Below is a transcript from today’s exclusive press announcement on SPEED™ for the newly formed USF1 program to be based in Charlotte, NC and on the track for the 2010 FIA Formula One World Championship racing season. Participating were host Bob Varsha, team principals Ken Anderson and Peter Windsor and American racing icons Mario Andretti and Dan Gurney:
|Top: Host Bob Varsha, USF1 Technical Director Ken Anderson, USF1 Sporting Director Peter Windsor. Bottom: Peter Windsor|
Peter Windsor: How do you do a Formula One team? That’s an interesting question. There’s no book about it. There are books on how to drive a race car, perhaps, but nothing on how to do a Formula One team. But if you look at the way it’s gone in the past … the recent past … it’s been either find an incredibly rich trillionaire and have him dominate the team; own the team and if you are lucky enough to get the job once he puts the team together or you are lucky enough to be invited by a large car company to set up their Formula One operation. Ken and I have been around long enough not to want to do either of those two things. We’ve always wanted to do our own team our own way. It sounds rather arrogant perhaps, but we have some experience and we have some things we want to bring into the sport. But the key to that was not selling anything more than a very small stake in the team. So, we set some unbelievably steep hills to climb in the recession. We wanted to sell off a small part of the team, and I am pleased to be able to sit up here now and say we’ve done that and now we are two guys who can say we are going to do a Formula One team because we have the capital to do it.
Somebody asked about the recession. The recession has actually helped us out a little. For those out there that say, ‘Where’s all the money? Where’s the huge facility? Where’s the money pouring out of the sky?’ … that isn’t going to happen with USF1. We’ve always had a very different approach and that approach will become visible as time goes on and as this year unfolds.
Host Bob Varsha to Ken Anderson: An American-based Formula One team. Why would you set up an operation like this an ocean away from where the rest of the teams reside?
Anderson: Most of the technology in Formula One comes from the United States to begin with. The logistics side of it now, less than half the races will be on the (European) continent. The cost of doing business in the United States is significantly cheaper than Europe and there are a lot of good people here.
Varsha: A lot of people might wonder about travel time back and forth, putting the cost aside … the idea of building a car here and racing it there. How will it be accomplished?
Anderson: Well, we live in an age of FedEx, DHL, UPS … the logistics side is actually pretty simple. Whether you are traveling … it just took me 20 hours to get back from San Francisco the other day with all the delays. Anyone who travels a lot now is used to it. Whether you are going to Australia from here or England, it’s kind a moot point.
Windsor: If you take away the Spanish Grand Prix and the Monaco Grand Prix, with the logistics we have, we’ll have our cars back in Charlotte sooner than most of the British-based teams will have their trucks back to their factories in England.
Varsha: The idea of locating in Charlotte, N.C. … so closely associated with NASCAR … not a series known for high-tech cars, engines and so forth. But Ken, you and I talked about this earlier. That’s really a misunderstanding of the situation. There is an awful lot of racing high-tech in this area isn’t there?
Anderson: Absolutely. Racing is a $6 billion industry in North Carolina. And probably within 50 miles of Charlotte, it’s all there. It pretty easy to build a four-valve, twin-cam racing motor, but try to take a pushrod, two-valve with a cast-iron block and get the sort of horsepower they get … there are some brilliant people here and some great equipment. A shaker rig doesn’t know if it has a Cup car on it or a Formula One car on it. A wind tunnel doesn’t know … the benefit of that is that we have more equipment and more talented people in this area than anywhere on the planet.
There are a lot of suppliers to Formula One that are here. McLaren Electronics has a facility in Mooresville. Günther Steiner, the technical director at Red Bull and Jaguar, we meet at a coffee shop in Davidson. There are a lot more people here than people realize.
Media Question: Gentlemen, who is going to drive your cars?
Windsor: These will be the fun things. We’ve been going through the growth pains for two, three years. Drivers, sponsors, engines … they are all the fun bits of a race team. They are not easy, but when we realized that the technology was here and with the help of the new FIA regulations, that were made for new teams to come into the sport, we therefore could do a team here in the United States and it was going to be a car made in America. The logical thing than from a marketing perspective was than to see if we can have two American drivers. And that is indeed what we intend to do. A lot of people will throw there hands up and say, ‘How can you do that?’ Of course, we don’t have any American drivers in Formula One right now, so by definition, the two people we have in the car in 2010 will be relatively inexperienced without a lot of road dust on them, but at the same time, we are going to stick to that. We are a young team. Nothing wrong with having young drivers growing at the same pace.
The answer is we haven’t made any decision on drivers yet. Your guess is as good as mine, because there is a list out there of American drivers with the right credentials to race in Formula One who have the talent … they’ve proven they have the talent already. It’s a question of finding the two most compatible drivers with what we are setting out to achieve in year one -- and year two probably -- and grow with us. That’s all a great discussion point. All the drivers out there, if one had to take names now … the next generation looks really good. You’ve got Alex Rossi, who obviously won a lot of races in Formula BMW. You’ve got Conor Daly and Josef Newgarden … really three talented young guys. Gabby Chavez is also very good. And if you take a level slightly higher than that, you have Jonathan Summerton, who has won at the international level already in A1GP driving for Team USA … very talented and he’s already raced in Europe. Scott Speed has Formula One experience. We know Scott. He’s a very talented guy. He’s doing very well in NASCAR right now. It would be interesting to know if he is totally comfortable where he is right now. There are NASCAR drivers out there right now who I really think if they wanted to switch to Formula One, we could groom them and help them make that change. We were chatting with Dave Despain the other night about Kyle Busch for example. What a great star he would be. Formula One would welcome anything like that. Danica Patrick is another name that has to be considered for what she has achieved and, again, she’s raced in Europe and she’s done it the hard way.
Media Question: Can you give us the idea of the scope of the operation?
Anderson: We’re looking at well over 100 people. Highly skilled, highly paid people.
Varsha: By comparison, the big Formula One teams run about 1,000 people.
Anderson: Depends on how you look at that too. It depends on if you are doing your own engine. McLaren does a lot of things other than racing for instance. So, starting with what Peter said is a “skunkworks” approach to it, we want a minimum amount of the best people, but there are also a lot of vendors. If we have 100 to 120 people in-house here, there are dozens and dozens of vendors that we can rely on that would add up.
1978 Formula One World Champion Mario Andretti via telephone: I’m excited. Obviously, I have been following some of the rumors the best way I could and finally, a couple of days ago, Peter called me and confirmed that it was in fact a reality and told me about the announcement today. Clearly, this is the best news I could have hoped for as a Formula One fan and an absolute supporter. I’m sure its great news for all of the American Formula One fans and its got to be great news for Formula One period. It’s all positive.
It all makes sense. You’ve got two gentlemen there who know the reality of the sport and know it inside out. They are not just dreamers and they have the credibility to support this. I, for one, for whatever it is worth am totally behind you guys.
Varsha: Mario, obviously your grandson Marco is a name that obviously would be on anyone’s list of young drivers with a dream of racing in Formula One. What would it mean to you as the ’78 World Champion whose son, Michael, made the podium at Monza in 1993 … what would it mean to you to see Marco in a Formula One car?
Andretti: I would just love that. It would rejuvenate me in many ways. My ultimate love is, and always will be, Formula One. In fact, I know Marco has not expressed himself probably enough. He just wants results to speak for themselves at first and go from there. But every time that I mention the possibility, he says, ‘I’d give anything to have the opportunity.’ I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again and I’ll back it up, if I were to design a Formula One driver today, I would design Marco. He learns quickly. He’s very much of a free spirit … the travel and all of the aspect does not phase him in the least. He’s certainly wants to do it and excel in it. We’ll see what the future brings for him. Right now, he has to get some results where he is with his dad in the IndyCars and we’ll see where that takes him.
Media Question: What are the challenges of not currently having a (Formula One) home race here in the United States?
Windsor: From our point of view, we’ve never seen that as a problem. We’ve always believed we want to take the United States to Formula One again in the footsteps of Mario and Dan (Gurney) and the history of Formula One. We are not trying to take Formula One to the United States and convert millions of fans to Formula One. We hope that will happen on the back of USF1 and we sincerely hope that having a US Grand Prix here again will be a byproduct of that … nothing would be better for us and nothing would be better for American motor sports. But that is very much in the hands of FOM and Bernie Ecclestone, who have done a brilliant job of staging races around the world. Each country that stages a race these days, effectively stages a mini-Olympic Games. They don’t have the Olympics, so they stage a Formula One race. That’s what makes Formula One as big as it is on television as a global sport. America has got to play that role in effect. Let’s hope President Obama says we’ve got to have a US Grand Prix and the federal government will get behind it.
Media Question: What kind of support have you received from the two most powerful people in F1 … Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley?
Windsor: I first told Bernie Ecclestone about this in Brazil ’06, and he was his usual specific self and said, ‘Great, get it done.’ We’ve kept him in touch ever since and he’s always been very supportive and anything we need, he’s tried to help us with. A good example was the DVD he did on the ’08 Formula One season that we have been using in some of our presentations to investors here in the United States. It’s not for commercial use, but that’s a typical example of the type of help he has been giving us and that’s quite a big thing coming from FOM. The FIA equally have known about this in detail now for about five to six months and instantly grasped the program and accepted the program as we wanted to do it as, dare I say it, the poster child of how a Formula One team should be going into the next generation facing a recession and the rule changes. How we are approaching it – the lean, mean skunkworks approach – is exactly the sort of thing the FIA are looking for, so they say, for the future. So, we are working very closely with the FIA in every area of the team. We are keeping them informed of how we are doing the team, how we are selling the stakes of the team, the budgets involved. Having said that, we’ve assumed nothing in the budgets and we’ve got a very realistic approach to the commercial side for Max Mosley and particularly Nick Craw whose now Vice President of the FIA based in Denver, Colo. That’s a great thing for American motor sports. He’s done a fabulous job over the year and to have Nick in such a strong position on the world motor sports stage can only help us and it’s a great, timely move for American motor sports.
Media Question: What will the opportunities be for young American mechanics on your team?
Anderson: Endless. We are always looking for good people. We are going to have a system to train people up. You don’t have to be from racing to be a good mechanic. The sky is the limit.
Varsha: What are goals and deadlines to be ready for the 2010 season?
Windsor: There are not things that are going to be massively difficult to achieve now that we are where we are. In no particular order, there will be drivers, engines, European location, the building here, sponsors … all of those things are things to be doing now. That is what we are going to be doing from this point forward … we can’t wait to get down to the local Starbucks and start having more meetings. We are going to be that sort of team. Because we are not one individual dominating the team, we are going to do it the way racing people do it. There are always great people to meet.
Anderson regarding engines: We will be sending out proposals to all the manufacturers currently in Formula One and let them know we are here … every manufacturer in Formula One now, there biggest market is the United States, the only exception to that being Renault.
Media Question: Has the shop location in Charlotte been determined yet and are you in contact with some of the out-of-work race team members in the Charlotte area?
Anderson on the benefit of doing this in a recession: A year ago, there was a big shortage of carbon fiber because all the airlines were sucking it up. Now that people have canceled airplanes, there is a glut of carbon fiber and its cheaper than ever. That’s just one example. There are a lot of good people on the market here … and there is one building we particularly like that we are working on and there is lots of real estate available in Charlotte right now.
Windsor on the effects of the recession: If we were in a boon period right now and money was falling out of the sky, and there was a lineup of teams wanting to do Formula One and lots of trillionaires our there being enticed by the glamour of Formula One, it would be very difficult for guys like Ken and me to put our hands up and say we can do a team efficiently, we can do it in America, we can do it very differently than everybody else, we’d just get laughed out of the ballpark because that’s not the way you do a Formula One team. But the fact that we are in the recession, and don’t forget we started this team long before the recession we ever heard of … the fact that we are in a recession means people actually listen to us now and take us seriously because it all adds up … forget the $48 million bond days, forget the $100 million budgets, forget the $30 million retainers for drivers. Over the next three or four years, things are going to change dramatically in Formula One and that’s our period.
Varsha: How accessible will you be to the media and to the fans?
Windsor: Something I’ve learned over the last year and half here in Charlotte is just how good a job NASCAR teams do for the fans and we are in the entertainment business. We’ve been reminding each other of that from day one. We want this to be entertainment. We want this to be a TV-led Formula One team if you’d like. And we are going to be that by definition, being so close to SPEED here and we’re also going to have our own television production facility inside of our headquarters. So, we are going to make this very fan friendly, not only here in the states, but globally. We are going to design the fan route. Fans are going to be welcome to come to our headquarters. There will be a tour they can. They can look at the car being designed and built. They can touch and feel a Formula One team for the first time and it will be a lovely experience to come here. We’ll have a state-of-the-art facility that will be as good as anything you see in Europe. It won’t be McLaren. It won’t be Ferrari because obviously we don’t have the history, but we’ll do it our way that’s compatible with being here in the United States. If you look at guys like Michael Waltrip, they way they operate their team, that is a case study on how to make motor sports (fan friendly). The way Formula One teams present themselves in America has always been very difficult for the fans to grasp what Formula One is all about. It is very technical. There is lots of money. But nobody ever talks about it and you can’t see the technology and then they go racing and maybe five cars race or maybe 26 cars race, then they all disappear again. Obviously, we have an opportunity here to sell Formula One to our fan base and we have a lot of Formula One fans here.
Racing legend Dan Gurney via taped interview: I have no doubt whatsoever that an American effort can be competitive. An American effort can be more than competitive, it can be winning. At this point in time, there is a huge yearning for an American effort. I feel that Bernie and Max are still powerful and they have vision for that particular vision from a global standpoint and that’s what they feel would be a huge asset and I think they will be as supportive as they possibly can be.
Kenny Anderson has confirmed his own credibility and I feel that is very important. The fact that he built probably the world’s best automotive wind tunnel, a full scale wind tunnel, that was halfway to the moon practically and the fact that he pulled it off did a great deal for me. His thoughts and his involving American technology is a very important thing and I have every confidence in the team he is putting together.
Peter Windsor is a very appealing young man … they used to say Tommy Lasorda would bleed Dodger blue, well (Peter) bleeds Formula One red and you can feel it. It’s a genuine thing. He is a very good student of it. I just feel like he is a huge asset to the team and the knowledge he has built up and the credibility he has maintained is all very, very positive.
No one can tell you how often opportunity is going to knock, but if you are ready when that moment comes, you can step up and say, ‘We’re going to go for it and we can do it here in this country without a shadow of a doubt.’ Over there, they are watching us all the time and they come over and pluck whatever ideas they like, but that doesn’t mean we’ve told them everything.”