USF1's Peter Windsor Q&A
The forthcoming season will see four new teams battle it out against the established order. Up to now one of quietest debutants has been the North Carolina-based US team, but sporting director Peter Windsor insists their low profile doesn’t mean they are not working flat out. Indeed, whilst there are a few loose ends to tie up, like their driver line-up, Windsor is optimistic about progress and is confident we won’t have long to wait until everything is revealed…
Q: Peter, the US team has been keeping a relatively low profile over the last few weeks…
Peter Windsor: Well, actually I would say that we have kept a relatively low profile over the last couple of months! Six months at least. There are two reasons for that. One is that we weren’t officially a Formula One team until we signed the Concorde Agreement in August. So there was not very much to say before that. At that point, for the first time, we were able to get on with our work by moving into the building and equipping it to become a fantastic F1 facility, which it now is, with millions of dollars worth of state of the art equipment. After that we started building the car and hiring people and starting the company. So there was no reason to be constantly telling everybody what we were doing. If you start building a house you don’t invite all your friends to come around every time you put a brick in the wall. You wait at least for the living room to be finished, and then when the house is finished, throw a housewarming party. I am really quite confused why people constantly expected updates when we were just trying to put everything together. In the near future we will make announcements about drivers and sponsors. At the moment everybody is working flat out, putting in 72 hours a week. We have approximately 80 full-time people, and we are expecting the race team to join us shortly. There’ll be a fantastic team of engineers and we are perfectly on time. It is wonderful to see how everything is coming together.
Q: There have been suggestions that the team won’t make it on to the Bahrain grid. What is your reply to those rumors?
PW: The thought is ludicrous. I can’t say any more than that we will definitely be on the Bahrain grid.
Q: There hasn’t been a single announcement about drivers though, which stirs up rumors, especially as some may say the best drivers have already been snapped up by your rivals. When will you announce your line-up? Do you have drivers already in mind or is it still an open issue?
PW: We are very close to announcing our drivers. We’ve been talking to some great racing drivers over the last couple of months, and it is very difficult to choose between the good drivers that are around. I think there are still a lot on offer and the difficult thing will be to choose only two out of the ten that are available. It’s a difficult job and I hate having to do that. We have not signed our forward deals yet in terms of the contracts, but we are pretty near to announcing.
Q: Will you go down the same route as some of the other new teams and sign at least one experienced guy?
PW: I cannot speak for the other teams. (Team Principal) Ken (Anderson) and I have not looked at anything that’s going on outside our own operation. There is no answer to that question, other than the fact there are lots of ways you can look at it. If you are a new team with no database the logical thing is to have an incredibly experienced F1 driver in the car. Equally you could say it’s an opportunity to give two young guys with a lot of talent a chance to come on board with fresh, clean minds, grow with the team and operate within the system the team is going to work within. That doesn’t mean that we will have a system different to the standard but everybody needs to remember that we are going into a new era of Formula One. January 1 2010 was the beginning of the new resource restriction agreement era in Formula One. It will be very different from any Formula One we’ve ever known and I am surprised that more people aren’t talking about it. The headcounts for race teams have come down drastically, as well as for the factory staff. Operating budgets are coming down drastically - and they will get smaller in 2011. The way F1 teams operate is changing dramatically. You could argue - and I’m not saying that we are definitely going down that route - that within this new era there is a lot to be said for having fresh, young guys, who are able to adapt easily to a new era without all the previous baggage of thinking about how it used to be done. I don’t say that this is a perfect solution but maybe the solution would be to have a compromise between the two and have drivers who do have a lot of F1 experience, perhaps just in terms of testing, but nonetheless are fresh and are very motivated because they haven’t done a lot of racing. Maybe that is the right compromise. Maybe that’s the way to go.
Q: Are you also looking for ‘pay drivers’ who can bring money to the table?
PW: Well, it depends what you mean by ‘pay drivers’. Is Fernando Alonso a pay driver? As I understand it Ferrari had a contract with Kimi Raikkonen and released him for the Spaniard, who brings the backing of a Spanish bank with him. Do you draw a line between a driver who has sponsorship because he has done a very good job in his career and has people behind him, and the rich dilettante racing drivers we all used to know, who can buy a drive whenever they wanted? I think we need to be pretty careful about what we are talking here. Those drivers who have done very well in their career have sponsors and companies who like to be associated with them, whether it is Alonso with his bank or Michael Schumacher who has had sponsors throughout his career. What I would say is that as well as going into a new resource-restricted F1 era, we are also (hopefully) coming out of a global economic recession and a very turbulent 2009 season which had many dramas. At the moment it is very difficult to define the state of the economy, what sponsors will want to be in, what sponsors will want to be out, and where the money is coming from over the next five years. And I don’t think that many people have the answers. All we can do is look at what is available. We are a start-up team so we have to look at every opportunity. If there are companies out there that have associations with a driver because they have been supporting him for quite a while, or representing a country, or whatever, obviously we have to look at that. Providing the driver can do the job as well.
Q: So what is more important? A driver who brings sponsors with him or one with extraordinary abilities?
PW: There is no way that we would sign a driver unless we felt confident that he could do an excellent job. That goes for everybody in the team. Everybody here is first class at what he does. Ken and I have said from day one that our mantra will be to have the least possible number of the best possible people. That is what the team is all about and that goes for the drivers as well. There’s no way we would sign a guy unless we believe in his talent 100 percent.
Q: Most of the teams will be present at the first test at the beginning of February in Valencia, with the exception of some of the newcomers. When and where will you hit the track for the first time?
PW: The first thing that needs to be said is that if this was 2011 and we were an existing team we would be at the first test. But because we are a new team and started from nothing, the first time we will run the car will be in the United States at the Barber Motorsport Park in Alabama. This is the circuit that was nominated by the FIA for us. We’ve got this dispensation from the FIA, which is fantastic, because we are not based in Europe. We are the only team that has a test circuit outside Europe, so it is totally logic for us to run the car for the first time in the US at the beginning of February. We are allowed three sessions in the US. Then we will ship it to Spain to do some testing there before we fly out to Bahrain.
Q: It is almost a year since you and Ken announced you were to form a US-based Formula One team from scratch. Looking back, what has been the most difficult aspect? Money? Regulations? People?
PW: It was definitely over the summer. Our business plan started in December 2008 and we were pretty confident that we would be up and running, and signed as an official entry, by April 2009 at the latest. But, thanks to all the politics, there was a moment when we were entered in the championship even though we didn’t really know in which championship we would be running. That was not a comfortable feeling and probably the most difficult moment. But there have been fantastic moments as well. To see the team developing, to see the enthusiasm here in the US about building a team - we are all aware that running an F1 team is a great privilege and a great joy.
Q: Recently you have said that you don’t agree with the closure of factories over the summer break. But shouldn’t that help the financially weaker teams? Especially as for the first two years there will be a substantial gap in development between the established and the newer teams…
PW: It’s not about closing gaps. It’s about not being able to work. Ken and I enjoy working on the team so much that we will definitely feel a void during the summer. Formula One is not something that you do for a living. It’s something that you do because you feel passionate about it. For me holidays are being at the factory. Martin Whitmarsh said that the summer break didn’t work so well for McLaren last year - and it’s probably for the same reasons.
Q: There is already a bet running between Lotus and Virgin as to who will emerge as the best newcomer. Where do you see your team in the pecking order?
PW: I would like to see a bet placed about which of the new teams, who make their car completely in house and is doing so outside Europe, will be the best. What I’m saying is that every team has its own characteristics so it’s difficult to set parameters to measure which is the best. For me the most interesting thing will be to see how the Cosworth engine compares to the others. I am really looking forward to that.
Q: This season promises to be extraordinary. With four new teams and some sizzling driver line-ups at the established teams. You’ve been in Formula One racing for so long that you must have an opinion about who is hot and who is not…
PW: My marketing and media department here keeps telling me that I need to stop being a journalist and getting misquoted. But of course I am excited as everybody else is about the prospect of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa at Ferrari, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button at McLaren, Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel at Red Bull and Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg at Mercedes. It is absolutely fantastic for Formula One to have such a brilliant season ahead. Who could possibly predict what’s going to happen with these extraordinary line-ups? But there is more to it than that. Formula One has had a really difficult time over the last 18 months and there has been a lot of bad press. But guess what - we have a fantastic championship ahead of us! Formula One has re-grouped and, with the resources restriction agreement, has done a very good job of approaching the recession in a logical way. Look at golf now. The PGA tour is absolutely petrified at what’s going to happen after Tiger Woods announced he is to take an indefinite leave from the tour. You can also look at tennis after Andre Agassi admitted he took drugs. So it’s not only Formula One that has dramas. Formula One can actually feel pretty good about itself for the first time in a while because we’ve got a sense of direction, whilst at the same time other sports are showing that they are not so perfect. We’ve already put all the dramas behind us and everything’s set for a brilliant 2010. And for us to be part of that - even though it’s a small part for the moment, although we plan to grow - is a huge privilege and I will enjoy every minute of it.