Atlas F1   The British F1 Corridor

  by Will Gray, England

The up coming British Grand Prix will be the home race for many of the teams on the Silverstone grid, but the British public are not quite like the Tifosi. In Italy, the passion is all Ferrari - there are some great Italian drivers on the grid, but their supporters tend to be small fish in a sea of red. At Silverstone, fans sit on the side of the drivers. History tells us that although the years of Clark and Hill saw the British favourites in British cars, the crowd looked out for the drivers and not the marques. Indeed, true to tradition, the Silverstone crowd this year can be expected to be seen waving Union Jacks emblazoned with the names Herbert, Irvine, Coulthard and Button, rather than British team names McLaren, Jordan, Williams, etc.

Quite simply, no team yet has been able to present an aura to become passionate about. Last year at Silverstone, Jordan gave away yellow flags emblazoned with their logo, but the flags were waved for Hill. Jaguar aim to change this driver bias, and the spotlight will of course be on them for their first Grand Prix in native Great Britain. For the first time, one of the most traditional of British cars will be present on the grid, and it is one that could spark off some patriotic passion. Cleverly, the team races with two of the most popular British drivers, and this will help them gain crowd support, but we shall still not be able to see if the Tifosi-like passion is with Jaguar or their drivers.

Despite traditional support, the British have much more than four drivers to be proud about on the grid. Of the eleven teams in Formula One this year, seven are based in the U.K., and six of these teams can be found within a 20 mile wide corridor swathed through Central England. Beginning by the main gate at Silverstone - so called 'Home of British Motor Racing' - we find the base of Jordan Grand Prix. Their main factory lies on a four-acre site just across the road, so close that the roar of the cars can be heard from the drawing office. Because of this, Silverstone is Jordan's easiest Grand Prix - if any parts are needed they just have to trot across the road to get them!

Not too far from there, just ten minutes down the way in fact, lies Brackley - truly a Formula One town. On one side of the town is Jordan's second site, which deals with all things aerodynamic and houses their 40% scale wind tunnel. On the other side, just along the by-pass, live British American Racing, in a purpose built factory the size of a whole industrial estate. The impressive headquarters show they mean business, and don't even think about trying to get in - there's 24-hour security just to get into the car park!

Leaving Brackley behind, it's off to Milton Keynes, and the former base of Stewart Grand Prix. Directly east of Brackley, this 80,000 square foot factory is now home to British racing green, and if Jaguar's marketing plans come to fruition it could become the UK's Maranello. Heading further southwest, the next stop in the F1 corridor is Enstone, home of Benetton. The team has always had a split nationality, yet it is entirely based in England, with 90% of the car being built at the Oxfordshire base. The 17-acre site houses their 85,000 square foot factory, and is also home to the team's 50% wind tunnel facility.

As close as Brackley is to Silverstone, Enstone finds Whitney, and the Arrows Grand Prix Team. This growing team operates out of its Leafield Technical Centre, which may grow considerably now the team has major backing. Finally, at the end of the 50 mile-long corridor lies Williams. Now moved from their former site at Didcot, the team has a large factory at Grove, near Wantage, again in Oxfordshire.

So we are missing one British team, that being World Champions McLaren. Although not in the corridor, they are not too far from the action, nestled just south west of London at a site in Woking. The sizable factory, however, could soon make way for an even larger one, befitting such multiple World Champions. It appears with the advent of BAR's mega-factory, teams are even competing for factory size now. Indeed they must, as if they have everything on site, the efficiency of the team can surely only improve.

It's not only teams that are British-based, either, and although Britain can't lay claim to the majority of engines on the grid, there are two major players within minutes of Silverstone, both following the corridor north from the circuit. It may sound German, but Ilmor Engineering, in a small Northamptonshire town called Brixworth, makes the Mercedes powerplant in the back of the McLaren. Meanwhile, the Ford and Jaguar units can be found being tested and built in nearby Northampton at the Cosworth factory.

Why then, do the teams seem intent on living on each otherís doorsteps? Well perhaps it is exactly that. Formula One moves around, and it is an acknowledged fact that once you're in, you stay in. Such is the specialised labour required, that for all teams to be situated in the same area allows vacancies to be filled with minimal disruption for the employees. Another important part of Formula One is knowledge, and through living so close to each other, it is not unusual to find thoughts being discussed, even though there are strict confidentiality clauses!

Maybe, however, it is more obvious than that - the location is ideal. Quite simply, Silverstone being on the doorstep is a handy bonus, and through history, many component manufacturers have built up around the circuit. It's obvious. If you want to build things for racing cars, put yourself where racing cars are. It is surely most efficient to manufacture 100% in-house, but it is a rarity to find a Formula One team who does this, so being near your suppliers improves efficiency and reduces cost. Perhaps it is a part of all of this, but one certainty is that the Formula One corridor will be alive and buzzing on Easter Weekend - and they will all be cheering for their teams.

Will Gray© 2000 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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