Porsche considering F1 return, the long road to the Austin GP, GP2 drivers in Formula One
Porsche considering F1 return
During the Paris Motor Show new Porsche chairman Matthias Mueller revealed Porsche is considering a return to Formula One in 2013. The German Volkswagen Group, who already own Audi, are currently merging with the famous Porsche manufacturer, and as part of a long term plan to increase sales, Mueller is interested to enter Formula One with Porsche. Mueller thinks it doesn't make sense to have two brands, Audi and Porsche, owned by the same group, compete in sports car racing like LMP1 as rivals, as currently is the case. Porsche could therefore switch to Formula One in 2013, when the new engine regulations will be introduced. The FIA has plans to introduce 1.6 liter turbo-charged engines coupled to a energy-recovery system such as KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) in an effort to make the sport more greener and less expensive.
Porsche has been active in Formula One in the 1960's as a constructor, and during the turbo-era of the 1980's they were active as engine supplier for McLaren. After some success in Formula Two, Porsche made the step to Formula One in 1961 and entered the series with American race legend Dan Gurney and Swede Joachim Bonnier, they scored 22 points, enough for the third place in the Constructors' Championship. Dan Gurney won the 1962 French Grand Prix, and scored a third place during the German Grand Prix. Despite this success Porsche scored only18 points and became fifth in the 1962 Constructors' Championship, at the end of the season they decided to leave Formula One.
Porsche returned in 1983 as an engine supplier for McLaren. The water- cooled V6 turbo-charged engine was especially designed for the McLaren MP4 designed by John Bernhard. As the project was funded by the TAG (Techniques d'Avant Garde) Group led by Saudi Mansour Ojjeh, the engines were branded as TAG-Porsche. The TAG-Porsche McLaren was very successful and won two Constructors' Championships (1985 and 1985) and three Drivers' Championships (1984-1986). All together the TAG-Porsche propelled McLaren won 25 Grands Prix in the hands of Niki Lauda and Alain Prost. In 1987 the FIA limited the boost of turbo-charged engines to 4 bar, and in 1989 turbo- charged engines were completely banned.
Porsche returned once more to Formula One in 1991 as engine supplier for the Footwork team, but the double V6 engines were way too heavy, Footwork drivers Alex Caffi, Stefan Johansson and Karl Wendlinger even failed to qualify for many of the races that year. Porsche has of course been very successful in sports car and endurance racing, they won the Daytona 24 Hours an incredible 22 times, the 12 Hours of Sebring 18 times, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans 16 times. After five decades the flagship of the German car manufacturer is still the Porsche 911 with its typical 6 cylinder boxer- engine mounted in the rear of the car. There have been changes in the design over the years but even today the 911 is still one of the most recognizable sports cars ever produced.
Of course the recently proposed new engine regulations for 2013 have sparked the interest of the Stutgart based manufacturer, and they probably want to repeat their successes of the 1980's. Porsche could enter Formula One as an engine supplier, or buy a major interest in an existing team, like Mercedes has done in the past when they partnered up with McLaren. And with all the successes Porsche has had in motor sport during the past five decades, they could become a very successful player in the new Formula One.
The long road to the Austin GP
The new $220 million race track to be build especially for the 2012 Austin Grand Prix has been the subject of many speculations, many believe building such a circuit complete with the necessary infrastructure on such a short notice is not feasible, and the doubters refer to the problems the Korean Yeongam circuit has recently encountered. The Korean circuit has missed several deadlines and it is still not completely finished, the FIA will carry out a final inspection on October 11, less than two weeks before the actual Grand Prix will take place. The Yeongam circuit suffered another blow last week when a crane tipped over and damaged parts of the main grandstand.
All kinds of rumors have emerged about the Austin circuit ever since the plans have been revealed last August. Questions have been raised about the money such an undertaking would need, and there are also doubts whether race promoter Full Throttle Productions, led by Tavo Hellmund, will get the necessary permits it needs from Travis County and the city of Austin to build the circuit. It is said several underground high pressure gas and petroleum pipelines cross the site of the circuit, and building on those pipelines would present even more problems for the design team that hopes to finish the circuit by June 2012.
Hellmund was clear about the money, the project will be financed by private investors, and he assured no community money would be 'wasted' on the project. But is that true? Full Throttle has acquired a piece of land southeast of Austin of roughly 900 acres which is located to the east of State Highway 130, a four-lane toll way. The actual building site is surrounded by three roads, McAngus Road, Elroy Road and the Farm to Market Road (FM) 812 which connects to Highway 130. So close to the highway sounds good, but McAngus Road and Elroy Road are country roads, and only the FM 812 two-lane road connects the circuit to the nearest highway.
According to the Austin American Statesman, the FM 812 and Elroy Road can together move about 4000 cars per hour in or out of the circuit, and with more than 120,000 expected race fans on Sunday, traffic will grind to a halt within no time. Travis County's transportation director Joe Gieselman predicts it will take 12 hours to get to the circuit, and another 12 hours to leave the circuit. This probably sounds a bit exaggerated, but the UK Silverstone circuit has had similar problems for decades, which ultimately led to the plan to move the British Grand Prix to Donington, a plan that miserably failed. The only solution would be to build a new road to connect the circuit to the highway, or to expand the capacity of the existing roads, which either way would cost Travis County and the city of Austin, and thus the tax payers, many millions of dollars.
Travis Country stated during a hearing they expect road improvements would cost $15 million, and reckon these improvements can not be carried out in time for the inaugural Austin Grand Prix in June 2012. Gieselman said the county will now carry out minor improvements on the roads, and instead is looking at intensive traffic management to get the fans to the circuit.
The permits are a bit more complicated, Full Throttle plans to submit their paperwork for the permits they need from the city and county in stages, thus getting approval for each stage of the building process, rather than seeking approval for the complete circuit. About a month ago Full Throttle submitted the paperwork for approval of grading the land and the construction of a road crossing the site which is needed to transport the building materials. But according to the Austin American Statesman, the county is reluctant to issue permits, because they still have no idea about how the whole project will look like, and want to see more detailed plans.
And the man who has the detailed plans, is German designer and architect Hermann Tilke, he is the development manager and designer of the Austin Grand Prix circuit. And not only the Austin authorities are worried about the progress, the FIA is now worried as well, as Full Throttle has missed a deadline to present the plans to the FIA Circuits Commission. According to the Austin Business Journal no plans were submitted to the Circuits Commission during a meeting on September 14, but spokesman Adam Goldman is not worried at all. Goldman, "We are working hand-in-hand with the FIA. We plan to deliver final plans in the next couple of months." Tilke is also adamant the circuit will be finished in time, "We are used to working under time pressure. That doesn't threaten us."
The spokesman also indicated the missed deadline is certainly not an indication of any problems, the details of the plans have now been relayed to the authorities of Travis County, and he expects work on the circuit will start in December.
GP2 drivers in Formula One
After Pedro de la Rosa lost his job at the Swiss Sauber team, Nick Heidfeld also lost the opportunity to drive for the by Peter Sauber led team in 2011. Sauber announced they have signed the runner-up in this years' GP2 championship, Mexican Sergio Perez. Without a doubt his Mexican sponsor telecommunication giant Telmex gave Perez the upper hand, it was already rumored Telmex was interested in entering Formula One, and there were even speculations Telmex owner Carlos Slim was interested in taking over the complete Sauber team. The new sponsor deal also means Sauber's future is no longer in jeopardy.
Perez has thus beaten Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado, who won the GP2 Championship this year, for a seat at Sauber, but Maldonado is still keen to get a seat for 2011. The 25-year old has so far not been speaking with a specific team, "We haven't got anything yet, but we have talked to a lot of teams and we have a lot of interest, and now I will look more at getting the best seat I can find for me for the future." Maldonado is managed by Nicolas Todt, who also manages Frenchman Jules Bianchi, and yes, he also is looking for a seat in Formula One.
Todt about Maldonado, "I think Pastor is ripe for F1 right now so next year it will be the right time." And about his other protege he said, "Jules [Bianchi] is still young, with only two years of open-wheel experience, which is very few, but he is a great talent and if he has a chance to enter F1 next year will take it."
And there are two other GP2 drivers with Formula One aspirations, Dutch driver Giedo van der Garde, team colleague of Perez, and Dutch-Chinese driver Ho-Pin Tung, who is already Renault test and reserve driver. Van der Garde's manager Jan Paul ten Hoopen is very positive about the Formula One plans. "There are concrete offers from two teams," he said to a Dutch newspaper. "We have received one contract we could sign immediately. But for that we need partners." He also revealed they are not interested in HRT, as they fear the team might not survive next season, or not even this season.
With the seat at Sauber now taken by Perez, there are only seats available at Renault, Force India, Lotus and Virgin Racing. Renault already has a nice sponsor deal with their Russian driver Vitaly Petrov if they decide to keep him, so only Force India, Lotus and Virgin, who have not yet revealed their 2011 driver line-up, are a real possibility for Van der Garde.
Join us again next week for the weekly "Formula One: On and off track".
See also: Formula One - On and Off track week 39