Formula One is the fastest, most exciting, most alluring, most impossibly brilliant sport to be involved with. It is glamour at two hundred miles an hour, magic in an aerodynamically efficient package. It bestrides the world and makes its way into millions of homes on every inhabited continent. It's the stuff dreams are made of, mighty and magnificent to behold.
We do our bit from an industrial estate in Milton Keynes.
Red Bull Racing has grown beyond recognition since our humble beginnings at the end of 2004 but our factory remains the beating heart of the team. Despite frequent expansion and additions, it’s always busy, always giving the impression of being about to burst at the seams. While most definitely not the glamorous side of racing, this is where long hours and hard work produce the cars that make all of that stuff possible. Our factory isn’t the prettiest – but it might just be the finest tool for creating racing cars ever conceived.
Building One is the team’s original home – in fact, sand away the blue paint and you may see a flash of green or white beneath. It houses design upstairs and initial manufacturing in the workshops below. Building Two houses our race bays, where the cars are put together (and taken apart) by our race crews, who also have a replica of the pit box gantry where they practice pit stops over and over and over again. Building Three is home to our state-of-the-art machine shop and composites facility. It also has a really excellent sandwich bar.
Around the periphery of the site are various other workshops and storage facilities, plus our freight yard in which there is rarely a quiet moment with heavy transporters coming and going from race tracks and Live Demo events, plus shipping containers being despatched to, or received from, every corner of the world.
The newest addition to our factory is MK-7. Previously, our cars have spent their retirement under dust sheets, housed on racks in the warehouse – but we’re mature enough now have sufficient heritage to put on display, so we have a full set of cars – RB1 through RB14 – on permanent display for our guests and, occasionally, staff to take a long look at.
And this is our factory. From the outside, perhaps not a sight to set the heart racing but inside it's the fastest, most exciting, most alluring, most impossibly brilliant factory in the whole of Motorsport Valley.
SOME KEY AREAS:
THE TECHNICAL OFFICES
Many of the people working at Red Bull Racing are employed in the technical offices, located upstairs in Building One. The largest portion of these work in the Drawing Office, comprised of five distinct groups tasked to composites, suspension, hydraulics, transmission and systems design. The technical offices also house specialist teams looking after Aero Performance, Vehicle Dynamics, Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) and Stress Analysis.
In a sport where definitions of success and failure are often measured in thousandths of a second, speed of development is vital. While launches and major upgrades draw the attention, our car design is constantly updated, with new components developed day-by-day, often hour-by-hour.
Since nothing on a Formula One car works in isolation, one of the big challenges in maintaining this pace of development is sharing information between the departments. Excellent software tools exist to help manage the process but we also find it useful to house everyone in the same location. So far we haven't found a substitute for being able to walk across the room, look over someone's shoulder and discuss what's going on.
THE OPS ROOM
The Operations Room in Building One comes into its own whenever the race team are away from base. The room is tiered, Mission Control style, and is used by our engineers when the cars are on track. Key to making the Ops Room work is a data link to the circuit: in real time, the engineers working in Milton Keynes receive the same information as those working at the track.
Given the regulatory restrictions on the number of team personnel at the race track, plus the logistical challenge of a hectic season ever-more keen to visit new and far-flung locations, the value of the Ops Centre continues to rise. Whatever the conditions at a circuit, the team back at base will be able to support the race team from a position of rather more comfort and perhaps slightly more objectivity than might be the case, were they crammed into a truck or the back of a garage.
THE MODEL SHOP
While CFD and Simulation tools are increasing in sophistication all the time, an F1 team still relies heavily on its wind tunnel – and the wind tunnel relies of a constant supply of 60 per cent scale parts from our modellers. The model shop in Building Three mixes art and science, employing cutting edge rapid prototyping machinery alongside traditional model-making skills. The shop makes perfect replicas of everything from individual components up to whole cars, which are shipped off to the wind tunnel complete with 60 per cent Pirelli model tyres.
THE GEARBOX DYNO
Testing gearboxes is possibly the loudest activity at Red Bull Racing. While our Honda power units are supplied from outside, our gearboxes are manufactured and tested in-house. The units we build are examined on a chassis dynamometer in a non-stop effort to improve performance and close-off any avenue for unreliability. Our dyno is constantly pushing gearboxes through a variety of load cycles designed to simulate different grand prix circuits, race scenarios and brutal conditions way beyond anything the gearbox would ever be expected to see in action. With gearbox regulations requiring long lifecycles, and with the challenge of the hybrid powertrains creating all sorts of new variables, this department is busier than ever.
Unless you're a big fan of autoclaves and machining centres, Building Three isn't the glamour end of Formula One – but make no mistake, our manufacturing department wins races. Over the years this is probably the area of the operation that's undergone the most comprehensive transformation. There’s a lot of thought, resource and effort going into the manufacturing process.
Having a high development tempo is of little use if the facilities don't exist to manufacture those new components at the same pace. Many times our fabricators have got a major update out a race ahead of schedule, and many times new assemblies arrive at the race track on a Saturday morning, direct from the factory, promising performance improvements measured in hundredths of a second. It doesn’t sound like much but sometimes it’s all the edge we need.
It doesn't garner the same level of attention as a record-breaking pitstop or a brave overtaking move but building ultra-reliable components at breakneck speed is an essential weapon in the armoury of any team challenging for titles.
THE RACE BAYS
Building Two houses the bit of the operation everyone wants to see. When the race team is on the road, this can be a pretty lonely place – but when the cars are at home, this cavernous building is a bustling, busy, hive of activity. It's here that the cars are built during the off-season, then housed, stripped and rebuilt continually when racing resumes. It's also where the team practices pitstops: using a copy of the rig that goes to the races and a purpose-built electric mule car, the pit crew hone their skills with hours of repetitive practice – with the occasional variable thrown in by the team manager or chief mechanic just to keep things interesting.
It isn't just the race cars that live here. As we have a very active demonstration programme it's not uncommon to see one or two RB7s or RB8s [MY3] in their bays, afforded the same obsessive level of attention as the cars getting ready to race.
THE WIND TUNNEL
Our wind tunnel is the one major department conspicuous by its absence in Milton Keynes. The tunnel is a half hour drive from base – but well worth the trip.
With 'wind-on' hours restricted in F1, the tunnel isn't spinning 24/7 as it would have done a few years ago, but despite this, and its remote location, plus the ever-increasing sophistication of simulation tools, the wind tunnel is still very much a lynchpin of the operation.
The tunnel was constructed in the 1950s and originally used for aeronautical work when scale models of Concorde were among the many illustrious aircraft that passed through its chamber. Today, not much of the original facility remains and after a comprehensive refurbishment, the modern tunnel bears little resemblance to its eminent predecessor – though it remains a privilege to work somewhere with so much history in the field of cutting-edge aerodynamics.