Former BAR team principal Craig Pollock is set to return to the Formula 1 paddock this year as the head of new proposed Formula 1 engine supplier PURE.
Pollock has brought together a group of companies - including engine-builder Mecachrome - to build F1 power units which conform to the new 2013 regulations which will require 1.6-litre turbo-charged motors.
With the aim of making the 'cleanest and greenest' possible engines, Pollock is convinced that his company is already leading the race to develop the new engine and believes there is a market for a new and independent power supply within the sport.
Speaking to AUTOSPORT, Pollock explained why he is coming back to F1 seven years after selling his BAR shares to Honda, and how he expects to make PURE the customer engine of choice when the new world order comes in to force 18 months from now.
Q. What have you been up to since you have been away because you disappeared from the limelight for a little while?
Craig Pollock: That was the idea. When I stepped out of F1, I basically had to negotiate my way out of the team position. I took a couple of years and I set up PK Racing which is now KV Racing in IndyCars. I stepped out of that and since then I have set up various businesses but I have had quite a quiet life apart from that.
Basically I'm a small entrepreneur, but keeping my finger in the pie. I also manage Sebastien Ogier. I've set-up a private aviation company, which is basically a fixed based operator [FBO] - a handling company at an airport in Switzerland - and various other little things like that. but I've kept my fingers in the pie and I've been working for about three and a half years to put together this programme with the ex-director of Renault Sport Christian Contzen acting as my consultant and mentor. He guided me at the start looking at all the opportunities in 'clean' powertrains whether it be in Formula 1, marine, or aviation.
Q. How did the idea come about for you to come back, what made you think that this was the right way back in to F1?
CP: It wasn't a question of 'Is this the right way back in', it was a question of long discussions with Christian Contzen and initially when we knew that Renault was having problems we looked at the potential of taking over the Renault Sport facility in Viry-Chatilon, where they make their engines - which was Christian's baby. This was before Genii Capital took over the Renault F1 team and there was an opportunity that was there that Bernie Ecclestone actually asked me to look into. He wanted to guarantee the future motorisation of F1 because he knew that there were teams that were going to be pulling out - BMW, Toyota and Honda - and it started all back then.
Craig Pollock founded PK Racing after leaving F1 © LAT
Q. So even back then you had the idea of creating an engine with a clean power-train etc?
CP: No the strategy started off with us taking over the Renault engine facility which was what we were trying to do. And then try and make the engines as clean as humanly possible - that's always been in the background. And when Renault decided that they were going to stay in the form of an engine supplier within the sport then it was very clear that I had to try and do something literally from scratch. So I brought all the parts together over the last two years - mostly over the last 18 months - so that we could come in together for 2013.
Q. Had you bought the Renault F1 team would you have called it PURE?
CP: PURE defines the name of the company and that has only come around in the last six months - but we would have re-badged it yes.
Q. Manufacturers have said that it could cost as much as $50m to develop engines to the new 2013 regulations, how do you propose to be able to fund such a venture?
CP: It's nice to hear that they say it will cost $50m to develop the new power train. The reality is that if you have 400-450 employees such as Mercedes or 300 in the case of Renault - then your overheads are extremely high. The way we are doing this and the reason that we can spend a little bit less money - to say the least - than the manufacturers is that we are doing it industrially. We put together the engineers, engineering group and the areas of expertise more in an industrial sense.
Mecachrome will be manufacturing and constructing the engines - fabricating them. The development is being done by TEOS, IFP and D2T. So we are a very tight team, and being tight means that our costs are an awful lot lower - and that means we should be able to carry over this cost reduction to the teams and give them a cost-effective power train.
Q. So does this means that you are effectively working as an agent for Mecachrome, or is it one group?
CP: It's more one big group working together in the same direction. This has been the first couple of years putting the whole thing together and making sure that the key people are in place. Obviously working very, very closely with Christian Contzen and Mecachrome in the setting up of TEOS, as the area of engineering and design expertise.
Mecachrome will remain a separate company in the same way that as today they put together the Renault engines. Mecachrome owns half of TEOS, and we have an exclusive contract with TEOS to design and develop the engines and the manufacturing side of things will be run by Mecachrome.
Q. Where is the operation based and how many people will you have working for you?
CP: Well the number of people I don't want to say because it is useful information to our nice competitors. The PURE corporation is based out of Switzerland and the engineering and development side will be based out of France.
Q. Where is the money coming from to do this, because even though you say it's a smaller outlay than some of the larger manufacturers, it won't be cheap will it?
CP: It's never a small outlay. What we've done is basically put together a group of companies and financial people to get the initial funding ready to go forward with this, which has all been done and we have gone forward. And if we need any future funding we will go back there.
Q. But you are not to prepared to say who?
CP: No. Obviously I have put my money in. My blood equity is there! It is committed, otherwise we wouldn't be announcing.
Q. How do you then recoup that investment?
CP: Like anybody, we are going to have to supply the engines to the teams under contract for a given value and there is a calculation over X number of years that the money will be recouped and a profit will be made. A business is a business when you make profit and there is no question that what we are trying to do is make sure that the money we spend is logical for the job that we have to do - which is to produce a cost effective, high performance engine that the teams are using and make it more so than the other suppliers.
Q. How do you sell this engine? Mecachrome has a standing within F1, but PURE has no reputation within the sport. You are coming in to a sport that has had stable engine regulations for a long period of time with a group of engine suppliers that are well-founded - it's a difficult market to break into isn't it?
CP: I understand that and I understand the market having been there. I had to break into it before if you remember back in 1999. 1998 was the start and then taking over Tyrrell and turning it into British American Racing - so I understand how hard the market it is. But the reality is that the group of people that we have behind the project, and the group of companies behind it too, are not just start-ups. Mecachrome have produced engines for Renault, and when Renault pulled out in the late '90s, they produced exactly the same engines and called them Supertecs.
This is not that, this is a brand new engine designed by a company which is half owned by Mecachrome. So it is not just coming in without any expertise. The expertise to build F1 engines is there. Also the design group has been working in F1 and Le Mans with Peugeot for a long time. They know what they are doing and F1 people know that.
Q. Was TEOS set up specifically to develop this engine?
CP: No. TEOS has been set up as a design and development arm for Mecachrome for many other projects - that could be marine projects or aviation projects... A lot of the engineers have also been working on the Peugeot Le Mans project as well.
Q. Have you spoken to any prospective teams yet, do you have any buyers lined up? How many teams do you need to have in order to make this project viable?
CP: In order to make it viable we'd love to say that we are going to have a couple of teams and I am not going to say how many because I have got no idea. But we have not been able to prospect because until now the project hasn't been at a level ready enough to do a prospection. And that is why we are announcing now. We are now at the stage where we have been working since December on the design and development of the 2013 engine and we are now ready to go to the teams and say; 'Right this is what we have'. Whereas if you just go with a piece of paper, that's a little bit difficult. You can't just go and sell air into F1, the teams have to know who is behind the project, which designers, which engineers... then it makes sense.
Q. Who is responsible for the design of this new engine?
CP: There is a large-scale sized team of people all F1 or Le Mans-based, but the main designer at the moment - the person driving it forwards - is Jean-Pierre Boudy. He is ex-Renault and Peugeot and designed all the four-cylinder turbo-charged engines for Renault.
Q. When will the engine be put on a test bed?
CP: It will be towards the end of this year.
Q. So you are quite a long way down the road already.
CP: Oh yeah. Talking to various people inside the sport we reckon that we are just about ahead of the field. Don't forget that Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault are all running current V8 engine programmes and they still have to go until the end of 2012, so they all have to carry on developing their engines. We are concentrated on one engine at the moment.
Q. So you are taking the Honda/Brawn approach a little if you like?
CP: Correct. I think the Brawn Honda approach was very well done and it was fantastic for them to have won a championship, but I would say that while we have the same approach we are walking before we are running.
Q. Presumably you will need to get an engine in the back of a car as soon as possible?
CP: Don't forget that the way that everything works is that your engine has to be homologated by March next year, and nobody will have an engine homologated before that point. The minute we have an engine up and running, yes we'd love to get it in the back of a car but there is an awful lot of simulation work and test bench work that has to be done before that.
Q. But how will you get the engine in the back of a car without any customers?
CP: I think that we will have customers before then. I think at the moment the way everything is going inside the sport there will be customers, I'm sure of that. Which I've got no idea. It would be pure speculation.
BAR was forced to compromise its livery in 1999 after a run in over the rules © LAT
Q. Some manufacturers have indicated they would like to delay the introduction of new rules for cost reasons among other things. Should that happen, how will it affect your plans?
CP: I've been in a situation in the past, where we had dual branding on the BAR car and there was absolutely nothing in the rules that said that couldn't happen. Now we've obviously tried to cover our tails as much as is humanly possible, but we know that we are entering a sport where things move and rules can change from one second to the next. If that meant that we were sticking with V8 engines for another four or five years, then we would have to restudy the situation and see what we can do.
Q. Would you consider building a V8 if that were the case?
Q. So you are in it to be a Formula 1 engine constructor regardless of the regulations?
CP: We have obviously gone down the road with the December 10, 2011 decision of the World Motor Sport Council. The FIA set out the rules and that's the way we expect them to go, but I also have no illusions that things can change inside the sport.
Q. The teams do meet frequently to discuss the regulations, have you been involved in any of those?
CP: We could not be involved as PURE, but Jean-Pierre Boudy has been involved in every meeting with the FIA where the new rules have been concerned. The next meeting coming up we believe is in Barcelona, and we will be involved as of that point and have a paddock presence at certain key races.
Q. When your customers but these engines will they be able to re-badge them?
CP: That is too early to say. We are very open about that at the moment. The difference with the Supertec was that Flavio Briatore's team (Benetton) wasn't developing an engine, they were just taking an existing engine and rebranding it.
Q. Is there any possibility that PURE could look to sell the project to a manufacturer in the future? So if VW for example came into F1, could you partner with it and re-badge your engines?
CP: There is nothing that would be out of the question in that area. The marketing strategy we have is pretty clear in our own heads, but we are not willing to divulge what we want to do in that area.
Q. You say you haven't spoken to any teams yet, but someone with as much experience as you have in the sport wouldn't have gone ahead unless you were convinced that you could make this work. So what makes you think you can make this work?
CP: It's certainly not arrogance. Yes I do know all the key players in the sport. There are certain new people in there, which is a change from when I was in there last and which is going to be nice for me to meet them. At the moment we are convinced, as is [FIA president] Jean Todt, as is Bernie Ecclestone, that there is a great need for an independent supplier coming in with a long term vision. And also who has a vision of green technology and that could use the sport as a test bed to derive these technologies and take them in to other fields.
Q. Can you elaborate on your 'green' vision and explain why it's 'greener' than anyone else's?
CP: It's the background on which we are building the company and that's why it is called PURE. We want to make everything as clean as is humanly possible. It basically means 'Universal propulsion and the recuperation of energy' in English. And the idea is that we have got our engineers looking at every way... IFP is number one in the world in combustion technology, but they are also right at the top with hybrid technologies which is also what we call KERS in F1. They have been working in this area for 15 years, F1 has been on it for a couple of years. What we are trying to do is ensure that we can pull our knowledge of hybrid from other areas into F1 and then develop it even further.
Q. How have you kept the secret as quiet as you have?
CP: It's been very difficult. Even though I have been out of the sport directly for a few years, I know just about every player in the sport. The minute you tell one person, it's out there, so I have just not told anybody.
Q. Have you always been looking for a way back into the sport?
CP: No not at all. I purposely have not gone into a paddock, because what happens there is that you are going to be quizzed by every journalist and something could slip out. Plus when you go into a paddock and you don't have something to do then standing about is the most boring thing in the world. The only thing that has interested me is coming in in a way that makes absolute sense for the sport and having a little bit of fun down the road.
Q. Are your days of owning a team over?
CP: I would say definitely yes. This is a large enough project. What I am not interested in is being a team principal, sitting around being on television and answering questions - I've no interest in that anymore. I'm an entrepreneur, I love business, I love F1. But I see this as being much bigger than F1, I see it as a test bed for the future.
Q. What's the next step now that you have announced it?
CP: What will happen now that I have formalised the existence of PURE inside the Formula 1 community - Jean Todt has been informed and is very supportive, Bernie is fully aware and also supportive - is that I will participate in the engine meetings. So now when there is a powertrain meeting at a grand prix, or whether I will be meeting up with teams to discuss potential contracts in the future - I will be around and about. Once there is an engine we might even be in a position to show it to some journalists...