Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 20 No. 42
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.

Formula One shows off the best in British innovation

As the British racing great Stirling Moss once said, “If God had meant for us to walk, why did he give us feet that fit car pedals?”

We can’t all be race car drivers, but I think it’s fair to say that 400 million fans around the world agree. And last month, as the Formula One U.S. Grand Prix kicked off in Austin, Texas, the U.K. was showing off the best of British innovation.

To the outside or uninitiated eye, auto racing looks like cars flinging themselves around the tracks at hyper speed. But F1 is a sport of precision. Each ounce is calibrated, each inch is measured, every material tested to the limit.

But long after the cars have screeched to a halt (and the drivers’ necks have recovered from all of those g-forces), British innovation is making a difference off the tracks. Of course, we have a long tradition of innovation, from the disc brakes pioneered in the 1950s to the carbon fibre composites produced by McLaren in the 1980s. On your commute to work, you might benefit from paddle shifters or an adaptive suspension, which all made their debut on a F1 raceway.

Today, these solutions continue to astound, thanks to the more than 4,300 businesses and 41,000 employees working in British motorsport. But it’s not just cars that benefit. Over 30 percent of motorsport companies’ turnover is reinvested in R&D — almost 10 times higher than road-car manufacturers.

That research has been transformative, especially back home in the U.K. With the technology behind flywheel energy storage, two remote Scottish island communities have stabilized their power grids and reduced emissions. At Great Ormond Street hospital in London, staff have applied pit stop techniques to reduce waiting times and increase efficiency in the operating theatre. And alongside the UK Ministry of Defense, British motorsport has played a pivotal role in developing cutting-edge vehicles that protect against roadside bombs and IEDs.

So as you settle in to watch Lewis Hamilton win yet another title, pay close attention. The British theories playing out on the racetrack today can be the world’s technologies of tomorrow.

Patrick Davies
Deputy head of mission to the USA, British Embassy,
Washington, D.C.