Ingram: The Race Is On At USF1
Huntersville, N.C. – Will USF1 make it to the grid in Bahrain at the Formula One season opener on March 14?
A walk through the team’s shops as a guest of PR rep Dan Passe just seven weeks before the first session in Bahrain does not necessarily answer that question. The team’s first carbon fiber tub is in place on a chassis plate with a mock-up Cosworth engine and a gearbox casing. But it’s being used to lay out the plumbing and electricals. It’s also been used for publicity photos (yet to be released) of visiting drivers (yet to be officially named).
The team members, some of them recently hired, are working flat out in all departments, especially in the composite shop. The man in charge of composites, Kevin Bialas, is composed and relaxed. But his staff has a backlog of layup work to do. The undertray, meanwhile, has been farmed out to nearby Crawford Composites and its larger autoclave.
Crucial pieces of the suspension and gearbox are done – but await more pieces required for final assembly. So the computer-aided machine shop continues to churn out lightweight, high-strength parts.
A glance at a full-scale, side-view drawing reveals a compact car despite the large fuel cell needed to accommodate races without pit stops. The gearbox, to be built in-house, will be transverse for the sake of packaging. But the crucial details of the front and rear wings cannot be discerned, either in the drawing or anywhere else in the shop.
One gets the feeling that these workers, many of whom have been in similar pre-season situations before, probably recognize a seven-day work week is not far away. But like Bialas, they all seem to be composed and cautiously optimistic about meeting the deadlines necessary to get to the nearby full-scale Windshear tunnel, then a first test at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama and to the FIA group testing in Spain by the end of February. On the other hand, the mandated FIA crash tests are not yet complete.
Fans have by now figured out how to handle this extraordinary scenario. They are dialing up USF1’s official Facebook site, where scenes from this undertaking are being posted regularly. The postings are the early stages of a massive mosaic on how it gets done in F1. It’s a unique, open-ended and unabashedly American way of introducing a new team. There are photos, words (via team member blogs) and special interviews by the American voice of F1, Bob Varsha.
But has US F1 bitten off more than it can chew as a start-up by building its own car from scratch in a building that was empty in July, starting with nothing more than computational fluid dynamics?
I’d have asked Ken Anderson – but he was moving from station to station, immersed in soon-to-be-final details. He looked neither harried, nor preoccupied. But in the words of F1’s business boss Bernie Ecclestone, who apparently has noticed that the final crash testing is not quite complete, there is an air of drama.
I’d have asked recently appointed team manager John Anderson, but his offices are just being finished and he was not in the building. Peter Windsor, the sporting director, was away on business as well, likely working on getting drivers into the final details of contracts.
Extrapolating from a previous visit in November and looking forward to Bahrain, there’s no telling how this experiment is going to turn out in the short run. But these guys have already come a long way and I wouldn’t bet against them. There’s another shoe yet to drop as well – how fast is the car going to go as a result of what is reckoned to be a slightly different approach to this year’s rules?
At least the long run has come into focus. There will be an American team in F1. It is possible to keep costs in check and build an F1 car. The first appearance of the Type 1, as it has been designated, will be an historic occasion and hardly bereft of anticipation.
– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments