Formula One

Matt Cadieux, chief information officer of Infiniti Red Bull Racing, addresses UT’s Society of Automotive Engineers and other attendees at Red Bull's live broadcast lecture Wednesday evening at Austin Speed Shop.

Photo Credit: Jenna VonHofe | Daily Texan Staff

Exhaust fumes masked the view of the Capitol. Crowds lined the street to watch the red and blue metallic blur rip through the city. The 750-horsepower Formula One race car came to a halt, revealing the familiar Red Bull logo.

The Infiniti Red Bull Racing team kicked off Formula One week in Austin with this live demo on Congress Avenue on Wednesday. But, according to Matt Cadieux, the team’s chief information officer, racing involves more than the speed and suspense viewers see on the track.

“It’s just as much a war between geeks and engineers as it is between drivers,” Cadieux said.

Students in UT’s Society of Automotive Engineers, or SAE, understand this behind-the-scenes role. Several society members are creating a race car of their own as a part of Longhorn Racing, the University’s racing team. The group builds a $30,000 open-wheel race car to race at national competitions
every year.

Red Bull invited the society to hear a lecture given by Cadieux and see one of its Formula One cars in person Wednesday at Austin Speed Shop. This is the second year Red Bull has hosted a Formula One lecture, but, this year, the company drove students from UT-Austin and UT-San Antonio to the speed shop for the event. The lecture was streamed live to 14 other campuses across the nation. 

“It’s nice talking to young people about cool jobs and inspiring them to remain technical and passionate about what they are doing,” Cadieux said. “This is a sport where engineers can influence who wins a sport — who wins the championship.”

Oscar Lopez, SAE president and mechanical engineering senior, said the group jumped at the opportunity to learn more about automotive engineering. 

“As a whole, our organization is geared towards getting our members in contact with companies involved in the automotive industry,” Lopez said. “F1 is the poster child for racing around the world, and to get an insight on what it takes to be a part of the team is extremely beneficial for our members.” 

Matthew Richardson, mechanical engineering junior and SAE member, grew up around racing and said he was eager to attend the event.

“Formula One cars are really cool, and the amount of money and engineering that goes into them is pretty insane,” Richardson said. “They have multiple supercomputers on each team, and millions of dollars go into it.” 

During the lecture, Cadieux discussed his work in the field and recent changes to the team. As chief information officer, Cadieux develops applications used to design and create the cars. Since last year’s lecture, Infiniti Red Bull Racing has made several design changes, in addition to altering some regulations. At the 2013 German Grand Prix, a pit stop gone wrong led to an injury, and the team had to rework its pit stop strategy to ensure increased safety in the future.

“The car is an evolving prototype,” Cadieux said. “We have hundreds, sometimes thousands, of new parts introduced for every race. We have an attitude to be innovative and keep pushing boundaries.”

Matt Cadieuex, Infiniti Red Bull Racing engineer, breaks down the process that goes into building a championship Formula One car. Red Bull Racing has won three back-to-back Formula one Constructors Championships.

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

Matt Cadieux, a head engineer and chief information officer at Infiniti Red Bull Racing, spoke Wednesday to a packed auditorium of UT engineers and Formula One enthusiasts about the behind-the-scenes engineering that he said plays a critical role in the company’s champion racing team.

The team Cadieux works for, sponsored by Red Bull, already has three World Championships under its belt, and Cadieux said the team hopes to win this weekend’s US Grand Prix with the help of driver Sebastian Vettel. The race will be hosted at the new Circuit of the Americas track, which is about 15 miles south of Austin. Yet despite what he called growing glamour of the sport and its brand, Cadieux said the sport is still mainly a battle between engineers.

“What a lot of people see is the glamorous side of racing,” said Cadieux. “But the reality is that we’re just a hard-working engineering company.”

Cadieux emphasized his point with a multimedia presentation highlighting the Red Bull team’s world record 2.05-second tire change and aerodynamic improvements in downforce that keep pressure on the tires in even the sharpest turns — using the windstream to push the cars toward the tracks with enough force that they could, hypothetically, drive upside down. Though Cadieux also stressed the athletic endurance of Formula One drivers, he emphasized the major role technology plays in determining victors.

“The opportunity to create incredible things like this is why I’m an engineer,” mechanical engineering sophomore Howard Kay said.

The event was sponsored by the Cockrell School of Engineering in conjunction with Red Bull and Formula SAE, the UT student formula racing team. Bharg Gor, a chemical engineering senior and the team manager of Formula SAE, said the team has seen a substantial increase in the number of engineering students interesting in formula racing as a result of Austin’s hosting of the US Grand Prix.

“This year we’ve had more recruits than before because last year’s US Grand Prix in Austin was wildly successful,” Gor said. “Publicity events like this are a big help to our team’s efforts  to recruit.”

The FIA Formula One World Championship sees the Austin-based US Grand Prix as an important part of its brand-expansion strategy.

“The United States is the world economic superpower and a huge untapped market for Formula One racing,” Cadieux said. “Our hope is that hosting a US Grand Prix here in Austin will change that.”

Well, it happened. On Sunday, Nov. 18, Austin hosted its highly anticipated Formula One United States Grand Prix. The race, which had been in planning stages for the past four years, drew several hundred thousand people, placing it up there with the always-growing Austin City Limits and South by Southwest music festivals in size. If all goes according to plan the race (and its accompanying visitors) will be an annual event.

As the tired masses shuffle back to the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, Austin should take stock of what F1 spells for the city’s future.

In 2008, when Texas Governor Rick Perry and Texas Comptroller Susan Combs sent letters to race promoters indicating Texas’ interest in an F1 race, Sunday’s event became more than an idea. Two years later, negotiations opened between the state and F1 officials, and construction began on the $400 million Circuit of the Americas track. Controversy arose when Combs promised the race organizers $25 million per year in pre-race reimbursements from the state government, then later backtracked and said the funding would come after the race, depending on how successful it was.  And as recently as November 2011 construction of the track was halted, and the race’s future became uncertain due to contractual disagreements between F1 officials and the track’s developers. Those issues were resolved in time for the race, but the public reimbursements are still up for debate.

Perry and Combs justified the race as a worthwhile financial investment for the city and for the state. Perry said in a speech earlier this month, “[The race is] to the benefit of everyone here in Texas over the next couple weeks. The U.S. Grand Prix is going to bring 1.2 million visitors to Central Texas, with an estimated financial impact of half a billion dollars.” Perry and Combs hope that the race will be remunerative enough in the long run to contractors, developers and local businesses to offset any tax dollars that will need to be given to the race organizers to keep the event going. As of right now, it looks like the gamble will pay off, but the key will be whether or not interest in the race can be sustained over the next decade. For example, in 2000, the last effort to bring F1 to the U.S. attracted more than 225,000 fans to Indianapolis Motor Speedway in its first year, but the numbers soon dropped off sharply and the race was cancelled altogether after only seven years. One hopes history does not repeat itself in Austin.

If F1 Austin does succeed, it will bring new attention to the city. Our reputation as the “live music capital of the world” is well-established, and ACL and SXSW are internationally famous. This race and those two festivals are representative of the past ten years’ progression toward bigger and bigger events. Because of that progression and the city’s rapid population growth, Austin is no longer the quirky little college town it has historically been. And that change isn’t set to stop anytime soon.

If the race is considered a success by visitors, residents and faraway spectators, Austin’s international profile will rise. Thousands of visitors from Europe, Asia and elsewhere were here for the race, and hundreds of millions more were watching on television in nearly 200 countries. With all of that attention, this race may be Austin’s audition for hosting similar large-scale sporting events, like the World Cup, and maybe, at some point far down the road, an Austin Olympics.

City and state leaders like Perry and Combs would welcome such developments, but the same cannot be said for Austin residents. According to F1 organizers’ estimates, fewer than 20 percent of the race’s attendees were actually from Austin. In fact, many in the community have loudly voiced their displeasure with it. Many of the disgruntled citizens cite the crowds and traffic, but large crowds are to be expected with any event of this size, and any Austinite with a car knows that traffic in this city doesn’t need a special occasion to get completely out of hand. But the biggest complaint so far — that F1 clashes with the city’s culture — is not so off the mark.

Austin has long been known for its liberal politics, indie culture, predilection for “weirdness” and friendliness to the environment. F1, a glamorous, extravagant sport that has a reputation for catering to the super-wealthy, doesn’t really line up with that mentality. The globe-trotting billionaires following the race, who were denied their stated wish to hold decadent F1 parties on multimillion-dollar yachts on Town Lake, are noticeably out of place here. Even more jarring is that a city consistently ranked among the greenest in the country is now hosting a massive car race. F1 and the Circuit of the Americas have vigorously promoted their efforts to reduce carbon emissions, but the relatively small number of carbon offsets they paid for at the city’s urging does nothing to change the fact that the sport itself burns thousands of gallons of fossil fuels for the purposes of amusement.

It remains to be seen whether or not the effects of this race will be lasting, but it certainly seems capable of contributing to a sea change in Austin’s image. Hopefully the race will bring the promised economic growth to the city, but as we go down this path, we should be careful not to lose the unique culture that makes Austin so cool in the first place.

Stroud is an international relations and global studies sophomore from San Antonio

A contract dispute between Formula One, race promoters and track developers has put on hold a ground-breaking track in Austin.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas — Construction of a racetrack to host the U.S. Grand Prix starting next year has been halted in a contract dispute between Formula One, race promoters and developers.

That move, and a separate announcement Tuesday by State Comptroller Susan Combs that $25 million in state money for the race will not be paid in advance, cast doubt about the future of the race.

The project was hailed as a $300 million boon to the Austin economy and a critical breakthrough back into the U.S. market for Formula One, which hasn’t held the U.S. Grand Prix since 2007 in Indianapolis.

Circuit of the Americas officials, including billionaire Red McCombs, say construction won’t resume until they have a contract from Formula One to stage the race in Austin next year. Circuit of the Americas officials, without releasing details, said only that Formula One had not met a previously agreed timetable to send the contract and construction will not resume until that happens. The track is also scheduled to host MotoGP races for 10 years.

Tavo Hellmund, a former race driver with long family ties to Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone, was granted the right to stage the U.S. Grand Prix. Although he was a founding partner of the Circuit of the Americas, recent statements by Hellmund and Circuit of the Americas officials suggest a serious rift has developed.

Ecclestone said last week the sides have “forgotten to talk to each other.” Hellmund did not immediately return a telephone message left by The Associated Press.

It was Ecclestone who made the surprise announcement in 2010 that Austin would host the return of the U.S. Grand Prix on the first track built specifically for Formula One. The project had the support of state lawmakers, who voted in 2009 to make the race eligible for $25 million from a special events fund. The project also had strong backing from Combs.

Correspondence between Combs, Ecclestone and Hellmund obtained by the Austin American-Statesman showed the original plan was to pay Formula One a year in advance to cover the cost of the international
sanctioning fee.

There have been many signs of problems.

The race’s original June 2012 schedule was pushed back to November, and the recent announcement of another Formula One race in New Jersey starting in 2013 raised questions over Formula One’s commitment to the Austin race.

Combs noted the New Jersey race “is a concern” because it may reduce the number of racers who would otherwise come to Austin.

That and the dispute between Hellmund and race promotes have prompted questions about “whether the Austin race will even occur,” Combs said.

“We have not paid out any money for the Formula One event,” Combs said. “Ultimately, I am responsible for protecting the interests of Texas taxpayers, first and foremost. I will not allow taxpayer dollars to be placed
at risk.”

Bobby Epstein, founding partner of Circuit of the Americas, called the U.S. “vital for the future of Formula One and its teams and sponsors ... We hope that Texas will not be left behind.”