Wake up Britain!
JUNE 22, 2002
In the latter days of the Second World War a British intelligence officer called Cameron Earl persuaded the British Intelligence Objectives Sub-Committee to allow him to go to Germany and see what could be found in the filing cabinets at Mercedes-Benz and AutoUnion. The aim of this mission was to discover how the two German companies had been so completely dominant in Grand Prix racing in the 1930s. Cameron's report, entitled "An Investigation into the Development of German Grand Prix Cars 1932-1939" was published by His Majesty's Stationery Office and all 750 copies were sold within days. But the publication of all the technical specifications of the 1930s Grand Prix cars, the budgets and all the technologies which were being considered but not used did not really start to appear on British cars until the 1960s. The notable example often cited is that of rear-engined racing cars which the Germans invented in 1932.
Since his days in Berlin (during the Cold War) The Mole has always tried to keep strong links with German industry and has a number of agents operating in that sector. Once in a while The Mole takes the waters at Baden-Baden and meets "Norbert" (it is not his real name) for lunch at an out-of-the-way place in the Black Forest, where the cherry cake is rather good.
The other day "Norbert" was whispering about plans that have been circulating in the corridors at Unterturkheim, the centre of the Daimler-Chrysler AG universe, for the company to build its own Formula 1 factory in Germany. It seems that the feeling in Stuttgart is that this makes more sense than continuing to build up activities in Britain, where motorsport engineering has been centred for the last 40 years. There is a feeling that Germany is fast-becoming the centre of the racing world.
There is similar talk in Munich where BMW executives have been (quietly) mulling over the idea of building their own Formula 1 cars. Toyota has already established an enormous F1 factory outside Cologne. Already many of the technology suppliers in F1 are in Germany as there are not British factories capable of producing or treating the parts that are needed. Technology has advanced significantly and with the running down of the British motor and aerospace industries, the research and development opportunities in Britain have been shrinking. The Formula 1 teams have bought up many of the old aerospace windtunnels in Britain but this is their only advantage. As Sauber has shown, one can buy in skilled workers like composite lay-up men. Nowadays what is needed are large numbers of specialist microelectronics and material engineers and researchers. F1 has become so complex that the basics are now very basic indeed.
Some years ago some academics assessing the British motorsport industry concluded that the greatest threat to the industry "would be a decline in the scientific and technical competence of UK manufacturing industry". The report, which defined Formula 1 as "engineering warfare", indicated that there was the need to strengthen of existing markets while waiting for the new markets in Asia and elsewhere to open up. This does not seem to have happened.
"Norbert" could not give full details of the Mercedes-Benz F1 plans but there is no doubt that it would mean a considerable restructuring of current arrangements, notably on the engine side. McLaren's amazing new factory in Woking, which is part-owned by Mercedes-Benz, will not doubt remain as it is for McLaren is one of the beacons of success in British industry but one has to ask whether Ilmor Engineering, a firm which is also part-owned by Mercedes, will survive in its current form.
Already the Germans are doing a lot of advanced research and development and producing prototype engines at Unterturkheim, where there are around 30 "highly-qualified engineers and techicians" doing advanced work on single-cylinder dynos, developing new combustion shapes and testing out new materials. The facility also boasts a transient dynamometer which can simulate Grands Prix races for the purpose of testing the engines to the limit.
Ilmor Engineering currently employs around 400 people to build 65 Formula 1 engines each year. At the moment teams are going through eight or 10 engines per race weekend but what happens if the rules are changed and they need only one or two engines in the future?
The regulation changes will mean that the emphasis will shift more to the technology and less to the industrial processes, and The Mole believes that this will play into the hands of the nations which have the best technology.
How does one calculate who has the best technology?
The Mole sent out his research teams and the conclusion they reached was to look at the courses being run at advanced academic establishments and at the lists of experts who speak at the ground-breaking international engineering conferences.
The Germans win.
Germany has a string of engineering schools in an around Stuttgart, notably the School of Mechanical Engineering at Esslingen, the Institute of Statics and Dynamics of Aerospace Structures at the University of Stuttgart and a variety of other top level establishments which feed the needs of Bosch, Daimler-Chrysler, Porsche, AEG and other high technology companies in and around Stuttgart.
Germany also has a strong aerospace industry even if the three research centers are in the north of the country, one of them being conveniently close to Toyota in Cologne.
The lists of speakers at high technology engineering conferences revealed Germans, Japanese, Americans and French. But where were the British? There were as many Belgians and Bielorussians as there were British speakers.
The Mole feels that if things continue to develop in this way, the British motor racing industry will soon have to start looking for help from the likes of Cameron Earl once again.
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