The fledgling USF1 team has formally petitioned the FIA for a delayed entry to Formula 1. In the latest development, however, rather than requesting a four-race postponement, as had been reported previously, they are now asking for permission to delay their entry until 2011.
As a means of demonstrating their continued commitment, team principal Ken Anderson and primary financial backer (and YouTube founder) Chad Hurley have offered to post a seven-figure surety bond.
Over the past couple of weeks, there have been various rumors regarding the fortunes of USF1. There has been speculation that Hurley was on the verge of shifting his interest to the Campos team, which is also struggling. There has also been talk that USF1 was exploring the possibility of a merger, either with Campos or Stefan GP, the latter team being a Serbian-backed outfit that has purchased the remains of the Toyota team, including their race-ready 2010 car.
While the merger rumors proved to be accurate, for the most part, the discussions in both cases yielded no results, which left all three teams back where they started. Which is to say, USF1 is left without proper funding or a completed car.
Campos has a completed car (they outsourced construction to Dallara), but insufficient funding. It turns out that they too will miss the season opener at Bahrain in two weeks. Meanwhile, Stefan GP apparently has both a race-ready car, and an adequate operating budget (courtesy of the Serbian government), but are lacking an official entry for the 2010 season. They had hoped to overcome that obstacle through a merger, which would have allowed them to piggyback on USF1’s entry for 2010.
There is still a chance that Stefan GP might be granted special dispensation to take a place on the grid with a late entry. It would require FIA approval, and unanimous consent by the other teams. Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone is said to support the idea, and he’s more than once helped broker a deal to ensure a team’s presence on the grid.
It should be noted that Ecclestone was saying a month or two ago that he doubted the viability of USF1 and Campos, and suspected they might not line up with the other teams in Bahrain. While Bernie says some hare-brained things on occasion (extolling Adolf Hitler’s management skills comes to mind), he definitely was spot on in this case.
And what of USF1? What is the likelihood that FIA will grant them a one-year postponment? At a time when the FIA has been paying lip service (at least during the Max Mosley era) to reducing the barriers to entry by smaller, privateer teams, it seems that there’s at least an even chance that Jean Todt, et al., will take a lenient position on the matter.
But that in itself wouldn’t secure the future of the team. They’ve already had a year’s lead time to get up and running, and they still have neither car nor adequate sponsorship. Both Virgin Racing and Lotus were faced with the same time line and challenges, and both of those teams managed to field cars for pre-season testing. So the question remains, what will be different for USF1 in 2011? Apparently, the bulk of their sponsorship either never materialized, or was withdrawn when it looked as though the team might collapse. Suffice to say, they haven’t done much to instill confidence in potential future backers.
Also, there’s the USF1 staff to consider. There are currently about 60 employees, many of whom left other jobs to work for Ken Anderson and Peter Windsor. Will they be willing to carry on for another year in these uncertain circumstances? Apparently, payroll has been an issue, with checks being issued late on occasion, and it might be that many employees will become disgruntled and start looking for higher ground, fiscally speaking.
It also remains to be seen if Campos will be able to pull the proverbial rabbit out of a hat. While there has been a management and ownership shuffle (team founder Adrian Campos has sold his stake in the team to Jose Ramon Carabante, and the team principal position has been shifted to former Midland, Spyker and Force India boss Colin Kolles), the viability of the team is far from assured.
While in principal, it seems to be a good idea to encourage smaller, privateer teams to enter the sport, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the FIA should require proof of funding and race-worthiness before they grant a new team its place on the starting grid.