fitting a lot of stuff into a very tight volume – and we're doing a few things quite differently than they have been done in recent years. I can't give specifics, but we've looked at everything with a fresh perspective and come up with some different answers. We'll know whether they were the right or wrong answers soon enough, but our car certainly won't be a clone of anything else out there. For example, we're the only one of the four new teams designing our own gearbox.”