Sidepodcast // All for F1 and F1 for all

The case for an American F1 team // USF1 had the right idea, they just needed a little bit more of everything

Published by Christopher Wheelahan

The USF1 team didn’t work out for one reason: money. Sure, one could argue that there were other contributing factors but the truth is that Ken Anderson and Peter Windsor are competent folk. Speculation was that the technical team wouldn’t work out, or that the logistical nightmare of developing a car across the Atlantic would doom the team but the long and short of the matter is it never got that far.

Below you’ll find an admittedly simplistic view of why it would make sense for an American manufacturer to start an F1 team based in Charlotte. I make no claim to have any background in finance, motorsport management, or really any field to be able to gauge the validity of these arguments, but I’m writing this anyway dammit – because we have spent too long on the outside looking in. Not since Mario Andretti has the US had a real presence in Formula 1!

Really all I want is to hold a stake in F1, to have a home-team. I watched first-hand the way a sport can change a city when the New Orleans Saints, riding on a wave (pun-intended) of support, love and emotion from a fan-base still recovering from one of the worst disasters in US history, won the biggest – and really for us – the only game: Super Bowl XLIV. I’m not saying that a racing team can do that. It doesn’t have the same kind of regional appeal or broad following that football does in New Orleans, but it may be a step in the right direction. It also would open up the rich, American racing culture with extremely talented drivers, team managers and engineers to the most technical and highly-regarded form of motor racing in the world.

Cold, hard cash

Christian Horner, Josh Hartnett and George Lucas in Monaco
Credit: Mark Thompson/Getty

I’ll start by addressing the most pressing concern: cold, hard cash. This can’t come from private investors. Unless George Lucas decides that he wants to sink all of his worth into an F1 team (he’s a big fan) the effort and cash is going to have to come from a manufacturer. Although a full season of this would be unspeakably awesome.

So we have Ford, Chrysler and GM. Fiat owns Chrysler. Fiat owns Ferrari. Sergio Marchionne says no. Next case: Ford. Ford does have some history with the sport. They raced as Jaguar for five seasons and contributed engines to the sport for almost 40 years. They’ve got the heritage, but the problem is that Ford isn’t exactly a marque that one associates with open-wheel racing. Lincoln certainly isn’t.

It’s possible that they could make it work but I think it’s just as likely that they’ll have another five year run and call it quits after they decide it’s not worth the investment. Let’s stick to rally and sporting cars, yes?

GM, however, is an interesting animal indeed. Over 100 years of racing heritage, recent successes in the Le Mans series, WTCC, V-8 Supercars and NASCAR and a quite successful engine building practice for the Indycar series makes GM a rather logical candidate for the American F1 manufacturer. Bernie Ecclestone’s Eastern Expansion of F1 is a good tool for GM to leverage. More on this later. Now cometh the question: Do we use the marque Chevrolet or Cadillac?

Frankly, it doesn’t matter to me one way or another. I suppose it depends on the international marketing strategy that the big-wigs in Detroit are taking. China is a big market and they’re really trying to sell Chevys there, but they just introduced the Cadillac brand in China in 2004 so maybe that makes more sense. Also, Chevrolets sell pretty well in Europe and Caddies do not, so there’s that to consider as well. Either way though, it seems GM would be the right candidate for the job.

Logistical bases

Charlotte: the motorsport capitol of the US. All but one NASCAR team has their factory here. The US’s racing-engineering talent is in North Carolina. Ken Anderson and Peter Windsor keyed into this and were going to set up shop here. They had the right idea. Granted, there’s a distinct lack of Formula 1 engineers here, as there is a lack of Formula 1 engineers anywhere in the world that isn’t the motorsport corridor just west of London, but for positions that could be transferred from any form of motorsport, you’re in the right place.

Yes, they will have to import some talent. Yes, they will probably have to have a logistical base in Europe so they don’t have to fly the cars home every week, but realistically they will have mitigated many of the issues that I expect HRT will experience when they can’t get anyone to move to Spain by stealing engineers from NASCAR.

Logic in action

Nobody’s saying that an American F1 team should have American drivers, but there’s no reason they couldn’t. There is some pretty massive open-wheel talent state-side at the moment. There’s Alexander Rossi, Connor Daly and (dare I say?) Smoke did pretty okay in Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren this year. Not that I think he would move on from NASCAR, but it’s an interesting thought. The idea is to get more interest from American racing fans and the best way to do that is to get people they know into a team they can relate to.

US open-wheel talent meets F1 in the shape of Alexander Rossi
US open-wheel talent meets F1 in the shape of Alexander RossiCredit: Caterham F1

HRT has done a good job of creating a Spanish national team, except for all the puttering around the back of the field and losing races. If they were in the same tier as, say, Ferrari or even Force India, the Spanish would be going even more nuts over F1 than they currently do. Strangely, Fernando Alonso has done more for Spanish F1 recognition than the entire HRT organization but that’s the way the mantecado crumbles. Regardless, it’s a good demonstration of what a good athlete can do for a country’s sporting literacy.

Indycar talent is also transferrable and would allow money to come into the team while getting some American-household names in F1, even if they weren’t American themselves. Crossover from Indycar would be beneficial to both F1 as a sport and especially for the general pool of racing talent in the open-wheel arena. Getting a Tony Kanaan or a Scott Dixon or a Will Power into F1 would be massive. GM or whoever would just have to offer the right amount of money and proper confidence that they will be invested in the team to win, not just show up.

The truth is, Indycar drivers always talk about F1 as the next step, even if they’re happy where they are. It is admired and adored by the drivers and the mechanics. F1 is the cream that’s risen to the top and they know it. There is plenty of motorsports management on this side of the pond as well. Roger Penske, Bobby Rahal, Michael Andretti and Chip Ganassi are names that pop up immediately. With these big names come big dollars and mechanical talent. Andretti and Penske already have a relationship with Chevrolet, to boot.

It’s logic in action, my dear Watson. Elementary.

His Royal Muppetness

The final piece of the puzzle is always His Royal Muppetness Bernie Ecclestone. Without his buy-in, the team could not form. Fortunately, there is no reason why he wouldn’t approve another American team. His current plot at world-domination involves Eastward expansion of F1 - thus the Austin and New York/New Jersey Grands Prix as well as rumors of races in Argentina, Mexico and a third US race to go with Canada and Brazil. A Formula 1 team in Charlotte would raise revenues in the US, bump awareness and allow the Emperor-Palpatine-wanna-be to sell a proper broadcasting contract to American networks. He could then go public with a fiscally robust product - something which he’s failed to do before.

Perhaps the best thing that could support an F1 team in America is the American public

Furthermore, the American fans could be of colossal help if they were to get interested. The F1 season falls primarily outside the American Football season and generally runs in parallel to NASCAR. The first is good. Football fans are men. Men like manly things. Fast cars are manly. Football fans will be F1 fans. How’s that for a beautiful syllogism? The whole NASCAR thing may be an issue. The races rarely overlap time-wise but it isn’t often that people want to punctuate a long day of beer and NASCAR with an F1 race… unless you’re me.

It depends on how you look at it though. A lot of people have said to me that with NASCAR being as popular as it is in the States, you have a built-in audience for F1. I’m sure only marketing researchers know the proper answer. Regardless, there’s a lot of money to be made over here. A lot of money. Perhaps the best thing that could support an F1 team in America is the American public.

It has always been the case that the American F1 fandom has drawn the short straw. A home team would finally give us something to cheer for. Fans mean money, money means revenue, revenue means happy teams and happy Bernie. Keep the rumors going and maybe, one day, they won’t be rumors anymore.