How the politicians can help motorsport

The news that the British government is finally beginning to take the British motorsport industry seriously is good news - even if it is rather late in the day. In part this is because of the fear that the current government has had of any contact with Formula 1 because of the scandal in 1997 which caused serious problems for Prime Minister Tony Blair. When the government moved to help out Silverstone there was criticism from the Liberal Democrats.

But the British motorsport industry deserved better and finally Patricia Hewitt, the Trade and Industry Secretary has had the foresight to ignore critics and come to the aid of the industry, which is beginning to get worried about a drift towards Germany. It is a sad but undeniable fact that British industry can no longer supply many of the parts needed in F1 cars. British steel, for example, is not of a good enough quality to be used in F1 engines these days and with the decline of the British motor and aerospace industries, the research and development opportunities in Britain have disappeared.

The last major survey into the industry was done in 1996 by the Institute of Public Policy Research thanks to a donation from Paddy McNally's Allsports Management in Geneva. Called "Playing to Win" this revealed the extent of the industry's success but warned that the greatest threat to the motorsport industry would come from "a decline in the scientific and technical competence of UK manufacturing industry".

The important issue now is not who gets what from the government because any subsidies to motor racing companies would actually do more harm than good. The strength of the industry has always been because of what is known as "performance-critical engineering". Those who did not win, did not survive. The industry grew strong by weeding out the weak and the onus was always on developing new technologies.

Thus the best way forward is for Britain to develop its educational and research establishments, with specific emphasis on the automobile industry. This will need considerable funding but it is a good sign that the government has already set aside $70m for the establishment of an Automotive Academy, to produce a new generation of engineers to set the standard.

Britain currently leads the way in terms aerodynamic and composite technology in Formula 1 and it will take a long time for this expertise to be replicated elsewhere. The motor racing industry has already taken over many of the old government and military windtunnels in Britain but investment in the development of university facilities would certainly help the British motorsport industry to stay ahead of the game.

The meeting between the DTI and a number of important figures in the motorsport industry will be a fascinating one and it will be interesting to see what emerges.

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