Why F1 - and why now?

Peter Windsor:
Why F1 is an easy question to answer really. It's the world's biggest sport - bigger than the World Cup soccer, bigger than the Olympics, bigger than the Super Bowl. It's 600m viewers annually and it's beautifully organised - a world championship that begins at the beginning of the year and ends at the end of the year every year. No other sport has that. It has a wonderful team franchise system and a formidable business plan, courtesy of Mr Ecclestone, involving great co-ordination of the money derived from television rights, hospitality, freight, signage etc - all of which fuels the Formula One industry - and it's relatively recession-proof in that a lot of the teams are therefore not dependent on sponsorship for their income unlike, say, NASCAR, so it is just the world's greatest sport and that's why to be in F1. Beyond that, if you're going to be doing a start-up team, you need to have something that's compelling and to do a start-up team that is perfectly in tune with the current economic crisis - in other words, a team that is going to be lean, mean and operate well within the parameters of the F1 financial model is quite an interesting project. Having said that, Ken Anderson and I started this project four or five years ago - long before Armageddon was even thought of - and our plan was always to have a lean, mean team to prove that you could do a Formula One team for well under the operating numbers.
Was the team always aimed at 2010, or has the plan been accelerated by the cost-cutting measures and new rulebook that are coming in over next season or so?

Peter Windsor:
2010 was always a number we had in mind four or five years ago; 2009 was a possibility and we were looking at taking over the Honda engine supply that Super Aguri were not using, but the new principals at Honda - Ross Brawn and Nick Fry - knocked that on the head and, as soon as that happened, which was about July 2008, we focused completely on 2010.
A lot of people will wonder why you are doing this largely from scratch, why you would want to start up your own team rather than capitalise on the chance to buy one of those that have failed - Spyker, Super Aguri or even Honda - in recent years....

Peter Windsor:
Well, Super Aguri was never a Formula One team as such, it was just running technology supplied by Honda, basically just a race operation. As good as it was, it was a good example of how a small number of people working harmoniously could do a better job than a large number of people working disharmoniously - as we know, they did a better job than the Honda factory team. But, as far as buying Honda is concerned, they are really the 'old guard' - hundreds of millions of dollars, 600-700 people, in many ways a case study of why F1 needs to change. If you are looking at a new operating ceiling financially, it is much more logical to approach that ceiling from zero and grow into it organically than it is to be running at $250m and have to trim your costs down to $65m and lay off lots of people. They've got their own management strategies etc and, if you start laying off people, you destroy what you had in the first place really. If you look at any normal business, the good people are hired initially and they get promoted and have a team of people under them, then they are the highest-paid people and the ones that go first when you have to lay people off, so it's a mess really when you have to start reducing overheads by two-thirds - which is what some of these teams are going to be doing. It is much more logical to grow from zero - and, anyway, we always wanted to do a team in the United States, proving that American technology was at least the equal of anything in Europe and to prove that, now that the world championship is 50 per cent outside Europe, it's no longer the European domain. Obviously, starting a team in America meant starting from zero and that's why we did it.
How much has that changing calendar impacted on your decision to start the team and get it running in the next couple of years?

Peter Windsor:
Oh quite a lot. The fact that the calendar is 50 per cent outside Europe now, and there is less testing in Europe, has an enormous impact and was one of the justifications for doing it. There were many justifications for doing a team in the United States, but that was certainly one. If there were still 90 per cent of the races in Europe, and massive amounts of testing in Europe, it would be more difficult to do what we're going to do, but that is no longer the case, and, as we speak, more and more races are coming onto the calendar from outside Europe and we're not the first people to say that that is the way that F1 is going to go.
There has been talk of having a satellite base in Spain - is that true?

Peter Windsor:
Yes, we'll have a small logistics base in Spain, which will really be an operational base for the trucks, motorhomes, pit equipment, etc, and a base from which we will be loading freight from some of the European hubs when we go overseas, if we're using the FOM freight system, but otherwise the entire heart and soul of this team will be in the United States. Unless it's a double-header grand prix weekend, the boys will be coming back to Charlotte after each race and it will be a very American team.
Is there a belief in F1, or among F1 followers, that US-based technology isn't up to F1 standards - and is this something that you are quite determined to prove wrong?

Peter Windsor:
We're going to be doing a big announcement about the way we're going to do this, and the amount of technology there is in America, on 24 February. It will be on Speed TV, but downloadable on websites thereafter, and we will give a lot of detail [about the project]. But what I will say is that there is a lot more American technology in F1 right now - even without USF1 - than people realise. The reason most people don't get to hear about it is because most American companies that work in F1 end up signing non-disclosure agreements and keeping everything secret and so forth, but for normal F1 reasons. No team likes other teams to know where they're getting their materials and how they're doing it, so I think the world would be surprised, if it took apart any F1 car, to see how much American technology there is in F1 right now. Certainly, in our case, there is no doubt that we can design and build an F1 car in the United States.
A lot of people may be surprised to learn that you are going to base an F1 team, an open-wheel team, in Charlotte, which is the heart of NASCAR country, as opposed to Indianapolis, which is more linked to the open-wheel world....

Peter Windsor:
I think those people need to come to this 'corridor', at least from Charlotte down to Atlanta, before they make any further comment, because the standard of engineering..... If you just look at the machine shops and fabricating shops here, they are the equal of the infrastructure of anything in the UK or Italy. Beyond that, Charlotte is - well, North Carolina - is one of the biggest manufacturers of autoclaves in the world; it is a hive of carbon-fibre industries and the personnel there are as good as any in the world. There's a massive lay-off of people from NASCAR now, so you could argue that the pick of the bunch of good people is there now. There are a lot of ex-F1 people there, McLaren Electronics has set up in Charlotte and so forth, Gunther Steiner, former Jaguar F1 technical director, has his own composite shop in North Carolina, and there are a lot of ex-F1 people there, but it doesn't have to be F1.... the motor racing technology generated by the ALMS, by NASCAR and other forms of motorsport is fantastic in that area. Yes, I'm sure Europeans will need to be convinced, but that's their problem.
Do you think, particularly with the loss of the Indianapolis grand prix and the Montreal grand prix, that the US is interested enough in F1? Does it need F1 - and does F1 need the USA?

Peter Windsor:
I think F1 needs the USA, because it's a huge market for every company that's in F1 - it's the world's biggest market, and the world's most powerful economy still. As for a US Grand Prix, I think that there will be one in the future, and maybe we will play a small part in regenerating some of that interest in getting a race going here. But, ultimately, our mantra is not to try and convert America to F1 - we're trying to take America to F1, rather than take F1 to the United States. We're not trying to convert NASCAR fans to F1, we never will because it's much too big and it's what they do here, but I think that there are a lot of F1 fans in the United States and they will really get behind this team. Even though we're doing the official announcement on the 24th, the interest we've had since the news on this has leaked out - and not by us, I have to say - has been absolutely fantastic. We have been inundated with support, goodwill, people applying for jobs - we've had a million hits on a dormant website that doesn't have anything more than a logo on it, a million hits in three days, and that just shows how much interest there is in having an American F1 team - and having two American drivers out there.
Does that interest stretch to approaches from drivers and technical staff?

Peter Windsor:
American drivers certainly, but not European drivers - yet. And we've had approaches from technical staff, some of them quite high level in existing F1 teams in Europe right now. I think it is the business model of doing a team that is in concert with the changing times, one, and, two, there is a more materialistic thing there, in that a lot of F1 people love the idea of being based in America, having the American cost of living and lifestyle, but still working in F1. A lot of F1 people have come to America because of the cost of living and because of the lifestyle - particularly on the east coast, which is a fantastic part of the world - but, to do that, they've had to go and work in NASCAR or sportscars. Now there's an F1 team based there, so they've got the best of both worlds.

Listen to the full interview with Peter Windsor HERE



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