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A new US-based Formula One team? Now that's a long, long shot to make it off the ground


Well, the Chinese wanted an F1 event, to showcase their city-of-the-future, Shanghai. Maybe an American city needs a shot in the arm too (Photo:Toyota Motorsports)


   By Mike Mulhern

    Despite skepticism over in much of the NASCAR world, particularly among those who have worked in the Formula One area, two 'principals' have announced plans to launch an F1 team next season based in Charlotte, N.C.
   There is no longer any Formula One race in the U.S., and bitter memories of Michael Andretti's abortive F1 campaign some 15 years ago still linger….along with that F1 debacle at Indianapolis in 2005.
   Nevertheless Peter Windsor, an F1 journalist, and Ken Anderson, the two trying to put this thing together, insist they're optimistic.
   Even in the face of the current world-wide recession, and the general chaos in Detroit, not to mention the Honda F1 selloff debate, Toyota's problems in F1, and Ford's decision to abandon that game, and the wicked politics in F1 (that makes NASCAR's own intrigues look like kindergarten stuff)?
   "The recession has actually helped us out a little," Windsor says.
   "Where's all the money? Where's the huge facility?
    "That isn't going to happen with USF1. We've always had a very different approach…and that approach will become visible as this year unfolds."
   Actually the proposal could be a shot in the arm to North Carolina, which is home to NASCAR operations, which have made the sport a $6 billion industry. And there are approximately 1,000 NASCAR crewmen, many highly talented engineers, on the sidelines at the moment, having lost their NASCAR jobs at the end of 2008.
   Of course when Juan Pablo Montoya and Scott Speed, two current NASCAR Cup drivers with F1 credentials, say they aren't interested, that's not a good sign.

So what does Bernie Ecclestone, the F1 czar, think about all this? (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)

Still, the Red Bull angle is intriguing. Red Bull currently sponsors Speed in NASCAR, with a lavishly budgeted operation, and it also runs a major F1 operation out of Europe.
   No word yet on who these guys might get as drivers. Kyle Busch, under contract to Toyota, is the only NASCAR regular to express any interest in F1 – and he may still be miffed that NASCAR executives nixed his planned winter trip to Japan to test an F1 car for Toyota. But Busch's contract with Joe Gibbs runs through the end of 2010.
    The scope of this proposed U.S. F1 operation is rather modest, about 100 people, a budget of maybe $60 million.
   The F1 giants have 10 times as many people and budgets of $400 million up.
   And then there is the no small issue of F1 engines. They don't run 1955 small-block push-rod Chevys on that tour.
   The real dynamics here – F1 czar Bernie Ecclestone and the current F1 sponsors all realize that the American consumer market is the most important market in the world (okay, there is China, but that's another story), and they all want some foothold here.
   If having a U.S.-based F1 team would spark interest in an American promoter putting on a Formula One race, that would be the big payoff.
   However the France family, Bruton Smith and Tony George, the three most powerful forces in American racing, are all clearly unenthusiastic about F1 here. More competition, for one.
   Bringing those three powers on board, or at least one of them, would be key to making that part of the project work. And George just got burned by F1 with that Indy fiasco; Smith is deadset against anything Ecclestone has to offer (like an F1 race through the streets of Las Vegas). And why the Frances would want anything to do with this is unclear….unless Jim France, who is a sports car buff, with the Grand American thing, would be interested: perhaps an F1 race tied in with the 24 Hours of Daytona…..
   One big problem with any F1 race, though, is the fact that Ecclestone wants the promoters to pay him for the right to put on the race….which is, ah, rather different than the way America promoters do business. In fact, Ecclestone has managed to wrangle national governments for the money for F1 events – China, for example.
   But persuading President Barack Obama to get behind any new U.S. F1 event, well, the France family can't even get him to the Daytona 500.

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