Exclusive Peter Windsor Interview - Part One 26 Feb 2009
US newcomers promise to be 'lean, mean and efficient'
Although rumours of an all-new American Formula One team had been circling for some time, this weeks announcement of Peter Windsors and Ken Andersons plans to join the grid in 2010 still surprised many in the paddock - especially given the current economic climate. But neither Windsor, a former team manager at Williams, nor his technical partner Anderson are newcomers to the sport. And far from wildly rushing in, the pair have been contemplating a campaign for years and believe now is the perfect time to launch
Q: At a time when a manufacturer has withdrawn from Formula One racing, you and Ken have the guts to start a private team. What makes you both convinced that you can succeed?
Peter Windsor: Well, one of the reasons a big car manufacturer pulled out is not because Formula One is suffering as an industry, but because they were struggling with the way they were doing Formula One and the way they were competing. They were obviously not successful and the method they had chosen to race involved an enormous number of people and a very high budget. So that doesnt necessarily mean that this is the only way to do Formula One. Certainly, it would be inappropriate for us to comment on other teams. But in our case the way the FIA has now drawn up the new regulations in Formula One, the way FOM has structured F1 over the past 15 to 20 years in terms of its business plan, and the economy and how it actually works right now, Formula One is very attractive to people like us wanting to put together a new team.
Q: You said that you told Bernie Ecclestone about your plans in Brazil in 2006. How long before then had you been toying with the idea?
PW: Ken Anderson and I have been good friends since 1985 and since the early nineties we have been talking about doing a team together. We looked first into an option to have an Indycar team together but that didnt come off. Certainly, we have been talking about F1 for the last four to five years.
Q: While the recent cost cutting must play to your advantage, the current global economic situation will not. What is your financial backing?
PW: I think one needs to pay a lot of credit to Formula One and the way it is facing the global economic situation at the moment. It is a time of recession but Formula One is very much based on global television and a very wide international audience, and both of these qualities mean that Formula One as an industry is very well positioned to ride the recession, and then come out and go on even stronger. Most of the economic forecasts suggest that there will be an upturn in 2010 and I think F1 will be in a very good shape in 2010, and that we will not lose much in 2009 because of the recession.
In our case, it is a very fair question that you ask because the pattern of how to do a Formula One team over the last 15 years has been pretty well set. Either it is a large car company coming into the sport, hiring good people to run their programme for them and spending whatever it takes, or it is an incredibly wealthy individual coming into Formula One and deciding to spend whatever he is advised to spend, taking over an existing team and running it the way he wants to run it. Well, I think both of those two cases are going to be victims of the recession. I dont think there will be very many incredibly rich individuals coming in and just wanting to spend massive amounts of money buying existing teams, and I dont see at the moment any more car companies coming in to replace Honda. So it then raises the question, how do you put a new team together?
We have approached it totally differently. We have approached it from the point of view of starting a team from zero, running it with the absolute minimum costs, and keeping everything very lean and mean. We will not try to cut corners anywhere and we will pay our people well - but we will have the minimum number of good people working very efficiently in a completely new environment - ideally, in the United States of America, using the technology systems they have here which are quite different in the way they operate compared with Europe. And it is not a crowded area in a Formula One sense - thats the other good thing about it. In Europe, it is a very crowded cluster of teams all looking for and using the same technology systems. Here in America, we will be the only team working with very good high-tech companies and it gives us a completely different financial outlook.
Having said that we did need to go out to raise capital to design and build the cars in 2009 in order for us to be a race team in 2010. I am not a wealthy person, nor is my partner Ken Anderson. So we set a very difficult task for ourselves, which was to go out and raise the necessary capital without losing control of the company, because there is no point in doing a Formula One team if you are then not able to run it the way you want. This was a very difficult task - in a recession - but I am very pleased that here in the US there is a very strong entrepreneurial attitude to the recession. A lot of people here remember that during the great depression of 1929 Joe Kennedy came out worth 10 times his value after four years working in the recession - and a lot of people here have same attitude. When we went to our investor pool, we targeted the Silicon Valley area where a lot of the high technology people work and live, and we were given an enormously open reception, because everybody loves the concept of doing a new look F1 team. We were embraced immediately.
Q: But, as well as their hearts, did they also open their wallets?
PW: Thats quite a rude question to ask - trying to find out how much money I have! We have sold off a small portion of the team, which gives us the capital to do the team in 2010. Thats all I can say - I cannot give you the exact numbers, but it is an important point that we have raised the capital to design and build the car.
Q: You have said you will be taking a very different approach to running an F1 team - can you tell us more?
PW: I would invite all the readers to look up the word Skunkworks on Google. It stands for a specific form of management. And that is what Ken and I always believed would be a way to do a Formula One team - not only in this recession, but from the very beginning when we started to talk about running a Formula One team 10 to 15 years ago. We always knew that we would do it in a Skunkworks style, which means in a very lean, mean and efficient way, with a minimum number of very good people. In other words, with a direct line to the top, a company that is very maneuverable and very efficient. That is the right word - efficient.