Exclusive interview with PURE's Craig Pollock

Exclusive interview with PURE's Craig Pollock

20 January 2012 – In 2014, Formula 1 will move into an innovative new era for engines. The current V8 will be scrapped. A new turbocharged, 1.6-litre V6 will replace it. And joining the current suppliers will be PURE, headed up by former BAR Team Principal and Jacques Villeneuve manager Craig Pollock. As the new epoch edges ever closer, the company CEO shares the latest with GPUpdate.net.

How are things progressing at PURE?

It’s very, very interesting now because, when you are designing and building an engine for Formula 1, you’ve got various different phases you have to go through. The first two phases are the basic design and then you’ve got the very detailed design. Once you get to Stage 3 you’ve gone from detailed design to passing your orders to suppliers and you’re basically into the fabrication of the parts. Now we are into that phase and we have already confirmed that we will be on the test bench by the end of June, beginning of July which is very early, which is good.

The engine itself looks very exciting; obviously it is very innovative but it has to be and I am sure that our competitors will also try to be as innovative as they possibly can. They are obviously not going to tell us what they are doing, unfortunately! We are very, very aware that our competition is very strong with Ferrari, Renault and Mercedes and we know exactly what we are up against, but we push the limits with the engine design.

How well do you think your rivals are getting on?

You can never know exactly until you are out on the track. We have a fair idea that Mercedes are already on the bench – we don’t know whether that is with a full engine, like us, but we expect it is with a single cylinder engine and not an actual race engine. We are pretty sure that Renault is not going to be on any test bench until round about September, towards the end of this year.

Obviously we have got very good information on Ferrari through Gilles Simon’s contacts. We still feel that they are procrastinating in which direction they need to go; so they are definitely not into detailed design yet so they are as late, if not later, than Renault. That is the information we have. Everybody uses very similar suppliers for certain parts of the engine, so when certain parts have not been ordered by a certain date you know how far behind people are!

How much of a difference does it make to test an engine in an actual car?

The best type of testing you can ever have it when the engine is actually in a car. Nobody’s going to have that really until 2013, but to me that is not a problem. If we already have four or five months of bench testing from July 2012, that is hugely significant. We have now decided that we will be basing part of our team out of Toyota in Cologne and using the Toyota Formula 1 test benches because they are the best in the world, there’s just no question about it. By the time we have our own test benches up and running it’s going to take, realistically, one and a half to two years to do it properly – and we can’t take that risk.

Where will PURE’s own test bench be located?

What has happened is that we are growing out of the facilities that we are in at the moment, close to Paris. We have been anywhere between 22 to 50 design engineers. Now what we’re actually doing is looking for our own design and development offices and the big decision actually goes about a fiscal need and which particular government or canton is going to support us the best going forward. We are looking at three areas at the moment. In all honesty we are looking at France, preferably round about the Paris area but also the south of France is very attractive. There is also Switzerland; I have very good connections in the area where I live and they are extremely supportive for this type of project, because it’s very high technology and they will support – in an extraordinary way – tax-wise and also financially. The third one is a possibility of basing ourselves out of German, purely because the facilities are there and are available.

On the other hand, there has been the news of Peugeot pulling out (of endurance racing) – and we were fairly inside that this might happen. They are around the Paris area with facilities, offices and test benches; not of the quality necessary for a Formula 1 engine, but it wouldn’t take too much to convert it into a Formula 1 test bench. It would potentially be the cheapest way going forward. With the Toyota test bench in Cologne the contracts are all done, so that is where we are heading at the moment, but we have to seriously study the Peugeot situation because they are already based out of the Paris area; if we think that is the right way to go we will contact them, but there has been no contact with them as yet.

How much contact have you had with the F1 teams in recent weeks?

Things are keeping up and I think people are now taking the situation little bit more seriously than they were taking it before. I don’t think the Peugeot pull-out is going to help, either, because it will make them realise that, with these very large companies, a board decision or a directors’ meeting can create a negative decision on future supply – and it can happen from one second to the next…just before the season, mid-season or at the end of the season. So nobody knows who is going to be there in the future, apart from Ferrari who I believe are always in for the long haul, but with the other players nobody can guarantee it.

Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault have all been making F1 engines for a considerable amount of time. However, everybody starts from zero with their 2014 V6 projects…

I would certainly say we are ahead of where we thought we were going to be – that is already hugely positive. We don’t have to work on the V8 for two years, so our people are only working on the 2014 project and for us that’s quite exciting. I would imagine Renault, Ferrari and Mercedes have got the best people working on the development of the V8 to try to go out and win the 2012 and 2013 championships. Our best people are all working on the new project, so I think that potentially gives us…I would not say an advantage, but keeps us focussed. We only have one focus.

In the past few years – even with the V10 to V8 transition – teams have tended to stick with the same engine suppliers. Will we see a huge reshuffle ahead of the new V6 turbo era?

I think you are going to see a very big reshuffle because, no matter what happens, it still costs engine companies money to supply all of these teams. I know that with Mercedes, even back in Barcelona of 2011, Norbert Haug in an engine supply meeting with the FIA said that, ‘If we have to we will supply one more team, but that team is going to have to pay full price.’ So the message was very clear that McLaren were going to have to pay full whack for their engine supply. In 2012 they’ve got a free engine supply and in 2013 they will be supplied by Mercedes, because basically they have to. But in 2014 it’s going to be a tough one.

Indeed, many are already expecting McLaren to change engine provider for 2014…

Yes (a positive yes).

So is there an opening for PURE with McLaren?

Yes. There is not one team at the moment – other than Mercedes and Ferrari – that is not a possibility for PURE. Even though Renault has so-called ‘signed up’ teams such as Red Bull, I still think everything is wide open.

Will there be a minimum or maximum number of teams working with PURE?

The minimum is two, there’s no question about it. A minimum of two teams and two good teams, if possible. And the maximum number…if we have to supply a lot more teams then we will gear up to do it; it is not exactly our immediate wish because I think you also have to be very realistic about it and know that we are a new company. The people working in the company are not new, they are veterans in the field of Formula 1 engine supply, but to supply another team would just require more organisation. But as long as we know early enough, we will be happy.

We haven’t mentioned Cosworth – is the new era out of the question for them?

It would be very, very, very difficult for them to be up and running in time, going through all of the various stages they have to go through to get the engines on a test bench and be acceptable to the Formula 1 teams. Even with what they have today, they are in a situation where they have got to start from scratch. They are a year behind. We started this at the beginning of last year. So they would be a year behind and not on the test bench probably until the end of next year, so they would have to go straight from the test bench into the cars.

Originally, the FIA planned a straight-four (four cylinder engine) for 2013 but that changed to a V6 for 2014. Some claimed it was because Audi had wanted to enter with a straight four but then decided against it. What was your version of events?

I have claimed since the onset of the rule changes that our PURE engine could be in a Formula 1 car by 2013. It was basically the main manufacturers, more Ferrari and Mercedes, who said they wanted 2014 instead of 2013 to give them more time.

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