Building a formula 1 facility and promoting an F1 event is a very complicated matter. Back in May when Bernie told the world that Formula 1 was coming to Austin, we were all quite excited. Especially exciting was the prospect of having the first “real” F1 circuit in the US since Watkins Glen.
But soon after the initial party was over, there was the realization that a very difficult task lay ahead. When sober minds started considering all of the things that must be done to pull this rabbit out of the hat, the exhilaration turned to a measured panic.
Initialization of the Project -
The processes involved in managing a project of this nature are well understood. All projects have the same elements, but some projects have very special circumstances that must be considered. I have been following this closely and there are some aspects of this project’s implementation that I am very comfortable with, and some that I am not.
The fact that Tavo Hellmund and his group Full Throttle Productions (FTP) secured a 10 year contract with Formula One Management (FOM) is in itself a remarkable accomplishment. Several years of preparation preceded the announcement, and the success is a testament to Tavo’s hard work and perseverance. He used his contacts in F1 to his advantage and never stopped pursuing his dream in spite of the odds against him.
Back in Texas, he shared his dream with lawmakers at the very top of the political hierarchy. He brought the Governor, Rick Perry, on board as well as State Comptroller Susan Combs. With them came legislation (SB 1515), introduced by Senator Kirk Watson, to include F1 as a major event, thus making the event eligible for funds from the Texas Major Events Trust Fund. This may be worth as much as $25 million per year: very good work from FTP.
Choosing the architectural firm that would lead the design effort had taken place well before the FOM contract had been signed. There are only two circuit designers with the credentials necessary to design F1 circuits: Apex Circuit Designers, Ltd of Buckinghamshire, UK and Tilke GmbH of Aachen, Germany.
Tilke got the nod. The project schedule is very demanding, and FTP needed a design team that knew the ropes. Tilke knows where every receptacle, waste bin, and toilet must be placed. Their design team is intimately familiar with every detail of the FIA’s requirements for homologation of a circuit. There was no other choice.
Tilke is not highly regarded by many F1 fans, but FTP took control over the design and influenced the outcome, as is their right: they are paying the bills. The result is a very good circuit layout placed on a property that has interesting topography.
Early on the FTP team and their partners had identified several potential properties in the Austin area that would be suitable. They obtained options on some of these properties two years ago, although exactly where is not clear. However, the deal was struck with the owners of the Wandering Creek development. The Wandering Creek housing development project had its share of problems, and those problems were compounded by the bursting of the housing bubble. One of the financial partners in the Formula 1 United States team is Bobby Epstein and his firm Prophet Capital. It is no coincidence that he was also an investor in Wandering Creek. The acquisition of property for the circuit was now complete.
The question now centered on just who would finance the $200+ million that would be required to make this deal a reality. Back in the seventies, a young Tavo Hellmund had been a gopher in the Brabham garages when the team was owned by Bernie Ecclestone. Today Bernie is the CEO of Formula One Management. But Tavo also made friends back home with influential Texans.
When Tavo started his racing career one of his sponsors was Red McCombs and one of his auto dealerships. Red and his company, McCombs Partners, is a principal investor in the Austin GP. Officially known as Formula 1 United States, the team is lead by CEO Bruce Knox who is also CEO of McCombs Partners. Red McCombs made a fortune in the car business, but he has also owned professional sports franchises, radio giant Clear Channel Communications, and many other investment properties. The financing is firmly in place.
I said earlier that there were aspects of this project that I am very comfortable with, and some that I am not. I am very comfortable with all of the things mentioned above. In terms of project management, they are a part of the project life cycle that are critical and are included in the initialization of the effort. I rank these efforts as an overwhelming success.
What is not clear to me is this: who was the entity that actually managed the process? Who is the party responsible for management of the project life cycle? And, who will manage the process from this point on?
I suspect it is Tilke GmbH.
Project Execution –
I cannot analyze this project to the micro level of detail represented in PMI’s Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK, the acknowledged source of project management philosophy), so I will instead focus on how the project is viewed by a project manager like me.
After all the initial requirements are in place, we have two big macro tasks: 1. to secure proper permits from the authorities having jurisdiction and to satisfy all of their concerns; 2. build the damn thing to the FIA’s requirements and to do it on time, on spec, and within the budget.
Construction Team - Let’s look first at building the damn thing and consider the construction/design team and determine if the right players are in place. The first player has already been mentioned, Tilke GmbH. Their expertise is in overall circuit design and adherence to the very strict FIA rules for homologation of a circuit. They have a history of getting this done, and current evidence indicates this is true: Tilke submitted the Austin plans to the FIA for homologation review last week, two months before the FIA deadline.
Tilke has chosen a design partner to focus on the facilities, HKS of Dallas. Here is a summary of those currently involved in design and construction:
- HKS currently has about $18 billion in projects under construction. Projects many of us are familiar with include the Dallas Cowboy’s new $1.2 billion stadium and the Indianapolis Colts Lucas Oil Stadium.
- Austin International subsidiary Austin Commercial has been chosen as the General Contractor. AI has annual revenues of $1.75 billion. Austin International also owns Austin Bridges and Roads
- Kimley–Horn and Associates are civil engineers that focus on transportation and urban planning
- Walter P. Moore and Associates is a company that focuses on infrastructure with a specialty in traffic planning and transportation engineering.
- Terracon Consultants are experts in geotechnical engineering and material quality.
- Carlson Brigance & Doering, Inc. is providing surveying and other infrastructure expertise.
- Miro Rivera Architects are providing specific designs for structures and facilities
- 3 Point Partners represent the Group and is providing communications and public relations
- Rocket Red is providing advertising and media services
Of course this list is far from complete. There will be many, many more when all of the subcontractors are onboard. It is unclear exactly what responsibilities these companies have in the overall project plan, but it is a very experienced list of consultants, designers, and constructors. I feel very comfortable with this alignment of talent.
But, I will repeat the question poised above: who is managing the process? Who is the party responsible for management of the project life cycle, i.e. who will manage all of these contractors?
I suspect that is Tilke GmbH.
Permits and Approvals –
This is a very tricky area and one that has caused a great deal of heartburn for many developers throughout the years. First, this project falls under many jurisdictions. You have the State of Texas, the County of Travis, and the City of Austin, not to mention the Federal government and FEMA, the federal agency that manages floodplains.
You also have many interest groups that cover the spectrum from landowners in the vicinity, environmental groups, public utility districts, and unaffiliated citizens concerned with the pace of development. All of these interests have a voice and must be given their chance to be heard.
Things moved well through the environmental hearings. Some variances were asked for and approved, and the developers agreed to a number of requirements to satisfy the concerns of the committee.
Without going thru the details of further proceedings through the other agencies and the other steps required to gain approvals: I must say most of them went well, and passed with some minor opposition. The bottom line is that initial construction activities have been approved and the site preparation can begin. This mostly involves dirt work.
But, there are two areas that have not been resolved. The FEMA response is forthcoming, but all expect that to be approved without complication. But, the traffic and safety plans have been tabled for consideration at a future date. That is worrisome.
Transportation and Safety –
Everyone understands the need to move all competitors, vendors and attendees to and from the site safely and in a timely manner. It is also understood that the site must be prepared for a major incident that impacts the group as a whole. A plan must be in place that satisfies these concerns and has a reasonable chance of managing any conceivable probability.
At this point no satisfactory plan has been proposed. This is my biggest concern.
I will detail all of the issues concerning transportation and safety in Part 2 tomorrow.
John Flood, “flood1”