'USF1 is dead...and it won't come back'
3 March 2010
'USF1 is dead...and it won't come back' – that was the pronouncement of a disgruntled senior employee at the financially-stricken North Carolina-based outfit, as stories began circulating that the factory has been shut down and staff laid off, bringing to an end the perhaps always fatally-flawed, all-American dream barely a week from the day when it had been due to make its debut in the 2010 F1 World Championship.
There have been fevered efforts to save the team – the first entirely States-based venture in the top flight in more than two decades – in recent weeks, but all, seemingly, have ultimately come to naught. Whilst for a long time co-founders Peter Windsor and Ken Anderson repeatedly insisted that all was well and that preparations were on-track to see USF1 make the starting grid for the curtain-raising Bahrain Grand Prix at Sakhir on 14 March, behind-the-scenes little if indeed any progress was being made.
First Anderson petitioned the sport's governing body the FIA to be allowed to skip the opening four grands prix of the campaign in order to secure the necessary funding – having initially somewhat underestimated the cost of competition in F1, it would seem, even in an era of dramatic reductions in expenditure – and build two cars.
It was subsequently revealed that USF1 had in actual fact asked to be permitted to miss the entire season and defer its place until 2011, accompanied by the financial sweetener of a seven-figure compensation sum courtesy of principal investor and YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley – an unprecedented request and one deemed highly unlikely to be accepted, with a more probable scenario that of the FIA simply revoking the entry on the basis that the squad is now to all intents and purposes insolvent.
The team's only confirmed driver, José María López, has left in acrimonious fashion and is presently desperately bidding to snare one of the remaining available seats at either Campos Meta 1 or Serbian hopeful Stefan GP – which may or may not be granted USF1's slot this year – as well as to recoup the sponsorship money he has already given the team. It emerged earlier this week that James Rossiter had also been signed up prior to Christmas, only to walk away when no assurances about either backing or development were forthcoming.
There are now claims that Windsor too has cut his ties with the beleaguered and much-maligned Charlotte-based operation, which was somewhat ironically the first of all the newcomers to announce its intention to race in F1 in early 2009 – poignantly, almost a year to the day of its rumoured collapse.
'Phones have either been disconnected or else are going unanswered, attempted last-ditch mergers with firstly Campos and subsequently Stefan GP were scuppered – in the latter case, it would appear, by Windsor and Anderson themselves, still intent on pursuing their ill-fated vision of an all-American F1 team – and now it is understood that employees have been informed that the end of the road has been reached, ostensibly as a result of a negative response from the FIA with regard to the deferral.
“Ken Anderson didn't even have the [guts] to do it himself,” a senior employee told AutoWeek of the lay-off. “He had [production manager] David [Skog] do it. Technically, they told everyone that they are on a two-week furlough, but there's nothing left for Chad [Hurley] to put together. USF1 is dead...and it won't come back.”
Indeed, having had his fingers badly burned by the whole ignominious and very public saga, the wealthy Hurley is believed to have now turned his back on F1, uninterested in joining forces with either Campos or Stefan GP. It only remains to be seen whether the FIA acquiesces to the latter's palpable desire to join the fray, although with Ferrari staunchly opposed given the presence of disgraced former McLaren chief designer – and 'Spygate' protagonist – Mike Coughlan at the Belgrade-based concern, and unanimous agreement being required from all existing teams, Stefan GP's path might yet be hindered by one obstacle too many.
Whilst the top flight's influential commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone is very much in favour of granting the Zoran Stefanovic-led squad a place in the field, it has been mooted that new FIA President Jean Todt might refuse the bid in an effort to show that he is not merely a puppet who dances along to the strings of the Formula One Management (FOM) chief executive and his controversial predecessor Max Mosley, the man behind the infamous budget cap proposal.
There is also the small matter, according to AutoWeek, that a source at Toyota's Cologne base suggests it is now 'almost impossible' for Stefan to be ready in time to compete in Bahrain. Late last year, the team purchased both the rights and designs to the Japanese manufacturer's TF110 chassis' in the wake of Toyota's withdrawal from the sport, but as it waits expectantly if not altogether patiently in the wings with its fate in the hands of the FIA, Stefan GP would indeed appear to be all dressed up with nowhere currently to go.
Meanwhile, the whole situation has been treated with a significant degree of incredulity by the great and the good of F1, with three-time world champion Niki Lauda describing it as 'chaos', Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner expressing his fears that wholly untried and untested cars will seemingly be on the grid at Sakhir and Mark Webber telling Australian news agency AAP: “It's embarrassing. It's incredible that people who haven't yet turned a wheel take part in grands prix. It's the sort of stuff from Mickey Mouse or Tom and Jerry.”