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AUGUST 5, 2011

Analysis: Gilles Simon and P.U.R.E: a concern?


The move of Gilles Simon, the FIA's Director, Technical and Powertrain, to join Craig Pollock's new P.U.R.E engine concern caused a ripple or two in the F1 paddock over the Hungarian GP weekend.

Simon has followed FIA president Jean Todt from Peugeot to Ferrari and then to the FIA. The P.U.R.E project looks set to be staffed by ex-Peugeot and Renault personnel and clearly has the support of Todt, who is keen to ensure there is a supply of viable customer V6 turbo engines in F1.

That Simon's latest career move has Todt's full blessing was underlined by the quote provided by the FIA president for P.U.R.E's press release announcing Simon's arrival!

"Gilles leaves the FIA with my thanks and best wishes," Todt said. "I know how much of his life has been devoted to his love of designing powertrains.

"After a very fruitful 18-month period at the FIA where he has been able to leave a significant legacy in the 2014 powertrain regulations, Gilles has been offered an opportunity at P.U.R.E. that will enable him to make a substantial contribution to a new era in F1. I wish him a successful future."

There is concern that Simon, in his FIA role, has had access to much technical information from F1's engine manufacturers that could be of use in his new role, which he started on August 1.

"First reactions are fairly predictable and understandable from my part," said Renault Sport's Rob White. "On a personal and professional level, we've had good relations with Gilles for a long time in his present job, and in his previous job at Ferrari.

"Of course, it's of concern to all of us that in this close relationship with Gilles and the FIA over the past year, 18 months, we've given unprecedented access to Gilles. We certainly have at Renault and I believe all of the engine companies have done so, particularly in respect of the state of progress in our respective engine development programmes alongside the rules package.

"And so, of course, we would be most concerned to be reassured that information to which Gilles has had access to in those very privileged circumstances as a representative of the FIA, is not used in his new capacity as an employee of a competitor."

There is a feeling within the sport that, in future, sensitive FIA technical positions should be governed by contracts with substantial periods of 'gardening leave' in the event of the individual moving on, although that would lead to significant employment/financial issues that would need to be resolved.

"It's a very complicated sport," White added. "In order that the technical and sporting regulations can be administered successfully, we require the governing body to have good people and they probably require to have access to the teams, and therefore there's an obvious risk that needs to be managed if the same people can crop up in a different shirt very shortly afterwards."

Simon, meanwhile, has told the French L'Equipe newspaper: "In the course of my work for the FIA, when I was asked to help determine the configuration of a new F1 engine, I collaborated with all manufacturers.

"Our exchanges were clear and transparent. All members of the group had access to the same information. It would be inappropriate for any of my colleagues to complain, subsequently, that I had access to information that they did not want communicated to a rival. There is nothing of that kind that could cause problems in my new role.

"The (engine) choices were agreed by everybody and there is nothing in the 2014 rules that could be considered contentious, or that might favour one supplier over another."

Regarding his decision to join P.U.R.E, Somon says: "When I received a proposal from Craig Pollock and Christian Contzen, I thought it corresponded with what I wanted to do. I'd be taking a risk, but I was interested in the prospect of assembling a group of experienced people to create a brand-new engine - and to have to do it all from scratch.

"We have to convince the leading teams that we have something competitive to offer them, but I think there is room for a top-quality independent engine supplier in F1. I also think we have the necessary attributes to succeed.

"It isn't easy building an engine and transmission, but that makes it a more exciting technical challenge. What's more, the goal won't be to limit the use of our technology to motorsport, but to adapt it to the road-car market, too, in the longer term."

Simon denies that his move will place the FIA in a difficult position over the implementation of the 2014 engine regulations.

"I was a little surprised when we had to re-draw the engine plans in June because the in-line four concept had already been agreed for 2013," he admits.

"A number of teams decided they wanted a V6 though, so we adapted accordingly. It won't be any easier to build a V6: in fact it presents extra difficulties because it will rev higher. It's just a shame that most engine suppliers had already spent a significant sum on four-cylinder projects that are now redundant. Money spent on research is never wasted, but in this instance it could have been used to better effect."

"I wanted to bring the new FIA engine project to a successful conclusion, Some fine-tuning is still required but the main work is done. I will leave it to my FIA colleagues to complete the task we started, re-energising the technical department. It is a long-term project."