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Made in America - a brief history of US Formula One teams 25 Feb 2009

Alan Jones (AUS) Shadow DN8 came from fourteenth on the grid to take his first GP victory and the only GP win for the Shadow team. Austrian Grand Prix, Rd 12, Osterreichring, Austria, 14 August 1977. Winner Dan Gurney(USA) Eagle T1G on the podium Belgian GP, Spa, 18 June 1967 (L to R): Roger Penske (USA) Penske Team Owner stands on the pit wall with race retiree John Watson (GBR) Penske, and Heinz Hofer (SUI) Penske Team Manager. It was the last F1 race for the Penske team, who sold their cars to Interscope Racing for the following season. Japanese Grand Prix, Rd 16, Fuji, Japan, 24 October 1976. Mario Andretti(USA)Parnelli VPJ4, 7th place Canadian GP, Mosport Park, 22 September 1974 Alan Jones (AUS) Beatrice Lola THL1 and Teddy Mayer, left European Grand Prix, Brands Hatch, 6 October 1985

Tuesday’s announcement that an all-American team plans to join the Formula One grid in 2010 took both sides of the Atlantic by surprise. And given that there hasn’t been a ‘stateside’ race since 2006 and it’s been more than two decades since a US team tried its luck in the sport, it’s perhaps no wonder that more than a few people were taken aback.

Given the current economic climate, the new team will certainly have their work cut out, but the project’s leaders Peter Windsor, an ex-Williams’ team manager, and Ken Anderson, a former F1 technical director, insist there is real substance behind the buzz. Looking back, however, it’s clear that the one thing not on their side when it comes to US teams is history.

Although numerous US teams featured in the Indianapolis 500 when it was officially a round of the F1 calendar in the early days of the championship, one of the first noteworthy US teams aimed specifically at Formula One was Eagle, the moniker used by constructor Anglo-American Racers (AAR).

Set up by Dan Gurney, one the greatest F1 drivers to emerge from the states, and based in the British town of Rye, Eagle made their race debut at the 1966 Belgian Grand Prix. With Gurney behind the wheel, the Climax-powered Mk1 made an impression almost immediately, scoring its first points a few weeks later in France with a fifth-place finish.

The following year, and now equipped with Weslake engines, Gurney went one better scoring a maiden win at Spa. But the New Yorker, and occasional seat-fillers Richie Ginther and Bruce McLaren, had to contend with hit and miss reliability over the season, racking up 12 retirements in total, and in 1968 Gurney decided to cut his losses and refocus his attention on his more successful Indycar operation, whilst continuing his Formula One driving career at McLaren.

The following decade saw Shadow enjoy some Formula One success. Founded in 1971 by Don Nichols, the team were a dominant force in CanAm racing. They began their F1 foray in 1973 with the Cosworth-powered DN1, penned by BRM designer Tony Southgate. Despite a lack of development and several accidents, it took the team to eighth in the championship, with drivers Jackie Oliver and George Follmer scoring a podium apiece.

The 1974 season brought mixed fortunes for Shadow - a podium for Jean Pierre-Jarier in Monaco, but only after team mate Peter Revson had been killed in a testing accident in South Africa. 1975 was more fruitful, with a handful of point-scoring results from Jarier helping the team to sixth in the standings. The following year proved tough though, thanks in main to the withdrawal of main sponsor UOP, before another season of contrasts in 1977.

Welshman Tom Pryce, who had replaced Revson, died in a freak accident in South Africa after being struck by a marshal’s fire extinguisher, while future world champion Alan Jones scored the team’s first and only win in Austria. But things went downhill from there, with Jones’ departure for Williams and many other team members leaving to form the new Arrows squad. Shadow continued with increasingly limited success until 1980, before Nichols finally sold up.

Famous nowadays as a renowned Indycar and NASCAR outfit, Penske entered Formula One for three seasons between 1974 and ‘76. On its debut at the 1974 Canadian Grand Prix, Penske’s challenger, the PC1, was taken to 12th place by American driver Mark Donohue. The following year Donohue enjoyed a sprinkling of better results including fifth place at the Swedish Grand Prix. But in Austria the New Jersey driver was involved in a serious practice accident and later died from his injuries. The team pulled out of the following Italian race, before returning at their home Grand Prix at Watkins Glen with John Watson behind the wheel. The Briton finished ninth and Penske signed him up for 1976.

It proved to be a brilliant move with the Belfast-born Watson relishing the new PC4 and clinching two podiums and a pivotal victory in Austria. But despite that maiden win, Penske announced it wanted to focus on its Indycar operations and wouldn’t compete in the 1977 season.

At the same time as Penske, another US outfit was attempting to make an impact. Parnelli, set up by former USAC racer Parnelli Jones, launched its first full campaign in ’75. With a car designed by ex-Lotus man Maurice Philippe, American driver Mario Andretti in the cockpit and Cosworth power, the team boasted some pretty impressive credentials.

Andretti, who would later win the world championship with Lotus, secured some positive finishes, including a fourth in Sweden (ahead of Penske’s Donohue). But then tyre supplier and sponsor Firestone withdrew from the sport. Struggling into ‘76 with little spirit left, Parnelli competed at just two Grands Prix before pulling out too. Over its 16 race lifespan, the team clinched six points.

America’s most recent F1 foray came in 1985 with the Carl Haas and Teddy Mayer-backed outfit, Team Haas. Based near London, and with funds from the wealthy Beatrice Foods conglomerate, a FORCE-designed car and former world champion Alan Jones signed up to drive, all augured well for the new team.

Entered into the championship under the Lola mark, and powered by Hart engines (whilst they awaited a promised supply from Ford), Jones competed at four races, but failed to make an impact. Unable to qualify higher than 19th, and retiring from every event with technical problems, Jones and the Haas outfit could only look ahead to ’86 with hope.

But by the time the Ford-powered THL2 was race ready, sponsor Beatrice announced its withdrawal. It was a bitter blow, and as the funding dwindled over the course of the season, so too did the team’s promise. And in the end Jones finished 12th in the standings on four points, whilst team mate Patrick Tambay was 15th with two points. With Haas struggling to find alternative sponsorship for the 1987 season, the team decided to shut up in shop. Neither Jones nor Tambay would drive again in Formula One.

Overall then, it’s been a rocky road for American Formula One teams. But already Windsor and Anderson are setting theirs up as a very different entity to its predecessors, with clear aims to use the very best US technology and drivers. From a headquarters located not in Europe, but in North Carolina, the team know they must set their ambitions high if they are to buck the historical trend.