Manor F1 Sporting Director Graeme Lowdon with myself and co-author Ken Pasternak

Manor F1 Sporting Director Graeme Lowdon with myself and co-author Ken Pasternak

I’ve just returned from the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa. Although many of my students think that I’m off to a Grand Prix every other weekend, sadly this isn’t the case. In fact, I only tend to visit a Grand Prix when we’re working on a further edition of our book – Performance at the Limit: Business Lessons from Formula 1 Motor Racing. In these situations Mr Ecclestone has kindly supported our endeavours by permitting us access to the F1 Paddock, the essential place to be if you want to meet up with the movers and shakers in the various F1 teams.

The first time was at Imola in 2004 – ten years after that fateful weekend when Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna lost their lives, then we were at Barcelona in 2008 working on the second edition. Now it’s time for the third edition and, as luck would have it, this time it was the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa that fitted into our publishing schedule – it is a circuit I have always wanted to visit, one that oozes from the history of F1, where else would you find a version of the circuit which was modified in 1979 being referred to as the ‘new’ circuit?

It’s always enjoyable to attend a Grand Prix and to breathe in the real atmosphere of F1, but on the other hand this would hopefully be a fairly straightforward visit – interviewing some familiar and some new faces to update the F1 story and how it provides real insights for organisations and their managers to learn from. I’d managed to make contact with a few people prior to Spa to see if it would be OK for us to talk to them. One of these was Manor’s Graeme Lowdon, I’d never met him before, but I’d always thought he seemed to be a straight-forward and approachable kind of individual, and this was borne out when he responded positively to my Email within 50 mins – no passing me on to the media team, or his PA, just ‘yes, come and see me when you get to the race’ they don’t hang around in F1.

This was great news, our book focused on how other businesses and organisations can learn from F1, and as Manor F1 had just effectively risen from the ashes of administration to race again – I felt that there must be some real issues here that would interest a wider readership. So we met with Graeme at the Manor hospitality unit and I started with the question as to how he and the organisation had dealt with the challenges it had been facing over the last twelve months and how it had managed to make it back to the F1 grid in 2015, my thought was that this would get us into a discussion about the problems of going into administration. But Graeme started talking about the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix and the dreadful accident that befell Jules Bianchi and the challenge of then going to first Russian Grand Prix at Sochi while Jules was still in a critical condition in hospital. How could I have been so crass? Why did I not anticipate that the biggest challenge the team faced was nothing to do with administration, but with the catastrophic injuries suffered by one of their drivers at the Japanese Grand Prix. Like every F1 fan I had been devastated to hear that Jules had lost his fight for life in July 2015, but somehow I had managed to separate this from the organisation and most importantly the people in that organisation. What was I thinking? Or rather why was I not thinking?

How many of us can envisage a situation where one of our colleagues dies in the course of doing his or her job? Sadly, it does happen – today we woke to the sad news that Justin Wilson had succumbed to his injuries at an Indycar race – how do we then pick ourselves up from that devastation, what can those leading the organisation do to help and support others when they themselves are grieving too? And then if you realised that your business was now in a desperate financial situation that could not be immediately resolved, wouldn’t it be easier to walk away? To decide that this was the time to do something else? Not so Graeme Lowdon and John Booth of Manor F1. They pulled Manor from the ashes or perhaps more accurately from EBay, where much of the teams equipment was due to be sold, and they put themselves back on the grid where, currently they are fighting with McLaren for position, a team with around four times the budget and people that they have.

We had a great time at Spa, many of the teams could not have been more helpful and co-operative – particularly Mercedes, McLaren, Williams and Sauber. But my abiding memory will always be Manor F1, what they’ve been through, but also the quiet commitment and resolve they have demonstrated, never giving up, when most of us would have been pleased to be able to do so. One term that is used now and again in F1 is ‘racer’ it means someone who has a passion and a commitment to go racing no matter what, it’s not about the money, it’s not about status or fame, but the joy of racing and the desire to win the next race. Teams like McLaren and Williams epitomise this approach, as do their leadership, and for me so do Manor F1. They have demonstrated a different order of commitment, one which shows who the real racers are.

The good news is that at least Cosworth have the engines ready to ship

Recent news on some of the new teams suggest that there are still a few things to get in place before they are ready to start the season.

The biggest surprise is the news that Virgin Racing Team Principal Alex Tai is to step down and will be replaced by Manor Racing’s John Booth with former Racing Director Graeme Lowden moving to CEO. Whether or not this was planned, it is not great timing, but you could argue if it was going to happen it is better to happen now rather than later into the season. The implications of this are that Virgin Racing is now far less of a Virgin operation and far more of a Manor one with Virgin supplying the brand and Manor running the team.

Campos are also the subject of some speculation regarding the solidarity of their financial base with A1GP boss Tony Texeira being rumoured to be one of a number of possible new investors in the team. Driver Pedro de la Rosa is rumoured to be favourite for the second seat (Bruno Senna occupies the first), although it has been reported that this will be conditional on him bringing some funding into the team.

USF1 continue to be dogged by negative rumours – this time that they have asked to be excused the first long haul races and start racing in Europe. James Allen (jamesallenonf1.com) reports that this is untrue and that they have rooms booked for Bahrain so this seems to be another case of rumours to undermine the team.

The good news is that the Cosworth engines are ready to ship and everything seems to be fine at Lotus with Mike Gascoyne making some typically gung ho statements about the aspirations of the team. I’m sure that there will be further trials and tribulations along the way for the new teams, but hopefully we will see all of them on the grid in Bahrain on 14 March.

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Could we see Mark Webber driving a Red Bull powered Red Bull next year?

There’s an interesting theory going around at the moment that Renault could be planning to sell off their engine operation to Red Bull. This could make a lot of sense as it would enable Red Bull Racing to design the engine, chassis and aerodynamics in a parallel fashion – very much in the way that Ferrari operate. They could also supply the engine to their ‘junior’ team Toro Rosso. In the past Renault have sold off (or at least licensed) their engine operation and then picked it back up at a later stage. When they officially withdrew from their very successful engine supply programme in 1997 (having powered both Williams and Benetton to World Championships) the engine operation was taken over by Mechachrome, a specialist French engineering company, working mainly in the aerospace sector. When Renault came back into F1 in 2001 the engines were rebadged as Renault – the designs were Renault but the manufacturing was still undertaken by Mecachrome. If Renault did sell off the engine operation to Red Bull what would happen to the operation at Enstone? This operation has recently benefitted from a new CFD system powered by state of the art super-computers. If Manor’s Nick Wirth is able to prove that you can design a competitive F1 car with CFD alone then the Renault facility could be a valuable asset for someone to acquire, including Red Bull.

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Will Renault follow the Mercedes approach to F1?

If we put Ferrari to one side as a special case, and omit Toyota, as it remains unclear as to whether or not they will continue into 2010, we are seeing a new kind of involvement from those automotive manufacturers who plan to remain in F1.

The emerging model appears to be far closer to that of the eighties and nineties where the car manufacturers focus on engine supply, but with the added commitment of full or part ownership of teams. The engine scenario for 2010 looks to be dominated by Mercedes (McLaren, Brawn, Force India) and Cosworth (Williams, Campos, USF1, Manor, Lotus) with Ferrari and Renault also supplying engines to Toro Rosso (and also Sauber if they secure a place) and Red Bull Racing respectively. It looks likely that Mercedes will be aligning their brand more strongly with Brawn, but also that they may be seeking to identify a separate identifiable brand in the way that Cosworth will no doubt do. The other interesting question is Renault. Will the team be looking to find a buyer and shift to the kind of model which Mercedes are developing? – I suspect so.

Minardi were famous for their use of Pay Drivers - which included one F.Alonso

Minardi were famous for their use of Pay Drivers - which included one F.Alonso

Things are still very fluid in the driver market. Although some key players (Alonso, Kubica) have now firmed up their plans for 2010, there are still quite a few places left to fill, and of course it is not yet clear how many teams will really be on the grid next year. Even by F1 standards there is a lot of uncertainty as to how things will pan out.

The denials of Barrichello and Rosberg, regarding the rumours on the Brazilian media that a switch is imminent, appear to confirm that the revitalized Barrichello will go to Williams and Rosberg will cement the Mercedes/Brawn marriage by providing a German driver (by passport anyway) for the three-pointed star. But many of the others are wide open. The F1-Live.com website has an interesting piece on the potential funds that some of the new drivers could be bringing to teams – this could be a real clincher in today’s difficult times. I remember Paul Jordan, the former Commerical Director at Minardi, explaining to me how they treated drivers as sponsors as a significant proportion of their revenue would come from their drivers. It seems that the pay-driver is making a comeback in 2010.

According to F1-Live.com the league table of pay-drivers for next year is as follows:

1)      Vitaly Petrov (Russian)Euro 15 million (Current rumours: Campos, Manor, Lotus)

2)      Bruno Senna (Brazilian) Euro 10 million (Current rumours: Campos)

3)      Lucas di Grassi (Brazilian) Euro 7 million

4)      Nelsinho Piquet Jr (Brazilian) Euro 5 million

5)      Sergio Perez (Mexican) Euro 5 million

6)      Pastor Maldonado (Venezuelan) Euro 5 million

7)      Fairuz Fauzy (Malaysian) Unknown (Current rumours: Lotus)

8)      Adam Carroll (Irish) Unknown (Current rumours: Manor)

Although the pay-driver tag is a bit of stigma, let’s not forget that both Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso started this way. I wonder if we have anyone of their quality in this eight.

The windtunnel has been the basis of F1 design for the last thirty years

The wind tunnel has been the basis of F1 design for the last thirty years

Ever since Tony Rudd and Peter Wright used the wind tunnel at Imperial College London to perfect ground effect aerodynamics the wind tunnel has been the mainstay of F1 car design. Dr John Stollery first developed a moving ground wind tunnel at Imperial College in the early sixties to support Donald Campbell’s land and sea record breaking attempts, he also published his work in this area which was to become part of the stimulus for the work of Lotus and others in the mid seventies to develop a more sophisticated understanding of automotive aerodynamics.

Back in April 2000 I interviewed John Stollery (now Professor of Aerodynamics here at Cranfield University) on the subject of wind tunnels and their use in Formula 1. One of the questions I put to him was whether wind tunnels could ever be replaced by the emerging area of computational fluid dynamics (CFD) which used computer power to simulate the aerodynamics of an F1 car. He explained that this was unlikely as the main problem was that all airflow around the car would need to be modeled in great detail, involving millions, perhaps billions, of calculations, which at that time would involve many hours, if not days, of computations. The main problem with CFD was that if the designers then decided to try a different ride height or present the car at a different angle (or yaw) to the airflow then the whole thing would need to be completely re-run. In a wind tunnel such changes could be made in a few minutes and the designers would be able to instantly see the results. This meant that experimentation was relatively quick and easy, this is in fact was what happened with the Lotus ground-effect project when Peter Wright and his colleagues decided to place some card on the sides of the model and suddenly got some amazing downforce readings – and so skirts were introduced to F1 cars. Such experimentation was unlikely to happen with CFD.

Well that was in 2000 and it seems that for 2010 we will have the first F1 car developed purely by CFD. Nick Wirth’s Wirth Research operation is designing and building the car for the Manor F1 team using only CFD to simulate the effectiveness of the aerodynamics. Potentially this is the first F1 car designed and developed without the aid of a wind tunnel for over thirty years.

The interesting question is whether or not their car will be as competitive as their new rivals Campos, Lotus and USF1 who, as far as I’m aware, will be making use of wind tunnels. The two questions to ask are 1) how fast will it be versus the competition at the start of the season? And 2) how quickly can they develop the car during the season? Removing the wind tunnel from the equation is potentially a massive cost saving, there is no need to run these giant structures with powerful fans, and no need to build models of the car to be used in the wind tunnel and no need for teams of people working on calibration. As Clayton Christensen’s books on the innovator’s dilemma underline, established firms find it almost impossible to justify innovations that will destroy their existing capabilities and investments, whereas new entrants without the legacy of the old technology are able to come in with different structures designed around new technologies. In 1999 the Stewart Grand Prix F1 car was the first to have been designed using a full CAD-CAM system ie all drawings were digital to allow them to be manufactured straight from the design. As a new team having to build their design operation from scratch they were able to do this, whereas their competitors were not and had to translate manual drawings into machine code. Now all F1 teams use CAD-CAM.

The established teams will be watching the Manor car with interest to see if a competitive F1 car can be developed without the huge behemoths that they use to refine their aerodynamics. It is unlikely that the removal of wind tunnels will be widespread initially, but given the pressure to reduce costs and carbon footprint it is unlikely that Manor will be the only team to take this approach.