Formula One - On and Off track week 1


Lotus loses important support, Work at Austin GP Circuit has started, Ferrari opposes new 2013 engine, The sound of Formula One.

Lotus loses important support

The ongoing row about the use of the Lotus name between the Malaysian Team Lotus and the Lotus Renault team has taken an unexpected turn . Until now, Malaysian Team Lotus owner Tony Fernandes had the support of the Chapman family, but now apparently has lost their support. The Lotus family, represented by Clive Chapman, son of Colin Chapman, has issued a statement in which they admit they have shifted their support to the by Proton owned Group Lotus initiated collaboration with the Renault Formula One team. It is the first time the Lotus family has made their official stance clear to the general public.

Clive Chapman and his mother Hazel Chapman.
Photo by Dave Dyer.

Chapman, who is also the manager of Classic Team Lotus, a company that maintains and operates Lotus Formula One cars for owners around the world, said in the statement: "The Chapman Family is impressed by the exciting developments underway at Group Lotus, and it is very grateful to Proton for the significant investment that is being made, to secure a strong future for the excellent workforce at the Hethel factory." The statement further read: "The association by Group Lotus with Team Lotus history is much appreciated and entirely appropriate, especially as it is in keeping with how things were in Colin Chapman's time."

In the statement Chapman also confirms they initially supported the Malaysian Lotus team in 2010, but when their license was revoked 'things changed'. Chapman commented, "During 2010, the Chapman Family, as and when appropriate, made it clear to those involved that it would prefer that the Team Lotus name [used by Fernandes] should not be used in Formula One. Indeed, assurances to this effect were received." He added, "The Chapman Family is looking forward to continuing to give its support to Group Lotus, which is the ongoing Lotus entity created by Colin and Hazel Chapman. After all, the Lotus marque is the responsibility of Group Lotus, and Hethel is the home of Lotus."

What has really initiated the sudden chance of mind is unknown, one thing is sure, for Fernandes it will probably feel like a stab in the back. Nigel Mansell, who won the Formula One title in 1992, has given his point of view on the website of the Lotus Cars company. "It is particularly pleasing for me to see the union of Lotus and Renault again and the return of the iconic black and gold colors as driven by the late greats Ayrton Senna and Elio de Angelis, Johnny Dumfries and of course, myself in the eighties," Mansell said.

The Briton also supports the view that Colin Chapman in fact used Formula One to promote his Lotus sports car brand, a relationship that worked both ways, as he also used the technology of Formula One in his road cars, which according to Mansell was 'a great example of how Lotus innovation on the race track translated into road use'. That is in fact the plan of Group Lotus, they want to revive the Lotus name by participating in Formula One, and at the same time learn to use Formula One technology in their sports cars and thus increase the sales.

Meanwhile, Team Lotus drivers Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen do their utmost not to get involved in the name dispute. Kovalainen has said he was only interested in how the team will be performing this year, and commented, "It's the people that make the team, and not the name." Trulli has mentioned the name dispute is 'none of his business', and said he hasn't spoken much about it with Fernandes or other team staff members.

Work at Austin GP Circuit has started

Again good news from Austin, Texas, the works on the 2012 Austin Grand Prix have started at the 970-acre site located at an area known as Wandering Creek, a few miles south-west of the outskirts of Austin. Seven months after race promoter Full Throttle Productions (FTP) led by Tavo Hellmund secured a 10-year deal with FOM CEO Bernie Ecclestone, heavy machines have been transported to the site to begin the first stage of the construction of the circuit. Groundbreaking work has started last Thursday at what will be Turn 11 of the new purpose-built Formula One circuit.

Bernie Ecclestone and Tavo Hellmund, Texas Grand Prix promoter.
Photo by xpb.cc.

A video published by the Austin American Statesman shows the arrival of several excavators, heavy trucks and a drilling machine at the site. The drilling machine is already put to work to take core samples of the terrain, needed to map the geological properties of the site. According to the newspaper, "The 3.4-mile race circuit has already been staked out by vegetation shredders. The unofficial lap record for a car to negotiate the bumpy terrain is reportedly 31 minutes." Recently FTP announced Austin Commercial had been selected as the general contractor for the $250 million project, they will be working with the German Tilke company, led by Hermann Tilke, who designed the circuit.

Last month FTP obtained the necessary permits from the Travis County Commissioners Court to start the work, and also obtained a permit to relocate the two pipelines that cross the site. Talks about who should pay for the upgrading of the roads leading to the circuit are still ongoing between representatives of FTP and Travis County. The State of Texas supports the project, and Susan Combs, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, had already announced Texas will pay FTP $25 million a year to support the venue. The money comes from the Major Events Trust Fund, an 'incentive available through the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts to help communities lure events that bring a significant economic impact to the state'.

On the Texas Ahead website, run by the Comptroller's office, Combs states: "The initial $25 million outlay will go toward the first year's Formula One sanctioning fee, with money generated by sales and other taxes going to pay the next year's fee. FTP is responsible for generating the other costs and fees for building the complex and staging the race." It is expected the circuit will be finished by June 2012, and insiders suspect the Austin Grand Prix will be paired with the Canadian Grand Prix, which also takes place in June.

Previous American Grands Prix have been organized at Sebring International Raceway, Riverside International Raceway, Watkins Glen International, Street circuits in Long Beach, Dallas, Detroit, Phoenix and Las Vegas. The most recent Grand Prix in the USA was at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It was 33 years ago when for the last time an American, Mario Andretti, won the 1978 Formula One championship, he also scored the last American victory in Formula One. The last American driver was Scott Speed, who piloted the Toro Rosso STR1 and STR2 in 2006 and 2007.

Ferrari opposes new 2013 engine

Ferrari is still not happy with the new 2013 regulations, especially the four-cylinder 1.6 liter turbo-charged engine makes the Ferrari horse prance once again. "Four cylinders is not Formula One," Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo told the German Auto Motor and Sport magazine. Montezemolo thinks this new engine is not suitable for Formula One, and even called the new engine specification 'for this top class of racing pathetic'. "We will not be building any [V4 turbo engine] for our street cars, why couldn't we have a V6 turbo? We should not confuse affordable with cheap," a disappointed Montezemolo said.

Although Ferrari recently said they would not 'stand in the way' of the new engine formula, Montezemolo is now looking for support. "If there is the slightest possibility to delay the four cylinder, I will look for it," he told the German magazine. But he will have a hard time finding allies to support his case, only Mercedes sports director Norbert Haug agrees it would be better to extend the V8 era, as he believes the V8 is a low-cost engine. Mercedes currently supplies the engines for their own Mercedes GP team, plus for the McLaren and Force India teams.

One of the other engine suppliers, Renault, has no problems with the new regulations, as they do use V4 engines in their road cars. Renault (soon to be Lotus Renault F1) team boss Eric Boullier supports the new engine formula, albeit 'within certain cost limits'. "Our market in production cars is for four cylinders with a hybrid. For that reason we are not unhappy with that engine format," Boullier said. However, he does have some reservations, mainly about the affordability of such a new engine. "But it is about how the rules are defined. The less clear they are, the more expensive it becomes," he said about the 2013 engine plans.

Cosworth engine, visit of the Cosworth factory in Northhampton.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Although Cosworth also supports the plans of the FIA, the Cosworth and Renault powered teams recently have written a letter to the FIA to express their concerns about the new engines, and have pointed out the weaknesses of the new 2013 engine rules. Cosworth and Renault want limits on the weight of the engine and minimum weights of certain parts, like pistons and conrods. Cosworth's Mark Gallager also has some reservations, "If the new engine formula becomes an arms race in turbochargers and cylinder heads, then an independent engine manufacturer will have no chance."

The sound of Formula One

Three-times World Champion Niki Lauda threw in his weight this week and stated he was worried about the new 2013 engine. "I am worried about the sound, which in Formula One has been so unique. Hopefully there will be more than a faint hum," the Austrian told a German newspaper. And although it 'sounds' a bit far fetched, Lauda is right about the sound, and especially the volume of the sound of the 2013 engine.

When 1.5 liter turbo-charged engines were introduced in Formula One by Renault at the end of the seventies, the yellow teapot as it was mockingly nick-named at the time, had a distinct muffled sound, as the exhaust gasses are first led through the turbo compressor before they are spewed out again through the exhaust pipes. The fans at the time didn't like that muffled sound at all, and indeed, it was an anti-climax compared to the sound of the screaming V8 Cosworth, and the 12 cylinder Ferrari and Matra engines of that era.

And Lauda knows what he's talking about, he scored his first two titles with a 12 cylinder Ferrari engine, and after his comeback scored his third title in 1984 in the McLaren TAG, powered by a Porsche V6 turbo engine.

Ecclestone seems to share Lauda's worries, and told motorline.cc, "I don't care whether it's 1.6 or 1.8 liter engines -- I'm worried about the sound, if we lose the sound of Formula One, we will be losing a great deal." Whether he meant a 'great deal' (a lot), or a great 'deal' (financially) is unknown...

Join us again next week for another episode of "Formula One: On and off track"


See also: Formula One - On and Off track week 52