Embassy November 2013

Pole Position

Britain maintains its edge in the racing industry

• UK team driver is quadruple world champ
• Eight of 11 teams based in UK
• Technology drives cars’ success

Sebastian Vettel left the competition trailing in his slipstream at the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at Suzuka on 13 October. This was Vettel’s fifth consecutive victory, putting him within touching distance of a fourth driver’s world title and an identical fourth straight Constructors’ Championship for British-based Infiniti Red Bull Racing.

Vettel was crowned the youngest quadruple world champion in history in India two weeks later.

In the Japan race, the 26-year-old was followed past the chequered flag by Mark Webber in the other Red Bull car, showing the team’s dominance on the track this season—and the crucial importance of British industry in their victories and throughout Formula One in general.

Just days before the race, British Ambassador Tim Hitchens welcomed the Infiniti Red Bull Racing team to the embassy to stress how “Formula One is GREAT Britain”.

Christian Horner, team principal, was joined in a round-table conversation by Dr Andy Palmer, chairman of Infiniti Motor Co., Ltd., and former Formula One driver David Coulthard.

“Eight of the 11 teams racing this year are based in the UK, largely because we are at the forefront of [racing] technology and the further development of that technology”, said Horner, whose outfit is based in Milton Keynes.

“We are also able to attract a lot of young, skilled staff from other areas of the UK to work as apprentices, as well as work closely with suppliers of the niche equipment that we need”, he said.

“The UK excels in this area and when Red Bull Racing was looking for its headquarters, the most obvious place was Milton Keynes, as it is in the centre of the UK”.

Palmer agreed that the UK “is a great place to build cars”, and pointed out that Britain’s Sunderland plant alone now builds more cars than the whole of Italy, thanks in large part to the presence of Nissan Motor Company.

“We had our problems back in the 1970s, but then the UK went through a revolution with the arrival of Japanese companies—Nissan, Toyota, Honda—and there has been a huge resurgence in the industry”, Palmer said.

Nissan’s factory in Sunderland has been recognised as the most efficient in the auto industry and will be the main production base for the first new Infiniti vehicles to roll off assembly lines outside Japan.

Palmer said that apprenticeships such as those offered by Nissan are “vital to any industrialised nation”, as they are an investment in people. Such investments ensure that young tradespeople learn their skills on the shop floor, he added.

With the drivers’ and constructors’ awards for the 2013 season wrapped up, Horner said the team is already looking ahead to the races scheduled for 2014. Infiniti Red Bull Racing is tweaking the technology within its cars to give Vettel a shot at yet another championship.

Fuel economy is one area in which the team is aiming to make some improvements, along with the turbo system and the car’s aerodynamics.

And even though he has hung up his driver’s overalls and gloves, Coulthard said he always enjoys coming back to Japan’s racetracks.

“This has long been the proving ground of the auto industry and has helped Formula One to develop its technology and then share that with customers”, Coulthard said. “Suzuka is a really exciting, classic racing track. It’s challenging for drivers and there are only a few corners that are under 100km per hour”.

Asked about Britain’s tradition of turning out some of the best racing drivers in the world, Coulthard said he believes that is a result of having so many of the racing teams based in Britain.

“There is so much young talent in the UK that can be brought into these racing teams’ centres”, he said. “Lots of companies have put those systems in place—I was a Formula One apprentice for Williams.

“Having that is a great opportunity to further develop our racing teams, so it is important that Britain remains the base and development platform for the British teams”.