FIA officials visit Austin, no retirement for Ecclestone, HRT is ready for 2011
FIA officials visit Austin
Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) Senate President Nick Craw, who is also president of the Automobile Competition Committee for the United States (ACCUS), has paid an official visit to Austin, Texas according to the promoter of the event Full Throttle Productions (FTP). Craw's visit included meetings with local authorities Texas Comptroller Susan Combs, the mayor of Austin Lee Leffingwell and Travis County Judge Samuel T. Biscoe. Chairman of FTP Tavo Hellmund about the FIA visit, "We were pleased to have Mr. Craw and Tim Mayer, alternate FIA delegate, visit the facility site and meet the incredible team assembled to build and operate what we believe will be one of the premiere racetracks on the circuit and a world class venue."
Also present was Peter Wahl, managing partner of the German Tilke GmbH company, the designer of the circuit. Wahl is confident the Austin track layout will provide plenty of action for drivers and spectators alike, "The track design has been developed with the drivers and spectators in mind. The drivers want to have high-speed corners; that's what they like. We want to force them to faults and errors; otherwise, the race is not interesting for the spectator. When we design a racing experience, we must consider both points of view to have a truly successful event. Drivers and fans will have the opportunity to enjoy views of the scenic hill country at this state-of-the-art facility that will hold 120,000 fans."
Craw is also adamant the venue will be a success, "It will be great. This [track] has some of the most interesting, exciting and different features, drawn from other successful venues around the world." About FTP and others who are involved in the plans he said, "It is a very strong team they've assembled here, I think it's a very good plan and a very solid business model. They've set the bar pretty high."
Hellmund also revealed the Austin circuit will not just be a race track, "Our team is committed to building more than a racetrack, we are thinking far beyond the expected and are developing an environment that will provide an entertainment experience for both participants and spectators alike. And Wahl added, "The conceptual master plan features additional visitor attractions including a proposed driving/riding experience and seminar building, motorsports driving club, kart track and welcome center."
The statement of FTP seems to be a reaction on the negative publicity which has emerged the last few months, not everyone is happy with the new Formula One venue, and questions have been raised about the feasibility of the $200 million project. The major concerns are road planning as there are currently only two decent access roads to the site, the funding of possible road improvements, the safety of the public as several pipelines cross the Austin site, and the very tight time schedule, which could be delayed if FTP fails to obtain the necessary permits from the authorities.
In early October the Austin American Statesman published a four-page memo from the Texas Department of Transport, Travis County and the City of Austin, which was sent to FTP, in which they ask for clarification about a number of issues. They are worried about the traffic the circuit will generate, the number of access points to the site, the funding of the road improvements and the number of parking spaces at the site itself. They also have asked for an incident action plan, which should address issues as 'security, commutations, law enforcement, and fire and emergency medical services (both ground and air)'.
There are also a number of environmental issues, according to the memo one third of the site is within the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) floodplain, which means it is prone to flash flooding. There are more questions about the safety, according to the document the site is also 'in close proximity of multiple hazardous liquids transmission pipelines owned by Shell, Phillips Pipeline Company, and Lo-Vaca Gathering Company.'
The Austin Business Journal reported this week they have doubts whether the circuit will be finished in time, as they have seen documents which show the total building time is 24 months, although it must be said this could include the months of the 'planning stage' ahead of the actual construction of the circuit. If FTP gets all the permits they need in time, building could start in December 2010 or January 2011.
Earlier this year Bernie Ecclestone already warned FTP there could be financial penalties if they fail to finish the circuit in time. "That's what the contract says, it might turn out to be expensive for Tavo. We've got some penalty clauses, although I wouldn't want to use them," the Formula One Mangagement (FOM) CEO said in July. The FIA has recently hinted they will in the future enforce the requirement new circuits must be approved by the FIA Circuits Commission 90 days before the actual event takes place. FIA delegate Craw said, "That probably protects everybody's interest a little better than running right up against the event." But Craw also said, "If the U.S. Grand Prix didn't want that rule, he would lobby against it."
No retirement for Ecclestone
FOM CEO Ecclestone turned 80 last week, but he has no plans to retire from the sport. Ecclestone has always said he would be in the sport for the rest of his life, and has never given any clues as to who will succeed him when the time comes. In the past he has suggested Formula One should be sold and become a business venture with public stocks or bonds like any other company, but now apparently has changed his mind. "There's no way I would sit in front of a load of shareholders, It wouldn't float under me," he said yesterday.
About a possible successor Ecclestone remained nebulous, "Somebody will emerge when I'm not there. I think two or three people may come out the woodwork but I don't think it could be carried on in the same way as it has." Although many see the ousted ex-Renault team principal Flavio Briatore as his successor, Ecclestone has rubbished the idea and said there was 'no truth' in the rumors. Capital investor CVC currently owns the Formula One commercial rights, while Ecclestone still has a 5.3 percent interest in the $6 or $7 billion the organization is thought to be worth. A reporter once asked Ecclestone when his autobiography would be published, Ecclestone replied, "The morning after I die. And the first 12 copies go to the Inland Revenue."
An interview with BBC Radio was responsible for the rumors that former FIA President 70-year old Max Mosley could return to Formula One. Ecclestone still thinks it was a mistake Mosley was put aside, "I didn't want Max to go and it would be nice to have him back." When asked how, he already had a plan, "I suppose we could go back [in time] and Max could be president of the FIA and Jean [Todt, present FIA President] could be president of FISA, running the sporting side." He then added, "I don't think the teams would mind. If you asked anyone now if Max coming back as president of the FIA, if they would complain, I think they'd say no." Mosley's response was clear, "It's completely a rumor. It's a nice idea and very friendly to say 'come back' but the truth of the matter is it wouldn't be the right thing to do."
He hasn't changed his habit of throwing in a few remarkable statements every now and then either, this week he said that the new teams: Lotus, Virgin and HRT, that they are in fact an embarrassment for Formula One. Ecclestone, "They do nothing for us, they are an embarrassment. We need to get rid of a few of those cripples." He also hinted that Sir Richard Branson, who owns the Virgin Racing team, should invest more money, "Richard should put some money in there shouldn't he? He could do what [Red Bull chief Dietrich Mateschitz] has done and put some money in."
HRT is ready for 2011
The Hispania Racing Team (HRT) has made a few announcements which could indicate they will not leave Formula One and are already focusing on the 2011 season, although Ecclestone clearly hinted they are one of the teams that are an embarrassment to the sport. HRT communications boss Alba Saiz has reacted on the words of Ecclestone and commented that the team prefers to 'work, [rather] than to respond to everyone who talks'. "We are working and already thinking about next year, and in that way we have just announced a partnership with Williams for two years, " Saiz said. He referred to the two-year deal HRT has officially inked with Williams, for the use of the Williams transmissions systems in 2011 and 2012.
HRT team principal Colin Kolles added, "This technical partnership is a significant step forward for Hispania Racing, HRT F1 Team to improve its performance, and we are very happy to do this together with an engineering company and race-team like Williams F1, which has an impressive track-record and astonishing heritage." Williams CEO Alex Burns said, "This is a logical partnership given Williams and Hispania's mutual relationship with Cosworth. Our gearbox technology has consistently proven itself as both competitive and reliable, and hence this agreement will be a positive development for both organizations."
In the German press there were rumors HRT has bought the former Toyota Formula One team, and would use the TF 110 chassis for the 2011 season, but HRT never confirmed this. It is understood the TF 110 has no spare parts and is in fact only a bare chassis without any suspension parts or aerodynamic parts. However, the TF 109, which is a completely finished car as Toyota used it in 2009 before they left Formula One, is sold completely with spare parts and engines to the Pirelli tyre company, who now use it to test their new 2011 tyres. It's therefore highly unlikely HRT bought the complete Toyota team just to get a bare chassis, not to mention the fact Toyota would want tens of millions for their Formula One team.
Another rumor is that Bruno Senna is looking for a new employer, while the Spaniard and ousted BMW-Sauber driver and now Pirelli test driver Pedro de la Rosa is looking for a race seat in the Spanish team. De la Rosa said last month he was talking with HRT owner Jose Carabante, and admitted racing for HRT was an interesting option. HRT's Saiz has said he will not comment about any of the rumors and remarked, "In a couple of weeks we will make a further announcement." Only then will the truth about De la Rosa, Senna and the purchase of Toyota will be officially known.
Join us again next week for the weekly "Formula One: On and off track".
See also: Formula One - On and Off track week 43