Austin Grand Prix a step closer, Luca di Montezemolo's annual thunder speech, Formula India.
Austin Grand Prix a step closer
The promoters of the Austin Grand Prix, Full Throttle Productions (FTP), has been given the green light by the Travis County Commissioners to begin grading work on the site south-east of Austin. The plans for the project have not yet been approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), but the Austin American Statesman reported Travis County officials do not expect 'significant objections from FEMA'. The works will commence this month, and FTP expects the circuit will be finished in time before the inaugural Grand Prix in June 2012.
FTP got a little help from the supporters of the Austin Grand Prix website (AGP), they had mobilized the AGP fans to convince Austin officials the city of Austin is 'the future home of Formula One racing in the US', and asked them to e-mail or phone the Travis County Commissioners and urge them to approve the project. The AGP website is not affiliated in any way with the official Formula One United States website, which is run by promoter FTP, nor affiliated in any way with FTP themselves or the official Formula One Management (FOM). AGP is a fan site for people who support the Austin Grand Prix and was established on May 25, 2010 in order to 'bridge the gap between Austinites who want to know more about Formula One racing', the site is run by Formula One enthusiasts Kevin and Kerri Olsen from Austin.
Earlier this month FTP announced a partnership with the HKS Sports and Entertainment Group, and they will be working together with German architect Hermann Tilke, who designed the track. FTP's Tavo Hellmund said, "Never before has a cast been assembled in motorsports history that has the combined wealth of experience and knowledge that HKS and Tilke bring to this project." Hellmund added, "Having industry leaders in sports facility architecture and design raises the bar for future motorsports facilities in this country and around the world. We are pleased that a collaboration of this caliber will take place in Texas."
On top of that, FTP has also announced Austin Commercial, a subsidiary of Austin Industries, one of the largest construction companies in Texas, will be the general contractor for the project. "We are pleased that Austin Commercial has joined the construction team and are confident that their years of general contracting expertise will ensure we continue to stay on track for the first event in 2012," Hellmund said. William McAdoo, senior vice president of Austin Commercial: "This facility is sure to be a world-class venue that will draw visitors from around the globe, and we are excited to be part of the Formula One United States team as we work together to make history by constructing the first purpose-built Formula One track in the United States."
But not all problems have been solved, according to the Austin Business Journal, Travis County officials think the road that leads to the north of the site, Elroy Road, should be widened to at least four lanes, which would cost $6 million, and the county expects the developer to pay the bill. Travis County believes the two extra lanes are needed to create dedicated lanes for shuttle vehicles and for emergency operations access to the circuit. But engineers of Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc, the company that was hired by FTP to analyze the traffic situation, have said that their studies had revealed there are no improvements required 'for an acceptable flow of traffic to and from the event.'
Last week FTP announced they also have submitted their plans to the FIA Circuit Commission, and Hellmund remains optimistic about the feasibility of the project and commented, "Our early submission is a true indicator of our ability to meet our slated opening in 2012." The FIA Circuit Commission's next meeting is scheduled for February 2011 and they will review the blueprints for the Austin circuit, which is the first step in the FIA homologation process which every Grand Prix venue has to undergo.
Luca di Montezemolo's annual thunder speech
Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo's annual thunder speech has almost become a yearly Christmas tradition, and this year the president of the Red company once more repeated his threat of a break-away series. During a recent media-dinner, the Italian compared Formula One with a 'prison', and although he didn't mention why his team is locked up in prison, he referred to Commercial Rights Holder CVC and FOM CEO Bernie Ecclestone as being the wardens of that prison. An outsider might be a little confused by Montezemolo's harsh words, but in fact he is playing a simple well known game.
The current Concorde Agreement, a commercial contract that binds teams to the commercial rights holder and the governing body FIA, expires at the end of the 2012 season, and Ferrari is now getting their guns ready to get the most out of the new agreement. Ferrari, and a few other teams for that matter, are again pushing to get more money from the sports revenues. Under the current agreement, 50 percent of the revenues go to CVC, and the other 50 percent goes to the Formula One teams, who now have to share that 50 percent amongst 12 teams. Who gets exactly what and why, will be the most difficult hurdle to take during the negotiations for the 2013 agreement.
If they don't get more money from the Formula One revenues, Ferrari and other teams have again pointed out they could start their own series. "In the end we can always find a different promoter. At the end of the day this business is not so complicated," a determined Montezemolo said. He also hinted the sport would survive without the Formula One name. But he also indicated CVC and Ecclestone are still the best partners for 2013: "For me the presence of Bernie is a priority because Formula One can't be ruled by the Stock Exchange. We need people with credibility, personality and experience."
But the Concorde Agreement is not just about money, it is also about the future of Formula One. The FIA recently announced significant changes for 2013, they think it is important Formula One becomes a more environmentally friendly sport, and will introduce a new four-cylinder 1.6 liter engine in 2013. Montezemolo is not entirely happy with the new engine plans. "I'm all for improving sustainability but the four-cylinder 1.6 liter turbo engine I have to accept because we don't want Ferrari always to be polemic but personally I don't like it. It is too far," he said.
About the cost-saving aspects Montezemolo was also clear, "I agree on the need to cut costs but this 'pauperistic' approach to Formula One is not good. Cheap is different from inexpensive." He also called for more stability as 'all they [FIA] do is raise the costs if the rules change every five minutes.' Montezemolo is especially worried Formula One will no longer be the pinnacle of motorsport. "It cannot be that we give up everything that made our sport for the sake of costs. Formula One is about extreme innovation and technology," the Italian said.
Meanwhile, the man at the other end of the table, Ecclestone, has dismissed Montezemolo's break-away plans as 'complete nonsense.' "It's what he says every time he goes to Monza every year. 'We need more money'", Ecclestone said to the Reuters press agency. "They're not going to break away. They've tried it all before. Luca's a lovely guy but he likes to say these things and then he forgets what he is saying."
As for the 2013 Concorde agreement, all parties still have two years to negotiate the terms for the new agreement, and it is expected the teams, the FIA, FOM and CVC will again clash over the details of the agreement, and it seems Montezemolo's recent thunder speech was just a muscle flexing exercise.
A new Grand Prix venue was added to the 2011 calendar: the Grand Prix of India, to be held at the Jaypee Group Circuit on October 30, 2011. The 5.5 kilometer long circuit is located in Greater Noida, 50 km from New Delhi, and will host the Indian Grand Prix for the next ten years. The circuit was designed, yes, yet again, by Formula One's circuit guru German Hermann Tilke. The company behind the race is JPSK Sports, a subsidiary of the Jaypee Group, an Indian construction company. It is expected the $350 million circuit will be finished in July 2011, which means there is plenty of time for the FIA homologation of the circuit before its inaugural race in October.
There has been an growing interest in Formula One in India, and the Indian government, the Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India (FMSCI) and its president K.D. Madan, Force India team owner Vijay Mallya and Ecclestone have worked hard to bring Formula One to India. But the Indians want more, this week the FMSCI announced the annual FIA Gala where all motorsport champions are officially crowned and receive their trophy, will in 2011 take place in New Delhi, instead of Monaco.
New Delhi will also host the World Motor Sport Council meeting and the governing bodies Annual General Meeting. The idea was proposed by Mallya, who is also a member of the FIA Committee, and FMSCI president K. D. Madan was happy with the FIA decision: "It is a clear indication that India is now well and truly on the world map even in the motor sport world."
But building a circuit and promoting a race is one thing, managing the event is quite another discipline. Mark Hughes, who worked for the Bahrain International Circuit for five years, and was also an advisor for the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, is now in charge of the circuit, and he is adamant the race is 'on'. "We expect to complete construction by July 2011 and once the FIA has given its approval we can finalize training for marshals, track officials and medical staff in time for an October race," said Hughes.
And everything is right on schedule, as The Times of India yesterday reported the training for the marshals has now started. According to the newspaper the Indian Motorsport Marshals Club (IMMC) 'has been formed as a national-level organization to provide race officials and marshals to manage the inaugural Indian Formula One Grand Prix'. A media release from the FMSCI reported the IMMC has just completed a first-level training program under the auspices of FMSCI and the FIA Institute of Motor Safety.
The training program is also supported by the Royal Automobile Club Motor Sports Association of the UK (MSA). Both MSA trainers Sue Sanders and Ian Watson were very happy with the progress and Sanders was quoted by the Indian Times, "The people we have worked with have been so enthusiastic; it's been a real pleasure to work with them. They seem to be very passionate about motorsports and we are looking forward to helping out in any way possible."
India is ready for Formula One, but there is something missing, there is the Indian Grand Prix, and Indian Formula One team, but still no Indian driver. Karun Chandhok who raced for the new HRT team this year, was ousted before the end of this season, and he is still unemployed. Maybe there is seat available at Force India for him, or?
Join us again next week for the weekly "Formula One: On and off track" and of course a Merry Christmas to you all from the author of this weekly column!
See also: Formula One - On and Off track week 50