F1 teams eye success on the track through cutting-edge facilities
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
The introduction of Formula One’s cost cap has helped level the playing field between Grand Prix racing’s biggest and smallest teams. But, despite efforts to make things equal, some remain more equal than others.
While all competitors must now operate within the same spending limit of approximately $135mn for a season, that has not stopped many of them additionally investing heavily in their infrastructure, to try to gain an advantage.
It is not a coincidence that the Aston Martin team, whose investment drive has culminated in the construction of a new £200mn state of the art factory at Silverstone, has been the surprise of the 2023 season. The team believes its new 37,000-square-metre facility will be the best in F1, and its imminent opening will be followed by a new wind tunnel, and an employee experience and events space. Aston Martin is convinced the investment will transform what is possible for the squad. Team principal Mike Krack has referred to it as a “game-changer”.
But Aston Martin is not alone in committing hundreds of millions of dollars on capital expenditure at a time when teams have to limit their spending on staff and car developments, under cost cap restrictions.
McLaren’s own new wind tunnel and simulators should be up-and-running in the next few weeks, and Alpine has also committed to a new simulator which will come on tap in two years.
Mercedes has just given the green light to a £70mn redevelopment of its Brackley campus in Northamptonshire, and Red Bull Racing has committed hundreds of millions of dollars to the creation of a new Powertrains division to design and manufacture its own engines from 2026.
As Red Bull team principal Christian Horner says about the need to keep investing in the cost cap era: “If you stand still in this business, or any business, you are just not progressing.”
As the cost cap bites, and the F1 field closes up, teams cannot afford to be substandard in any area if they want to be successful. McLaren concluded many years ago that not having its own wind tunnel made it impossible to keep up with the developments being achieved by squads such as Mercedes, Red Bull Racing and Ferrari.
McLaren team principal Andrea Stella says: “When we have a design, we produce the parts for the model, then there’s a van that drives to Cologne and we lose a couple of days. Formula One is such a fast business; you can’t have this way of operating.”
Not all the current investment is so directly related to car parts, though. In a move aimed more at people than machinery, Mercedes’ Brackley revamp includes pedestrianising the campus as well as adding restaurants, gyms and marketing buildings.
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff says the changes will ensure that Brackley is a place where people want to work — helping to attract and retain a high calibre of staff. Lap time benefits will be seen in the longer term. “It will become its own little village, with all the amenities and benefits that you would expect from a Silicon Valley-style environment,” he says.
But perhaps no team has been as ambitious with its investment commitment as Red Bull, which is taking the bold step of becoming an engine manufacturer. The huge sign-off on investment in creating Red Bull Powertrains was certainly not taken lightly, because the way F1’s commercial rights income is distributed means it will not earn one dollar more for winning championships with its own engines than it would if it used anyone else’s.
However, the team felt that the benefits of breaking away from the reliance it has had on its engine partners in recent years far outweighed the negatives. “It’s hugely ambitious, and I think it is about taking control of our own destiny for the longer term,” says Horner, whose team has already agreed a deal with Ford to co-badge the engines and help provide technical support.
“Yes, there’s going to be some short-term pain as we are effectively the first start-up engine business for probably 25 years in the UK. But that’s part of the excitement of the challenge as well.”
While all the investments taking place in F1 are driven by the desire to make cars faster, they also reflect another trend in the sport: that the value of teamwork, organisation and efficiency has ramped up as the freedom to spend has been restricted.
As Mercedes’ Wolff says: “Technology is something you can acquire, but it is the best organisation that wins. We want to have a superstar team; not a team of superstars.”