In the latest development in the ongoing saga of USF1, team principal Ken Anderson acknowledged on Friday that the team would be unable to make the grid for the season-opener in Bahrain on the March 12-14 weekend. In fact, he is now requesting permission from the FIA to skip the first four races, hoping to make a debut appearance at the Barcelona venue (Circuit de Calalunya), on the May 7-9 weekend.
This, needless to say, puts the team’s viability in considerable doubt. While both FIA president Jean Todt, and FOCA president and commercial rights holder, Bernie Ecclestone, last week made public remarks to the effect that the current Concorde Agreement had a provision which would allow any team to miss a maximum of three races in 2010, the FIA subsequently issued a clarification stating that any team that missed even a single race would be considered to be in breach of contract, and would suffer the consequences.
The exact ramifications of the FIA’s announcement were unclear. Penalties for missed races might take form, including fines, point reductions or expulsion from the series. Considering that USF1 is struggling simply to make its first appearance in the real world, as opposed to the virtual one, any penalty imposed could be terminal.
And there’s another point to consider. The team is actually asking for a four race waiver, which is one more than is supposedly allowed in the Concorde agreement. While, as everyone knows, in the world of Formula 1, contracts are flexible, and regulations open to interpretation.
As reported in The New York Times, Ken Anderson acknowledged that that team’s fate lay in the hands of the FIA. “We’re working with the F.I.A. to clarify how many races we can miss,” he said. “In an ideal world, we can miss the first four races and show up in Barcelona.”
But Anderson also seemed optimistic that the FIA would not rush to any judgment that might force USF1 to close its doors for good. “What would be the point of that?” he said. “Why would they give us a franchise and just, the first time there’s a bump in the road, yank it and put it out of business? That’s definitely not the message that I’m getting from them. They want to help us, not shut us down.”
Nevertheless, the team’s future is clearly far from secure. Their current problems stem from a funding gap (sponsors have failed on their commitments, according to Anderson), and future funding is contingent upon a favorable ruling from the FIA.
“We have a timeline in place that if we get a decision quickly, that triggers funding and we’re good to go,” Anderson explained. “If it takes another week or two to make a decision, it keeps backing up.”
In the meantime, their only confirmed driver, Jose María Lopez, who would bring $8 million in personal sponsorship to the team, is, as Anderson conceded, “weighing his options as well.”