Ken Anderson has broken the unnerving silence surrounding beleaguered American F1 hopeful USF1 by admitting that if the FIA turns down its bid for special dispensation to defer its entry until the 2011 world championship season, the financially-stricken North Carolina-based outfit will be 'done'.
Reports of USF1's death have been fairly widespread in recent days, and whilst some have appeared a little exaggerated, there is no smoke without fire, so the saying goes.
Having been initially granted an entry for 2010 but with progress repeatedly stymied by a shortfall in funding – the legacy of a grave underestimation of the cost of competing in F1, even in an era of ever-decreasing expenditure – USF1 unsuccessfully petitioned to be allowed to skip the opening four grands prix of the rapidly-approaching campaign and join the grid for the Spanish Grand Prix at Barcelona in early May.
Upon subsequently and definitively recognising that the first all-American team in the top flight in more than two decades was not going to make the grade this year at all, team principal Anderson asked the governing body if the Charlotte-based operation might be permitted to defer its entry until next year, reputedly accompanied by the sweetener of a seven-figure compensation sum, guaranteed by chief investor and YouTube
co-founder Chad Hurley.
That request has yet to be answered, and much will perhaps hinge upon the feedback from a visit made by the FIA's race director and chief technical delegate Charlie Whiting to USF1's headquarters last week to gain an accurate idea of the state of play – as well as the perception of the damage caused to the sport's image by a team that, despite being by some margin the first of the four 2010 newcomers to announce its intention to join the fray early last year, looks to be the only one that will not actually make it. Rivals Lotus, Virgin and Hispania Racing (formerly Campos Meta 1) are all expected to be in the field for the curtain-raising Bahrain Grand Prix at Sakhir in ten days' time.
Anderson has confessed that there was 'a sprinkle of truth' in speculation that US F1 had investigated the possibility of 'partnering up with another new team' – ostensibly either Hispania or Serbian hopeful Stefan GP – and added that a deferral would enable the much-maligned squad to regroup, get back on-track and return a far more viable and competitive proposition in twelve months' time.
“If the FIA say no, we are done,” the former Ligier, Onyx and IndyCar designer acknowledged in a frank interview with BBC Sport
. “If they say yes, we can put it back in gear and go. We put our entry in with the FIA in December 2008 and wanted to start work on the car in March 2009, but the delay in signing the Concorde Agreement until July meant we couldn't start until August. We were on-course, despite an insanely tight schedule, but then people got cold feet.
“There were issues sponsor-wise in January that knocked us back a few weeks, and those meant we couldn't make it in 2010. The doom-and-gloom people were just waiting for us to fail, but no one said it was easy, and we went out on a limb to design and build our own car. [Whiting] looked at the factory and was happy that we've got all we need to make a perfectly good Formula 1 car. We're on-hold. Our future's in the hands of the FIA.”
Anderson's business partner and USF1 co-founder Peter Windsor is already believed to have departed the team.
Meanwhile, influential F1 supremo and commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone has argued that opening up an official tender process for new teams to apply to take USF1's place in 2010 makes 'little sense', and underlined that the existing entrants have no say in Stefan GP's eleventh-hour attempt to join them, countering the understanding that any new arrival must first receive the approval of all of its fellow competitors in order to be allowed to enter the sport – a potential stumbling-block for the Zoran Stefanovic-led operation, of whose well-documented recruitment of ex-McLaren chief designer and 'Spygate' protagonist Mike Coughlan Ferrari staunchly disapproved.
“This has nothing to do with the others,” Formula One Management (FOM) chief executive stressed. “It is entirely up to the FIA to say yes or no. As far I know, Stefan GP could race in Bahrain, yet you should not believe everything you hear because we don't want the opposite to come true. The FIA will conduct a business review, and if positive, Stefan GP might get off the line in Bahrain.”