In an interview published yesterday, Phil Hill--the 1961
Formula One World Champion--took aim and drove a stake through
the heart of the proposal for an All-American Formula 1 team
to be headed by himself and racing legend Dan Gurney.
"I can't even use the word premature. I hadn't heard a word
about it until the story broke," said Hill to the BBC. "I just
don't have anything to do with it at the moment. I give Dan
every good wish I can."
Sure, Phil, that's why you just screwed him.
Which begs the question of why Hill appeared with Dan Gurney
at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Saturday when the proposal
was announced and allowed a brief televised interview to be
broadcast during the United States Grand Prix on Sunday
afternoon without mentioning one word of his damning
And make no mistake, Gurney never said it was anything more
than a proposal. In fact, he gave it a time frame of 10 days
within which it would either become a reality or be shelved.
Now, the proposal can't even be shelved as Gurney's
credibility has been destroyed.
So, why didn't Phil say something to the press at the time?
Well, in fact, he did speak to reporters as broadcast the day
of the USGP. Asked why he waited until now to express an
interest in forming his own Formula 1 team, Hill replied: "An
opportunity for ownership never really got off the ground
Questioned further about the reported business plan of
proposed team principles, Bob Balachowski and Russ Olsen, Hill
(not Gurney) reportedly said: "They've both made wonderful
strides and completed steps to do super groundwork to get to
Formula One. They re at very similar stages."
Does that sound like a man who "hadn't heard a word about it
until the story broke?" Furthermore, Hill's story keeps
shifting time frame. When first questioned about his
involvement, as stated, he referred to his possible ownership
position. If we are to believe him now, when he was caught
unawares by Gurney's press release, his immediate reaction was
"what's in it for me?" Otherwise, why did he wait until Sunday
night to blow the whistle on the deal? Friendship for Gurney?
That's obviously out the window due to his subsequent actions.
So, apparently he didn't like what he was offered. Because in
his next Associated Press interview, he claimed not to have
heard of the proposal until 20 minutes before the press
announcement. Then, it became 5 minutes. Now, in the BBC
interview, he was supposedly surprised on stage. Next, I
suppose, he will have been at home in Santa Monica restoring a
Packard when someone threw the press release tied to a brick
through his window?
Hill's obvious point being that his involvement, like Alice
after eating the mushroom, becomes smaller with each passing
moment while Gurney's credibility diminishes in tandem. At
this point, I'd say Dan's biggest mistake in this matter was
believing Hill to be his friend.
Assuming the opposite, what would Hill have had to lose by
keeping his mouth shut for 10 days? It would have had
absolutely no effect on his reputation, fame (such that it
is), or anything else as far as can be determined. Ten days
from the press announcement, he could simply have said, "Well,
we gave it the old college try, but it didn't work out." And
walk away. No harm, no foul, and a friendship intact.
Instead, he went out of his way to defame Gurney while
disingenuously wishing him "every good wish I can." Perhaps,
Hill reveals himself in his wording: "every good wish I can,"
meaning he can't. He has no good wishes for Dan Gurney.
Which is a shame because he has not just hurt Gurney but the
chances for an American Formula 1 team as well.
If one reads Gurney's press release and subsequent statements
to the press, with the sole exception of Hill's allegation,
every word attributed to Gurney is true.
As with most things in life, timing is everything. Gurney
follows Formula 1 and is well aware of the situation involving
the Arrows team and the American backers team boss Tom
Walkinshaw reportedly had lined up to save the team. Moreover,
he knew that Red Bull's Mateschitz had also expressed interest
in the Arrows team specifically to turn it into a "Team USA."
When the Arrows situation deteriorated beyond redemption, that
potentially left some major sponsors of an American Formula 1
team without an option. Gurney obviously was hoping to
interest them in his proposal. That's why it had such a short
time frame; Gurney figured that was the duration of the window
of opportunity--if he hadn't heard from them by then, he never
would. Forgotten in all this is the fact that Gurney has a
life to get back to as well.
So, he put his vision out there hoping to get his project
jump-started. Dan says he's been planning an American Formula
1 team for two and half years. Anyone with the slightest
knowledge of the man knows this to be typical of him. He says
he got really serious about nine months ago when he joined
with businessmen Bob Balachowski and Russ Olsen, who had a
detailed plan to finance the team. One consideration for any
new team is the engines it will use. Gurney said he had
serious discussions with Ford and had a hand-shake agreement
for Cosworth engines and could have a signed contract from
Ford within a few weeks. Questioned if he'd spoken with
Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, Dan said he had and
Ecclestone has promised his support. Asked about Hill's
involvement, Gurney said that he "had recently come on board."
Is any of this untrue? In fact, has anyone ever known Dan
Gurney to utter an untruth?
announcement, Gurney said the time is right for an American
team, although it would "require certain dominoes to start
falling pretty quickly, but it would be a monumental
Autosport allowed as how the timing of the former Ferrari
teammates couldn't have been better. Formula 1 is limited to
12 teams but the season started with only 11 after Prost
folded and will likely be 10 as Arrows seems inevitably headed
towards dissolution. "With two slots vacant on the grid, it is
actually a good time to launch a team without having to pay
'goodwill' for a current outfit." Thus, Formula 1 would appear
to need Gurney's new All-American team as much as Dan would
like his team to compete in Formula 1.
Formula One News reported that "Schumi welcomes idea of
Americans returning to F1." It said the German superstar
believed that Formula One racing would benefit greatly from
having an all-American team in place for next season.
"I think it would be good," said Michael Schumacher, a
five-time Formula One world champion. "I mean, as big a
nationality spread you have is better for the coverage of
Formula One. And America being such a big country, if we have
a race here, it would be great."
McLaren boss Ron Dennis, although skeptical that a new team
put together on such short notice could be immediately
competitive, welcomed the idea: "I think these two guys, as
long as they have the budget and they choose the right people,
will bring something that we should really welcome. If we've
got an American grand prix team, then you really have got
something to pull the crowds in. But, as with so many things
in this world, it's easy to say you are going to do
something... We welcome them, but I don't think they realize
how steep a hill it is that they are about to climb!"
Dennis added: "I've been around a while in motor sport and I
know Phil and Dan very well. I've got fond memories of coming
across Dan for the first time at Goodwood in 1965. It was the
era when there were no seat belts and it was literally
string-back gloves, short-sleeved shirts, goggles and open
"His All American Racing team had superb cars, beautifully
prepared, probably a bit overweight and without the best power
plants in the world, but nevertheless really well run and
professional. It will be interesting."
Not now it won't.
"It'll be difficult but it's very possible," Gurney told The
Indianapolis Star newspaper.
"We're past the preliminary discussions. We have key people in
place and certain facilities in place. If and when we get a
deal done with Ford, that will lend a great deal of
credibility to the whole thing."
That was spoken before his ex-Ferrari teammate and rival
decided to make credibility an issue. What's particularly
interesting is that Hill chose primarily European news outlets
to be his megaphone of choice. One wonders what role Bernie
Ecclestone plays in all this. He was conspicuous by his
absence in Indianapolis for the Grand Prix. Reportedly he was
in court trying to resolve the issue of Formula 1's commercial
About three years ago, Ecclestone agreed to pay the equivalent
of one year's F1 television revenues, in installments, to the
FIA (which is headed by his "former" attorney, Max Mosley) to
secure for his privately-owned SLEC all of F1's commercial
rights for the next century. The math is pretty easy to do:
the commercial rights were worth about 100 times what Bernie
paid for them (when he got around to it). Then, in a
complicated series of events, Ecclestone was supposedly
hoodwinked into selling 75% of those rights to the German
Kirch Media Gruppe for a couple of billion dollars. The
Formula 1 manufacturers and teams got pretty bent out of shape
about it because they were under the impression that Bernie
was going to sell the rights to them. So, they're threatening
to form the Grand Prix World Championship (GPWC), a rival series to
Formula 1, unless Ecclestone gets the rights back for them.
Their cause was greatly aided by the Kirch Media Gruppe going
into bankruptcy earlier this year. Formula 1's commercial
The point is, who knows what Bernie Ecclestone is doing? No
one in Formula 1 has a clue, although they're loaded with
suspicions. So, does Bernie really want Dan Gurney's
All-American F1 team to join the roster or not? Only
Ecclestone (and, maybe, Max Mosley) knows for sure. It's
interesting that following Phil Hill's "revelations" the
IndyStar, and U.S. press in general, have been mildly
supportive of Gurney (downplaying the Hill incident as some
sort of misunderstanding), while the European press have been
going for the throat. Is Gurney just another pawn in Formula
1's deadly power politics?
It is a fact that
the European press's reaction to Gurney's proposal
demonstrably cooled when it learned that the American F1 team
intended to start from scratch. Possibly, they had hopes that
Dan et al were going to make a bid for Arrows? At one point,
Toyota is reported to have looked into purchasing the team in
order to acquire their payout under the Concorde Agreement
(Toyota doesn't qualify this year for a share) but decided
that the potential liability from creditors far exceeded the
Concorde monies. Apparently, everyone remotely connected with
F1 has come to the same conclusion. Yet, they had hopes that
Gurney might buy in? One guesses we must still be considered
At this point, it's difficult to see how the situation is
salvageable. I think if I were Gurney I might make a few
inquiries about Arrows and leave it up to Ecclestone to make
it a viable situation financially. Red Bull could almost
certainly be counted on for at least some sponsorship and
would welcome (nay, insist) on American drivers. That would be
a big part of the battle out of the way and, with Cosworth
power, Dan could apply his considerable skills towards
"Americanizing" the Arrows car. I think the F1
community is frightened enough about 2003 and only 10 teams
that they could also be counted on for some help (or to at
least stay out of the way) and, for sure, the renamed Arrows
team could make the grid in 2003.
Or Dan could just say to hell with it! No one could blame him
after this fiasco.
Dan Gurney's word is his bond and you can take his hand-shake
to the bank. That can't be said of many successful people,
especially those who've attained legend status. I have no idea
what Phil Hill's motives are for doing what he's doing, I'm
not sure I want to know. But I, for one, am going to let Hill
plead temporary insanity in absentia and not let this incident
ruin 71 years of a good man's exemplary behavior.
Dan, if you're out there, you're still The Man in my book.
Your word is good with me and countless Americans anytime.
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