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US F1 Putting U.S. Back In F1

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, November 19 2009
Designers are hitting the keyboards at the US F1 facility in North Carolina. (Photo courtesy of US F1)

Designers are hitting the keyboards at the US F1 facility in North Carolina. (Photo courtesy of US F1)

By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer

Huntersville, N.C. – Before he launched the US F1 team, Ken Anderson was better known within the inner sanctums of motor racing.

Typically, he’s gone about the business of entering the rarified atmosphere of Formula One without a lot of fanfare, relying on his own engineering skills and connections within the industry.

“I’ve been working on this project for years,” said Anderson during an interview at the team’s shops just outside Charlotte. “It was always my intention to do a skunkworks type deal.”

When Anderson first approached outgoing FIA president Max Mosley and commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone in late 2006 about a plan to launch a start-up team without direct manufacturer assistance, F1’s two top administrators listened carefully.

Anderson’s vision of getting more from less when it comes to F1 technology now looks like the wave of the future. Within the last year, Honda, BMW and Toyota all pulled the plug on teams with bloated budgets, huge staffs, extravagant travel expenses and relatively poor results.

With the conscious effort by Mosley and Ecclestone during the past year to help independent entries bring fresh blood into F1, Anderson became one of four new constructors preparing to launch in March at the 2010 season opener in Bahrain. Chad Hurley, co-founder of YouTube, has signed on as the primary investor for US F1.

The combination of a relatively unknown American with “shops” in North Carolina instead of a “factory” continues to draw skepticism in Europe, where every other F1 team is located. Most recently, a hastily drawn up and erroneous news story speculated that US F1 was a possible candidate to buy one of the chassis intended for use in 2010 by the disbanded Toyota team.

In fact, Anderson received a flood of resumes from displaced Toyota employes in the past week, veterans who have confidence in Anderson’s ability to build a competitive car and who also grasp his vision for the future of F1.

For the U.S., there’s not much recent past in F1 when it comes to car constructors. Dan Gurney was the last team owner to create an F1 chassis in America at shops in Santa Ana, Calif., and his Eagle chassis ran its final race in 1968. Subsequent American team owners Roger Penske and Carl Haas built their cars in England.

To design his US F1 chassis, Anderson is relying primarily on Computational Fluid Dynamics. But he’s also assembled a staff deep in current F1 participants.

“I’ve got no agenda,” said Anderson. “I want the best person for the job. We’re a melting pot. I’d be crazy not to invest in the best people out there. The talent pool that’s available is bigger than ever.”

Some of the recruits to US F1 are coming from established teams, such as Steve Brown, the former research and development officer at Brawn GP, the current world championship constructor.

“We have some really good guys with current F1 knowledge,” said Anderson. “It’s not like we’ve been doing this in a vacuum.”

There’s no telling how long Anderson has been carrying a design of an F1 car around in his computer and updating it each year with each  new round of rule changes. But he’s confident he’s up to speed.

“The specification of a Formula One car, the boundary of where it can and can’t be is far tighter than it used to be,” he said. “It all comes from the Senna crash (in 1994) and the safety zones. That really dictates the shape of the car. You’ve got to be fairly creative like Adrian Newey was last year with the Red Bull car to come up with a shape that’s much different.”

Within the world of F1, Anderson established his design experience as the technical director at Ligier Formula One in 1989 and at Onyx Grand Prix Engineering in 1990. He then oversaw the formation of G Force Precision Engineering during 1991, a company that went on to produce the G Force cars in the IRL. Among others, Anderson designed the cars that won the Indy 500 and the IRL championship in 1997.

Anderson is not worried about not having been actively involved in F1 in recent years. “If you weren’t part of the evolution, how would you know where to jump in?” he asked before answering his own question. He pointed to the team of Brawn GP, launched just a year ago from the ruins of Honda’s F1 program.

“You can only make the pencil so sharp. This year was proof. There was just a minor change (in the rules), then you have a team with just a 100 people rubbing on it that really came up with something nasty.”

Using engines supplied by Mercedes, a relatively low-budget Brawn GP team won the constructors championship versus Red Bull Racing and the usually dominant McLaren-Mercedes and Ferrari teams. Brawn’s Jenson Button won the 2009 driver’s championship.

Anderson believes the timing is right for him to enter with a start-up team, despite the fact that Mosley and Ecclestone lost their argument with the Formula One Teams Association over the introduction of a budget cap. Instead, the teams and the FIA decided to forego the budget cap for 2010 in favor of a more gradual move toward cost containment in a sport where manufacturers have been spending as much as $300 million a year.

For the 2010 season, Anderson is counting on another dramatic change in the FIA’s approach to stay on an even footing with the established powers.

“Next year is going to be a paradigm shift to narrow front tyres and no re-fueling,” said Anderson. “We’ve got an 1100-pound car and we’re starting with 350 pounds of fuel. That’s the biggest change since ’94. I think there’s going to be a lot of people caught out by that.    We’ve concentrated on the things we can control.”

US F1 will be powered by a Cosworth V-8. The fact Cosworth decided to return to F1 for the first time since 2006 to compete against major automotive manufacturers is another sign of the changing times, where the emphasis will be on innovative technology without huge budgets.

Despite squawking in Europe about issues such as the mandatory crash testing, Anderson has outlined a schedule that calls for the final crash tests to fall in late December or early January. That leaves more time for design, although less time to actually build the car. The first official test sanctioned by the FIA, which restricts testing, is anticipated in the second week of February.

“Anybody’s that’s telling you that they passed the crash test in October stopped development in August,” said Anderson. “I would say it’s pretty normal for a team to be crash testing a month before the first race. That’s because you want to be in the wind tunnel to see if the  development and the shape is working. Once you sign off on the crash test, that’s it. You’re locked in.”

To those outside the realm of NASCAR teams, the density of technical resources in the Charlotte area is not well known. But Anderson anticipates he’ll be able to keep his costs down by hiring out certain services and avoiding heavy capital costs for things such as wind tunnels, testing equipment and the massive computer capacity needed for design and race simulations.

“You can swing a cat and hit 10 seven-post rigs here,” said Anderson. He plans to use the full-scale, moving ground plane facility at the Windshear Wind Tunnel once the car is built as well as the Kinetics & Compliance machines at Morse Measurements, whose founder Phil Morse is now the vehicle dynamicist for US F1.

The computers at Corvid Technologies in nearby Mooresville, N.C. are being used by Anderson for the extensive numbers crunching necessary to CFD analysis. Anderson continues to search for downforce and a lower center of gravity before ever committing to the actual structure of the car via the computer.

Corvid was founded by Dr. Eric Warren and is an integral part of GM’s support for its teams in NASCAR and the Corvette Racing factory team. Warren, formerly the technical director at Ray Evernham Motorsports and Michael Waltrip Racing, is another example of Anderson’s ability to recruit locally as well as from Europe. Warren has joined US F1 as the chief aerodynamicist.

It was back in the early 1980’s as a service provider himself that Anderson got his start in Grand Prix racing. The designer and chief engineer at Penske Racing Shocks, Anderson worked at the Williams Grand Prix Engineering team’s wind tunnel as a technical partner during the development of the Williams chassis from 1985 to 1988.

It was there that he met his future partner at US F1, Peter Windsor, a public relations man at the time, and Ross Brawn. The latter would eventually claim fame as technical director at Ferrari during the Michael Schumacher years before moving to the Honda team in 2008 and then starting up Brawn GP.

“I was working for Penske on shock stuff and I would go over to the wind tunnel every winter,” said Anderson. “I met this wind tunnel machinist, mechanic and all-around good guy named Ross Brawn. We both come from a very similar hands-on approach.”

Having been an an engineer at Penske Racing in the glory years of CART throughout the 1980’s until leaving to join Ligier, Anderson got a lot of hands on experience to go with three CART championships and four Indy 500 wins.

Over the course of three decades, he has met a lot of people and gained respect for his knowledge and passion about racing on both sides of the Atlantic. Anderson’s friend Brawn, for example, released research and development chief Brown from his contract early so that he could help Anderson finish the US F1 chassis.

So take Anderson seriously when he says with a wry smile, “We’re putting the band back together.”

– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jingram@racintoday.com.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, November 19 2009