US F1: The Winning Formula

Going into the 2010 season, we at Automobile Magazine were convinced that US F1 -- the first American Formula 1 team in a generation -- was going to be the motorsports story of the year. We were right. We just didn't realize that the story was going to be the team's implosion before the season even began.

I spent several days at the US F1 shop in Charlotte in December. I met most of the major players and was given an unfettered look at all of the facilities. I came away convinced that there was enough talent and know-how in Charlotte to get the project done. Then, technical editor Don Sherman made a follow-up visit in January and was equally impressed by the operation. There was no technical reason, we both agreed, that an American F1 car couldn't be designed and built in the United States. A race car is, after all, a race car, and all the fundamental design and construction techniques are well understood. So US F1's major challenge, from the inception, was money. And this, in the end, was its downfall.

US F1's budget was a three-legged stool. One leg came from principal investor Chad Hurley, the co-founder of YouTube. The second was supposed to be realized in the form of TV revenue that's shared equally by F1 franchise-holders. The third was sponsorship, both in the form of title sponsors and sponsors brought in by paying drivers. As little as two weeks before the team closed its doors, Peter Windsor was telling me that he had most of the money he needed to run the season. But US F1 didn't have enough sponsorship to complete the race car, and without the completed race car, the team couldn't attract the sponsorship it needed to keep the doors open. This proved to be a fatal Catch-22.

Rumors that US F1 were in trouble started circulating last year, but they were completely unsourced, and, in retrospect, I think most of them were unfounded. Still, in January, I started hearing from people within the team about serious issues. Money was running out, I was told. The car was running late. Hurley was threatening to take his ball and go home. Anderson and Windsor were in over their heads. But there was still a chance that a miracle might occur, and we didn't want to pull the plug too soon. So, at the end of the January, just before making a go/no-go decision about publishing the story, I conducted a conference call interview with Windsor and Anderson. When I confronted them with the rumors, they categorically insisted that everything was on schedule and that the team would have two cars on the grid at Bahrain. Based on these assurances, and despite our misgivings, we decided to publish the story and hope for the best.

Kinda wish we could take a mulligan on that decision....

On February 18, several weeks after we went to press, I spoke again with Windsor. During a rambling, emotional interview, he launched into a self-pitying diatribe berating me for my accusatory tone (!!!). He also insisted that all wasn't yet lost at US F1, and he told me that I might be hearing from him the following week with some surprisingly good news about the team. Alas, I never heard from Windsor again. And by early March, US F1 had slipped beneath the waves without a trace. What a waste of time, effort and money. If nothing else, the article that follows is the story of what might have been.

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