It looks like USF1 will have two pay drivers in its cockpits this season, Argentine driver José María López and British racer James Rossiter, something it's boss Peter Windsor promised would not happen.
Although the team’s co-founder Windsor vowed go on talent alone as well as push hard to get a U.S. driver into a race seat, it seems that will be put on hold for 2010. While Rossiter’s finances are not yet known, it is thought López has an $8 million sponsorship deal behind him.
When asked by the official F1 website about pay drivers, Windsor gave a curious answer.
"Well, it depends what you mean by ‘pay drivers.’ Is Fernando Alonso a pay driver?" he said.
"I think we need to be pretty careful about what we are talking here. Those drivers who have done very well in their career have sponsors and companies who like to be associated with them, whether it is Alonso with his bank [Santander] or Michael Schumacher who has had sponsors throughout his career."
Windsor went on to explain that part of the decision stems from the economic climate which means that it is difficult to predict where the money is coming from over the next five years.
That said, even the most casual F1 fan can likely see the difference between Alonso and Schumacher vs. López and Rossiter. Windsor should know better too.
On one hand there are two supremely talented drivers with multiple world championships who have earned every bit of their success on and off the track with incredible performances at the highest level. On the other, well there's a couple of guys who never made the grade but can bring lots of money.
So, perhaps then he's simply suggesting that pay drivers bring certainty to the equation.
"All we can do is look at what is available," he continued. "We are a start-up team so we have to look at every opportunity. If there are companies out there that have associations with a driver because they have been supporting him for quite a while, or representing a country, or whatever, obviously we have to look at that. Providing the driver can do the job as well."
Now whether Charlotte-based USF1 will actually make the grid in Bahrain is another question altogether.
Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport is reporting that the team applied to the FIA for permission to begin its 2010 season at the Spanish Grand Prix in April rather than Bahrain. If true, it would mean that the squad would miss four events – Bahrain, Australia, Malaysia and China. This comes a week after Windsor vowed the team would line up on the grid March 14 in Bahrain.
A number of racing insiders continue to snicker when the team is mentioned. One former F1 driver told me that nothing is happening at the USF1 headquarters and he doubts the outfit will make the grid.
And since Windsor has done most of his media work through selected F1 journalists he knows well in the paddock from his reporting days with SpeedTV and his time with the Williams team, getting any real information out of the squad remains difficult at best.
One item that has been confirmed is that the team asked the FIA for special permission to test its car at the Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama next month rather than fly to Europe for its first run.
To make matters worse for F1, another new team, Campos Meta, appears to be on the brink of folding. Reports have former A1GP boss Tony Teixeira swooping in to take over the Spanish outfit.
At this point, Campos will not make the February test slated for Valencia. Word in the paddock is that the team’s relationship with chassis developer Dallara is strained, possibly due to a cash shortage at the Spanish outfit.
Stefan Grand Prix has been mentioned as the replacement if Campos folds.
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