The sorry saga surrounding USF1's attempt to enter the 2010 Formula One world championship could take another twist in the coming weeks, after the sport's governing body suggested that the team could face punishment for failing to take up its place on the grid.
The American outfit was the most hyped of those granted one of F1's three extra spots midway through 2009, but singularly failed to get its programme together amid rumours that it had failed to raise the budget to build a car and had just two team members on board ahead of this weekend's season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix. After requesting to be allowed to miss the first four races of the year - all of which are 'flyaway' events - the team was subsequently left off the official 2010 entry list, but vowed to be in position take up its place next season [see story here
The FIA, however, is likely to take a dim view of the plan, with the whole programme of expanding the grid having come in for criticism from various quarters, including Ferrari, Red Bull Racing's Mark Webber, driver-turned-pundit David Coulthard and even commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone in recent weeks [see story here
The governing body's World Motor Sport Council sat on the eve of the new F1 season and, instead of giving USF1 leave to get its act together ahead of the 2011 campaign, both confirmed that the 13th grid spot would be opened to new bids and left the threat of further sanctions hanging over Ken Anderson and Peter Windsor's equipe
"With regard to the USF1 team's non-participation in the 2010 championship, the World Council mandated the FIA president, in full compliance with the new code of practice for disciplinary matters, to take forward the most appropriate action," a vaguely-worded statement announced, without giving details of what 'appropriate action' would be enforced.
However, new disciplinary procedures, put in place following the controversial banning of Renault boss Flavio Briatore and engineering director Pat Symonds, will see new FIA president Jean Todt conduct all enquiries and act as prosecutor, with the WMSC making decisions in his absence.
With the likes of Prodrive and Lola overlooked for 2010 selection - amid rumours of politicking - and the ambitious Stefan GP denied a chance to replace USF1 [see story here
], there should be no shortage of takers for a place on the grid for next season.
"The World Council approved the initiation of a new selection process for a potential 13th entry (and reserve entry) to the 2011 FIA Formula One World Championship," the statement confirmed, again without revealing any further details.
The sport's influential commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone has also hit out at USF1, explaining that the plight of Serbian hopeful Stefan GP was always going to be 'difficult...because the other people had an entry and kept saying that they were going to be here, that there was no problem and everything was fine'.
"As they had an entry, we could not say 'sorry, we don't believe you'," the 79-year-old British billionaire told the official F1 website. "I said that, and got a lot of criticism. I said that, and it turned out to be the truth. Unfortunately, it was not possible to get Stefan GP in at the last minute. You need to do such things a bit more sensibly."
USF1 boss Anderson has admitted that not being granted the chance to defer its entry for a year would spell the death knell for his plans to raise an all-American F1 operation [see story here
]. Plans to field US talent in 2010 had already been deferred by the signing of Argentine Jose Maria Lopez and, potentially, Briton James Rossiter, although neither was on board at the time of the team's demise. The team's website is still live, though the most recent news update - that of Lopez's since annulled contract - has been removed.