JUNE 28, 2006

Why is there no American F1 team?

Back in 2002 All American Racers, Dan Gurney's racing organisation in Santa Ana, announced plans to enter Formula 1. A few months later came the news that the people involved "were not prepared to commit to a situation which was not properly funded for at least three years." The dream of using an American Formula 1 team to be a showcase for American sponsors, technologies and engineering capability had failed. Nothing has been heard since.

In Canada Mercedes-Benz's racing chief Norbert Haug (who is related to Gurney by marriage) brought up the subject once again.

"I would love to have an American team - lets say if we could encourage a guy like Roger Penske. It is our second biggest market for Mercedes Benz and is obviously very important for our hosts Chrysler and we are producing a lot of cars over there and of course we want to support America and I think we need to explore America further in Formula 1 in the future, and my wish in the long term would be to develop an American team with American drivers, even American engine manufacture. That would be great."

The problem remains one of money. To run an effective F1 team one needs a base in Europe but there is no reason why an American team could not be run along the lines of Honda, Toyota and Super Aguri which are funded in Japan and located in Europe. There were several such teams back in the 1970s, notably Penske and Parnelli and indeed Penske maintains a base in Europe to this day but finding the budget necessary to compete in F1 has proved to be impossible - even for Penske. Such a programme would require a long-term commitment from sponsors and most seem content to look at the problem in a more short-term way - and sponsor NASCAR instead. This gives them very limited international exposure but US companies looking for that, such as Philip Morris, Hewlett-Packard, Budweiser, Intel, AMD, FedEx and so on do deals with the existing F1 teams rather than rallying to a new team.

Penske is now coming up to his 70th birthday and it is probably too late for him to embark on an F1 adventure but perhaps somewhere out there is a tycoon with some vision to take up the tradition started back in 1921 when Jimmy Murphy and the Duesenberg team headed to Europe and won the biggest prize, the Grand Prix de l'Automobile Club de France.