The 70th anniversary of the Formula One Grand Prix is the perfect time to celebrate the amazing drive towards innovation that characterises the British automotive industry.

This year’s Silverstone competition marks the same spot the event began in 1950. Since then, Britain has won the title more often than any other country.

The UK also makes more Grand Prix cars than anywhere else in the world, with seven out of the ten Formula One teams basing themselves here.

Just picture all that R&D in action.

All this is enough reason to pop the champagne on an extra bottle. But there is also the more recent Project Pitlane to be proud of. After being approached by government officials, Formula One teams turned their competitive spirit against COVID-19. They worked with maximum collaboration to create the tools necessary for the NHS to look after patients with the new disease.

Innovation with the highest of purpose.

UK motorsports industry figures

Motorsports Valley employs more than 40,000 people in its 4,300 businesses. And the combined annual turnover is £10billion. According to the Motorsports Industry Association, exporting services and products is part of 70% of their business. The largest export market for UK motorsports is the USA.

As Graham Stuart, Minister for Exports, said: “Since the first race at Silverstone 70 years ago, the UK has contributed so much to Formula 1 on and off the track. The UK is not just home to the reigning world champion, but also the majority of teams’ headquarters, which is testament to our world-leading motorsport industry. Through innovation, manufacturing excellence and our highly skilled workforce, British F1 has transformed the global automotive industry and will continue to do so for decades to come.”

A spokesperson for Formula 1 said: “From aerodynamics to safety developments, F1 has always been at the forefront of technological innovation with advancements that have directly benefitted the global automotive industry. This is only possible because of our people. Our sport employs thousands in the UK, with 25,000 skilled engineers linked to F1, as well as supply chains across continents.”

What is Project Pitlane?

Usually, the world of F1 R&D is shrouded in secrecy and battles between companies are fiercely fought. But all of their energy, skill and knowledge was combined to tackle our ventilator crisis at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Managing director of Mercedes AMG High-Performance Powertrains, Andy Cowell, said:

“There was absolutely no competition, it was pure collaboration. We would all talk about what we knew and what we were doing, a huge amount of collaboration and open information sharing. Now we have staff members more proud of the fact that they have made something that is helping covid patients than they are of winning races. It’s a remarkable, emotional feeling for the people who have worked on it and the whole company.”

Mark Gillan is the chief technology officer of Innovate UK and initiated contact with Formula 1’s chief technology officer Pat Symonds. Gillan had a long career working in F1 himself and knew that, “F1’s strengths are pace, teamwork and the ability to rapidly manufacture complex systems in tight timelines and take on board new ideas. They are also very good at competitive analysis, looking at a complex system, understanding how to reverse-engineer it and make it.”

All seven UK based teams got involved and successfully produced key equipment for the NHS at remarkable speed.

Project Pitlane’s successes:

  • Finding necessary equipment and materials through existing supply chains
  • BlueSky device created and approved by Red Bull and Renault teams. However this was not produced because new knowledge of the virus changed the requirements.
  • Continuous Positive Airway Pressure device (CPAP) went from reverse-engineering to approval in just 10 days. This was led by Mercedes, working alongside Haas, McLaren, Racing Point and Williams. 10,000 were manufactured within the month and ready for use in hospitals. Production was at 50-60 per week and is now 1,500.

A common enemy bound these competitors together to create solutions that benefit so many.

A truly Happy 70th Anniversary from us all.

Jamie Smith