USF1 Wants to Miss First 4 Races, Says Anderson

What Happens When Things Go From Bad to Worse

1:49am EST —  (re-posted from my work at Formula1Blog at 1:30am)
The New York Times published an article very late Friday (early Saturday morning, GMT) that contained an interview with USF1 team principal Ken Anderson.  In it, Anderson admitted that the team will miss the season opening race in Bahrain, and noted that “in an ideal world, we can miss the first four races and show up in Barcelona.”  He said that the team is “working with the F.I.A. to clarify how many races we can miss.”  When asked about the FIA’s public statement that there will be punishments for any team missing any race and whether that punishment would remove the team from competition, he asked, “But what would be the point of that? Why would they give us a franchise and just, the first time there’s a bump in the road, yank it and put it out of business? That’s definitely not the message that I’m getting from them. They want to help us, not shut us down.”

This dire news is the first public information from the team in what seems like an eternity, especially in the heavily PR-reliant sport of Formula1.  It answers some of the questions about the team’s readiness, namely that they won’t be ready for at least two and a half months.  Still, it leaves stark questions about USF1’s ability to compete for the 2010 season.  The most important and pressing is whether the FIA will allow the team to compete at all, with their current request to miss the first four races.

There are two interpretations of the 2010 Concorde Agreement.  The Bernie Ecclestone/Jean Todt “every team can miss three races” interpretation (as discussed here at F1B) and the FIA “any team that misses one race will be punished” interpretation (discussed here at F1B).  This debate is made more difficult by the fact that Ecclestone is on the WMSC (who, to my knowledge, would make the final determination of punishment for missing a race, no matter who told the team it was ok to do so, if the FIA announced a hearing for violating the rules), as is FIA president Jean Todt.  It is possible that the team could work out a deal to miss a certain number of races, but also possible that  once they miss a race, the stewards or FIA itself could “press charges,” to borrow a criminal legal phrase, that the team had violated the Concorde Agreement and was subject to punishment.

As I discussed when the FIA first announced that it’s president was wrong, “the punishments doled out by the FIA through the WMSC are as light as a fine or movement on the grid for the next round, or as harsh as removal for an entire season or a complete ban from the sport, as we saw just last season.  What the FIA seems (and I stress “seems”) to be saying is that, in this particular facet, the rules for 2010 have not changed from the rules of previous years.”  This poses another problem, as noted above, since, as I wrote earlier here at F1B, “the final decision on removal and punishment for any team that misses a round of the championship is up to the WMSC, so their interpretation is the one that matters.  This statement from the FIA says that it is attempting to clear up a misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the rules.  In fact, it makes the situation worse.  Both Mr. Ecclestone and Mr. Todt are on the WMSC.  If they believe that the rules teams are allowed to miss a race or three, they might persuade the rest of the council that no punishment is necessary.”

There are, then, three ways to take this information from Ken Anderson: 1. the team will work out an agreement with the FIA that allows them to stay in the championship and miss the first four races (or some combination therein); or 2. the team will not work out a deal with the FIA and will not compete in 2010; or 3. the team will  be allowed to compete but be punished in some way, either before or after a legal battle through the WMSC.  Of course, this being Formula1, these options are overly simplistic, and there will be more public speculation before none of the three actually occur as they are suggested here.

It is hard to say where Bernie Ecclestone stands at this point.  He seems quite taken with Stefan GP, and with Campos’ most recent survival at the hands of Jose Ramon Carbante and Colin Kolles, USF1 is the only team standing in the way of the Serbian entry.  Were he to switch his allegiance to the FIA “no missing of any races, ever” interpretation, the hopes of USF1 would be nearly dead in the water.  All that is known, for sure, now, is that USF1 is not ready for Bahrain, isn’t particularly ready for Australian, Malaysia, or China, and is scrambling for financial backers.  Oh, and as Ken Anderson pointed out in that same New York Times article, the team’s only driver, Jose Maria Lopez (the one recently meeting with Mr. Ecclestone and FOM directors in London), is “weighing his options as well.”


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