Friday, 19 December 2014
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Motorsport ethos offers value to other sectors

Engineers frequently argue until blue in the face about the relevance of motorsport. For many, the once vigorous flow of technology from track to road trickled to a halt years ago. For some, it is as vibrant as it has ever been. And others provocatively ask: ‘Why should it matter? It’s only a sport.’

But wherever you stand on the issue of motorsport as a real-world technology incubator, there’s one less tangible spin-off that has immense value to the wider world: the engineering ethos of engineers schooled by the demands of the track.

As legendary Formula One (F1) engineer Gordon Murray argues in our latest interview the relentlessly unforgiving cycle of a race season forces engineers to get things done quickly, and the industry has fostered a nimble, no-nonsense approach to problem solving that’s of increasing value to a host of other sectors.

What’s more, while an F1 engine is hardly an iconic symbol of low-carbon engineering, motorsport’s obsession with squeezing every last drop of performance from a vehicle does actually fit well with the low-carbon, energy efficiency demands driving so many sectors.

Murray’s own initiative is a case in point. On the surface, his move from race car to low-carbon vehicle design represented a radical change of direction for someone apparently so much a part of the motorsport industry. But his iStream manufacturing process, and the lightweight vehicles he’s built to demonstrate it, draw directly on the composites techniques he helped pioneer while at McLaren F1 in the 1980s.

Critically, Murray is not alone. The UK boasts some of the world’s most innovative motorsport companies and, increasingly, wherever you look, their skills and know-how are feeding back into other areas of the engineering economy.

The relentlessly unforgiving cycle of a race season forces engineers to get things done quickly

Our latest Big Story looks at how Lola, another prominent name in the UK motorsport industry, has diversified to the point where it’s making parts for war ships, unmanned aerial vehicles, satellites and airliners.

Unlike Murray, Lola hasn’t ruled out a return to F1 and is hoping to rejoin the competition soon, but more than two thirds of its revenue now comes from other sectors. Asked why this is, Paul Jackson, Lola’s commercial director, echoed the point made by Murray. ‘We tend to drive our customers forward,’ he said. ‘We’re used to solving technical issues and getting them out the door.’

While the motorsport mindset is perhaps the sector’s biggest gift to the wider engineering industry, if you had to pick a tangible technology area it would probably be the use of composite materials. And our report on the newly launched National Composites Centre looks at how materials technology pioneered by McLaren way back in 1981 is now, 30 years later, at the heart of the UK’s plans for industrial growth. Yet another example of the unquantifiable value of the UK’s motorsport expertise.


Readers' comments (5)

  • You state that "The UK's unique strength in the motorsport sector could help many other industries to improve energy efficiency,..." yet they continue to use a power source that at best is 25% efficient, the internal combustion engine.

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  • So much of the strength of the motorsport industry is in its positive culture and a determination to succeed.This requires teamwork and the ability to optimise design and manufacturing processes. As someone who spent over 20 years in F1 I understand that philosophy and operate my own successful company in the same way, although on a much smaller budget.

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  • Can't agree more, I'm a graduate of the university of Wales, Motorsport Design & Management degree. The lessons that we learned on the track are easily applicable to everyday working life for me now. On a race car/bike if the team does not work together to build the car/bike wrong then there is a possibility of people being hurt or seriously injured (as a number of industries) The competitive nature and friendly rivalry (most the time) can been also used in business. A lot can be learnt from the automotive industry from other more general industries. Maybe were already seeing this with the build off site philosophy.

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  • Anonymous .... I guess you "trolling" and are unaware of any detail then of up and coming categories of motorsport using EV's and Hybrids and the new technology it brings which is adaptable to the mass population of cars on the road.... eg. KERS

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  • Our business has evolved from the F1 machine with my co-director having been mentored by John Barnard for 15 years and through this applied the F1 approach to problem solving and getting it right first time every time and on time. We, Performance Engineered Solutions (PES) Ltd, operate in Olympic winter Sport, MotoGP, medical, wind energy, aerospace and automotive to name a few. We deliver performance solutions that cut across all sectors and allows us to cross pollinate technologies from one sector to the other. The experience working in multiple performance environments is invaluable and YES F1 is a superb environment however as we have experience unless you work in a multiple performance environment you can still become blinkered. An example of this is now designers in larger teams are 'shoe horned' onto one section of the car and may work on the front wing for years and so reducing innovation and reducing the opportunity to evolve the whole design!! Variety, not only speed and budget creates performance....... debate

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