Even at their most processional, Formula 1 races offer American television viewers a few interludes of surefire entertainment to break up the tedium. The start is always exhilarating. And with any luck, there's an on-track pass that can be replayed ad infinitum, in super slo-mo, from every imaginable angle. But the highlight of most broadcasts usually comes before the race even begins, when a perennially smiling, relentlessly upbeat Brit raised in Australia trolls up and down the starting grid, doggedly reeling in less-than-cooperative drivers and other media-shy F1 luminaries for unscripted interviews. And when he catches a live one, which he almost always does, he thrusts his microphone toward a nonplussed face and announces, "You're live on Speed in America."
"I've always viewed journalism as a way to find out what happened, so I've never had a problem with interviews," Peter Windsor says. "But the prerace segment really gets the adrenaline going. When the pit lane opens, we're live and, regardless of who's around, we've got to do a show. Between the FOM [Formula One Management Ltd.], my cameraman, and all the Speed guys in Charlotte, there are about fifteen people involved. I love working with them because it's probably the next best thing to having my own Formula 1 team."
Funny comment, that. For the past decade, the fifty-seven-year-old Windsor has been the face of Formula 1 in the United States, better known to American viewers than most F1 drivers. But in mid-March, he'll swap roles and bring the face of America to Formula 1 when US F1 - the new Charlotte, North Carolina-based team founded by Windsor and American racing-car designer Ken Anderson and funded primarily by YouTube cofounder Chad Hurley - makes its debut at the Bahrain Grand Prix. After a lifetime devoted largely to covering Formula 1 news, Windsor himself has become part of the story.
Not all of the press is positive. With the 2010 season about to begin, Windsor and US F1 are generating plenty of skepticism. Historically, American teams have fared miserably in Formula 1. Dan Gurney's Eagle is the only car built in the U.S.A. to have won a postwar grand prix (at Spa in 1967), and there hasn't been an American team presence in F1 since Carl Haas's English-built cars disappeared in 1986. US F1's budget-conscious business model flies in the face of the cost-no-object philosophy that has dominated the sport in recent years. And while conventional wisdom holds that successful F1 cars are built in either the U.K. or Maranello, US F1 is planning to leverage the NASCAR heritage around its home base.