Exclusive interview with PURE’s Craig Pollock
5 May 2011 – It has been officially announced on Thursday that the newly-formed PURE Corporation is bidding for a place as a customer engine supplier on the 2013 Formula 1 grid, when a brand-new set of technical regulations are introduced. GPUpdate.net speaks exclusively with PURE’s CEO, former BAR Team Principal Craig Pollock.
Personally, how does it feel to be back in the F1 environment after a few years off?
You know, having been there before, having had my fingers burned before, having had positive and negative experiences, I am very wary.
But obviously the fact that I am doing this also shows that I actually do still love Formula 1 and want to make this work. But I’m going to talk it very easy and walk before I run.
When was the PURE idea first put forward?
The PURE concept of what we’re doing has been here for over three years. Initially, what we were trying to do was take over the Renault plant at Viry Châtillon and work directly with the directors of Renault to do that. Then after that I actually worked with Gerard Lopez of Genii Capital, because he had an option, and nothing worked out.
So the PURE concept came from the fact that there was no response from Renault’s side and I had to do it by myself. The name was established at the beginning of this year because we had to struggle to find the right name. If you think about it, PURE is French for Propulsion Universelle et Recuperation d’Energie – Universal Propulsion and Energy Recuperation – and it’s clean, so that’s where it came from.
Was it your decision to have a French name?
Well, to me it’s a French name but it’s also English. So ‘pure’ in English, ‘clean’, and PURE in French, when we can use the whole Propulsion Universelle et Recuperation d’Energie. So, yes, it was 100 percent my idea. The concept itself over the last three years was also 100 percent my idea, but I’ve been really fantastically backed up by Christian Contzen who was, let’s just say, my mentor through the whole process.
How much input have the FIA and Jean Todt had through the project so far?
Well, the FIA have been aware that something’s happening and Jean Todt has been correct to be absolutely neutral - he cannot influence companies coming in. He actually can’t stop anybody coming into the sport; if anybody wants to come in and produce engines, that can do that. It’s not Bernie (Ecclestone) who’s going to stop you, it’s not Jean Todt who’s going to stop you and it’s far better to have their benediction.
It’s only very, very recently that I sat down with Jean Todt and totally outlined the project of PURE. He was hugely supportive.
Has manufacturing begun and is the engine going to be tested any time soon?
Well, there’s nobody who is manufacturing a 2013 engine presently; what they’re doing is designing and developing the totality of the engine. I would say that we would be with an engine on a bench as fast as anybody else, if not a little bit faster, because we don’t have to develop a V8 engine at the moment.
Those other guys, with their design departments, are also having to compete in the championship this year and next year, so we have probably more engineers working on the 2013 engine than anybody else. So we’re looking very good. We started immediately upon the announcement of the new engine rule changes (December 2010) and we’re very much in-line for time, so we have confidence.
This will be a turbocharged, 1.6-litre, 4-cylinder powerplant. On a slightly more trivial note, how do you think the engine will sound in comparison with a V8 or V10?
The engine will definitely sound different. Every manufacturer, whether you’re Ferrari or Lamborghini or Porsche, has a department to make sure that their engines sound the same and that is to do with the sequence of explosions inside the cylinder, and that’s done by electronics. So the engine will sound slightly different.
I go back to my Indy days, when I was with (managing) Jacques Villeneuve, and there was Indy Lights and IndyCars; the engines were not far off being the same but the Indy Lights had a silencer on them. When the Indy Lights went out, all the fans left the stands because there was no noise! You couldn’t hear it. This is where Formula 1 has to be careful, Bernie’s not wrong – there has to be the right sound.
The turbo will have an effect on the racing, too. I think that’s a very important area and I think a lot of manufacturers will just use off-the-shelf, garage turbos. We’re trying at the moment to design and develop our own specific turbo for our engines.
We’re still very much in the early stages but, in terms of carbon emissions and the ‘green’ element, how successful will this engine be?
That we’ll know once the engine is on the bench and in the car but, in reality, we’re working very, very closely with one of our partners, which is IFP Energies nouvelles – French Industry to Petroleum of New Energies – and they are number one in the world in combustion technology.
All of the main manufacturers - whether it’s VW Porsche, even Ferrari - will use IFP for combustion technologies and they’ll also be consulting them on hybrid systems, because they’ve been working on hybrid systems for 15 years.
So we’re very, very hopeful and the whole idea is for us to produce the cleanest engine possible and use Formula 1 as a technical test bed for a product that we can then put back into the normal society and other car manufacturers.
Arguably, Formula 1 has not been used as the greatest technological platform over the last few years…
I think the best analogy, or example, would be: when I had my first little car, which was a Mini, it had drum brakes. Now, every car in the world has disc brakes and that came directly out of Formula 1 – and that’s the way it should be going back. We should be using Formula 1 to make sure that cars which go driving around the world are cleaner and I think effort should be put into that; I don’t think Jean Todt is 100 percent wrong about that.
Do you expect to engage in discussions with teams already this year, with a view to them using your engines in 2013?
There is no question that the reason we’ve announced PURE this weekend is because we feel that we now have a good enough argument and enough information to be able to go towards the teams and present what we are and what we intend to do.
Our discussions with the teams will start very shortly. Whether we get anything signed, let’s wait and see. Formula 1 is a tough business and we’re competing with very, very serious competitors in Mercedes, Ferrari, Renault and Cosworth. No promises are going to be made but we’re definitely going to try and get in there.
Craig Pollock was talking to GPUpdate.net’s Gregory Haines