On Tuesday, December 28th, I and several other members of the facebook group Friends of Formula 1 Austin (including admins. Vance Facundo, Matt Sager, Tim Woods) had the opportunity to sit down with Formula 1 United States CEO Bruce Knox for a one and a half hour conversation. The meeting was arranged by Ali Putnam, an account executive at 3 Point Partners. 3 Point Partners provides consulting services in the areas of media, communications, community outreach, and government relations. Thanks to Ms. Putnam for making our visit possible.
As you may already know, due to my professional career as a construction project manager, I have an avid interest in the nuts and bolts of project development and execution. I also have a fanatical interest in formula 1, and the Austin project has given me a great opportunity to combine my professional life with my avocation. Having been to Grand Prix events in six countries, I have a pretty good idea of what goes on during a Grand Prix, and having been in construction management for 30 years, I have a pretty good idea of the difficulty associated with completion of a project of this complexity.
Project Management - One of my concerns has been that it is not apparent who is responsible for the entire project lifecycle. A project goes through several phases: initiation, planning, execution, and closeout. There are many diverse activities to manage including permitting, design, construction, operations, public safety/security, etc. Tasks include schedule management, cost management, quality management, resource management, risk management, public relations management, and many other areas that must be controlled by the project lifecycle manager.
I asked Mr. Knox about this issue. He clarified that Tilke was focused on the circuit, the part of the facility that was of direct interest to the FIA’s approval committee. HKS is focused on the detailed design of the buildings. The FIA set a late February deadline to receive the design documents for homologation (approval) of the circuit plans. Ninety days before the event, the FIA will conduct a final inspection before certifying the circuit for competition.
Tilke’s work is well underway, the design is complete, and the homologation dossier has been presented to the FIA for approval, and it was submitted two months before the deadline. The only structures that fall under this mandate are the pit/paddock facilities and the medical facility.
For those structures, Tilke presents a detail dimensioned floor plan that shows how the space will be utilized and where the required elements will be placed. The utility roads and traffic routes used by the event’s competitors and officials are included as well. But, the detailed architectural designs are to be produced by HKS. The status of those plans is unknown at this time.
Pressed further about overall project management, Mr. Knox revealed that Formula 1 United States had contracted two consultants to act as their agents: Max Chapman of MBC Consultants and Bob Kaminski of Kaminski Interests Inc.
Mr. Chapman provides program management, construction consulting and construction management services. It makes sense to add him to the team. Acting as the owner’s agent, he essentially performs as an “employee” who wears the owner’s hat and watches out for the owner’s interests. Perhaps he is the project manager responsible for the project life cycle management.
Mr. Kaminski is a bit harder to understand. His expertise is in investment and property development. There is certainly a need for that type of experience, but it has little value regarding the direct construction execution plan. I don’t understand exactly how he fits into the big picture.
Technical Partners - One of the selling points for this project has been the use of the facility for other purposes. Of particular interest is the development of technical partners who will conduct research and development related to green technologies useful to road vehicles and other means of transportation.
In September Adam Parr was in Austin and met with many people including Mayor Leffingwell and city manager Marc Ott. I was curious about these meetings and asked Mr. Knox about Parr’s presence. Adam Parr is the Chairman of Williams Grand Prix Engineering. William’s has nine constructor’s championships and seven driver’s championships in Formula 1. Williams also is the majority stockholder in Williams Hybrid Power.
Williams Hybrid Power Ltd (WHP) has developed a novel, patented electromechanical composite flywheel system that provides a high-power, cost-effective and environmentally friendly solution for mobile or stationary energy recovery and storage. Williams Hybrid Power (WHP) received industry recognition when it won the 2010 Powertrain Innovation of the Year award at the Professional Motorsport World Expo in Köln, Germany in November. WHP’s award made it a clean sweep for the companies involved in the Porsche 911 GT3 R Hybrid program this year, with the car itself winning the award for Car of the Year and the project’s lead engineer, Dr. Daniel Armbruster, winning the citation for Design Engineer of the Year. (Source: http://www.williamshybridpower.com)
Mr. Knox confirmed that Williams had an interest in building a technology center in the United States and that Austin was on their list of potential sites. They have considered East and West coast locations, but now are considering a more centrally located facility. This is very good news. Williams has corporate sponsorship from American giant ATT and looks forward to a continued relationship with American corporations.
Traffic Management – I asked Mr. Knox about the traffic management plan that was on the City’s December agenda but was tabled until a future date. He had few comments on this subject other than to say that he thought the subject would be discussed at the January meeting. This plan is very important. Its acceptance is crucial.
One of their proposals is to host a concert at the facility directly after the race. It is hoped that by retaining many of the fans onsite, there will be a reduction in the initial after-race outrush. This is a good idea. The race will be completed early in the afternoon and there is no reason to rush out into the slow moving traffic.
Camping facilities for motor homes, travel trailers, and tents are planned. They plan to include facilities for 5000 camping spots, or about 20,000 people. As most of those will stay through Sunday night, this will also reduce the pressure on post-race traffic demands.
Race Date – We got zero news about this. Of course, that is outside of the promoter’s control. Summer has very high temps, but no worse than Malaysia or Bahrain. Fall would be better, and a date to coincide with Brazil would make sense. Mr. Knox told us that F1 flies their gear to Dallas on the way to Brazil and has an extended layover. The logistics are correct, but the schedule will not be published until November 2011.
I asked if the promoter had any veto power by way of suggestion regarding the schedule. I did not get an answer, but Mr. Knox did say that Bernie would not schedule an event that would have a major local conflict. But, my question was this: how does Bernie know of local events, like Texas Longhorn football? How does the Austin promoter inform the schedule makers of the local conflicts? I do not have an answer to this.
Other Racing Series – One member of our group asked about other racing series that may be interested in using the facility. Mr. Knox did not speak specifically of any particular series, but he said that many had made initial contact with them and that the circuit was designed with their needs in mind. I mentioned the presence of Kevin Schwantz on their team and suggested that his involvement indicated Moto racing was in the circuit’s future. Schwantz won the World Moto Championship in 1993 and is a Texas native. Mr. Knox said he certainly hoped that they could host moto racing.
Currently Texas has two riders in the top Moto GP formula: Colin Edwards and Ben Spies. The US is also represented by 2006 world champion Nicky Hayden from Kentucky. Mr. Knox said that Schwantz was onboard to insure that the circuit was acceptable to all forms of racing. The rationale is that if F1 and Moto GP can race there, then any series could race there as well.
I fully expect to see at least four different national/international series at the circuit in the near future. As Mr. Knox pointed out, the facility will be rated “Grade 1” by the FIA. This means that it will be approved for any use whatsoever.
Other Features and Suggestions – One of the ideas brought up by a member of our group was a kart track. Mr. Knox said that was a consideration and that the plan was to clone the F1 circuit on a smaller scale for a kart track. That’s a good idea. It will certainly be a good amusement.
And one last thing: I suggested that turn 1, the hairpin located 130 feet above the start-line, should be named Phil Hill. Hill is the only American born driver to ever win an F1 Driver’s Championship. He won with Ferrari in 1961. He died last year and this would be a fitting tribute. I talked extensively with Phil at Monza in 2003. He was a great driver and a great man, and he drove in the early years of modern Grand Prix racing. Mr. Knox seemed to like the idea and I hope he carries forward and makes it happen.
Summary – The meeting was a great chance to get our feet in the door and an opportunity to further our understanding of the ongoing efforts to develop the project. Heavy equipment was seen at the site this week and progress is continuing. There is a very steep hill to climb to make this project a success, but things seem to be in order for now.
But, the hard work is still ahead and the project has almost no schedule “float” to fall back on.