Formula One is one of the biggest sports on the planet. A multi-billion pound industry. From China to the deserts of Dubai to its traditional heartland of Europe, the likes of Hamilton, Alonso, Vettel and co. are global household names. Closely followed by some of the finest technical automotive minds. But it is in Britain that the world’s best and the world’s cleverest come together, in the incongruous leafy byways dotted around high-octane Silverstone. As the massive touring F1 machine rolls into town for the British Grand Prix, not just for the stellar tradition of British drivers, Brabham to Moss to Hunt to Stewart to Mansell to Hill to Button to Hamilton, but for the greatest technical minds in the paddock, Grand Prix is British.
Britain’s Motorsport Valley, located in a F1 hotbed around Northampton, plays host to most of the world’s Formula 1 teams. Natives Lotus, Williams and McLaren are joined by all-conquering Mercedes, Red Bull, Marussia and Force India within spitting distance of the Silverstone circuit. Force India are based just over the road from the prestigious track.
According to Chris Aylett, CEO of the Motorsport Industry Association: “When World War II ended, there were many aerospace engineers [based in the area] who were used to building fast, lightweight airplanes to fight the enemy but no avenue for them to use their skills. There were also lots of flat airfields [used during the war], such as Silverstone, and not many cars left so the engineers needed to be inventive and started building lightweight cars to race on the airfields, which then became race tracks.”
In the 1960’s a group of British investors, including engineer and designer Robin Herd and former FIA President Max Mosley began their own motorsport engineering facility called March Engineering. The company began manufacturing cars for a range of motorsports, including Formula 1. The company became a magnet for engineering talent and soon became the place to be for motorsport development. The likes of McLaren, Williams and Brabham established their own shops near the North Oxfordshire site.
Motorsport Valley is now home to almost 3,500 companies associated with the industry, employing nearly 40,000 people. The technical, innovative brain trust of Formula 1 lives and breathes here when not hopping from Grand Prix to Grand Prix across the globe. Last year 17 of the 20 races in F1 were won by a British-built car. And 38 constructors’ championships have been won by British based constructors, far more than Italy or France.
Some of the greatest design talent in the motor sporting industry work here. Adrian Newey (pictured left with Red Bull’s head honcho Christian Horner), inspired an ongoing new wave in Formula 1 design. From his early career at Leyton House March, where his obsession with aerodynamic perfection redfined F1 car design, Newey was a man obsessive with reaching new levels of speed via design and science. His unfortunate firing from Leyton House March only led to better opportunities. He is now lead designer for Red Bull racing after a blisteringly high-tech career with some of F1’s most illustrious teams, most notably Williams.
A team that dominated modern F1 from the off, Williams flew the flag for alongside McLaren as one of Britain’s all-time great teams. Many famous drivers sat in Williams’ race cars, from Nigel Mansell and Damon Hill to Jenson Button – all winning their own championships (Button in the short-lived Brawn GP team, headed by another great British motorsport luminary Ross Brawn). But it’s not only Formula 1 that has benefited from compacting the world’s leading talent in motorsport innovation, it is the general public, too.
From the steering in everyday cars to heat shields, car technology has rapidly improved due to the highly intensive development stages Formula 1 has been through. As many race teams were born from world leading car manufactures, technological advancements were not going to be hoarded by the pit crews. Bodywork design, electric gearboxes, rear and front wings and KERS boxes all came from F1. Vast engine improvements and efficiency measures heavily influenced the later designs of commercial cars as they became less fuel intensive and easier to drive. A lot of these advancements were founded in the rolling fields of Great Britain, too. But the racing heritage of this island runs deep.
Last year’s Santander British Prix highlighted a world favourite for track design. The Silverstone track is infamous for testing a driver’s capability to the absolute extreme. With mega high speed straights and severe corners, drivers adore the challenge and the enjoyment stretches to the fans. Hundreds of thousands of them on their mass annual pilgrimage to the spiritual home of British motorsport. Since its first race in 1950, it shared the British Grand Prix with other tracks such as Brands Hatch, Silverstone has been the home of the British Grand Prix since 1987. The circuit is 5.891 km in length and drivers are required to complete 52 laps, achieving an overall distance of 306.198 km. The current record holder in terms of lap speed is Australian Mark Webber, who achieved 1:33.401 in 2013.
Although the industry has flown high, it is still not exempt from the troubles of the global economy. The latest financial crisis has hit the industry hard, with teams having to cut back on budgets. But this hasn’t stopped development and new ideas from gaining serious traction. The emergence of Formula E, largely developed in the UK, has now taken a leading role in creating a sustainable future for petrol-hungry motorsport. The electric powered races, have proven to be popular with innovative city based circuits (such as the recent E-Prix in Battersea Park, London), attracting interesting investors like Leonardo di Caprio and Richard Branson, and the likes of F1 legend Alain Prost.
Motorsport Valley looks like it will retain the title of being the home of F1 for some time to come. With 30% still being spent by teams on research and development and with wide-scale Government support, Great Britain looks like it will stay home to one of the leading motorsport industries on the globe. The Grand Prix is British, by design.
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