January 27 2015 Latest news:
Michael Bailey , Formula One correspondent
Thursday, July 19, 2012
It’s almost here – come the other side of August’s Formula One summer break, Norfolk will have to rely on hosting only the souls of two teams rather than any personnel.
"If I continue working with this pace and improving the car, there is no reason not to stay here"
Earlier this week, Caterham revealed the latest in the plans for their big move across from Hingham to Motorsport Valley – and in particular, their new base at Leafield; the former home of Super Aguri and Arrows, with Silverstone just down the road.
Having been set up by Tony Fernandes with the idea of reuniting the county and its iconic Norfolk marque Lotus on motorsport’s grandest of stages, the end result is more of a muddle than we would have ever foreseen.
The former Renault team based at Enstone in Oxfordshire bare only the Lotus name – but with it, sizeable responsibility for its future.
So what of Caterham? Well, their Hingham site won’t go to waste. There are big plans for the company’s composite business led by former design chief Mike Gascoyne and expansion at the factory is likely.
• GW – Valtteri Bottas: The Finn was quickest at a slimmed down young drivers’ test at Silverstone – only HRT and Marussia joined Williams during the two-day session.
• BW – Romain Grosjean: Lotus want and need to improve their qualifying output – but it won’t happen for Romain in Germany. A gearbox change will mean a five-place grid penalty.
So while Fernandes and co have moved west to join their F1 colleagues, putting them within touching distance of their wind tunnel facility rented from Williams and a significant pool of Formula One talent and experience, there will remain a significant base, resource and commodity here.
Work started on Monday – due to be finished in October – to rework the Leafield site, which will see Caterham take residence after the Hungarian Grand Prix at the end of this month. F1 doesn’t return to action until Spa arrives at the start of September.
And while the racing team’s departure is sad news on the face of it, it’s hard not to get excited about the bigger picture Fernandes and his colleagues are clearly driven by.
“It was undeniable that geography may have prevented us from expanding at quite the rate we want to,” conceded technical chief Mark Smith – who I know had been quite looking forward to establishing his family in Norfolk after a brief flirtation with Team Lotus during his formative years. “Now Leafield is open we have no barriers.”
And for chief executive Riad Asmat, the benefits for Hingham and beyond are huge – something that may not have come their way had they taken “the easy route” and stayed put.
But as is usually the case, it’s Fernandes himself who puts the thinking in a way that makes perfect sense, for now and the future: “These are important moves, not only for our incredible staff but also for the message it sends to our partners, suppliers, local communities and our competition,” he said.
“We are now a multi-faceted group of world-leading companies existing in harmony within a clear group structure that provides enormous room for growth. Under Leafield we have another major site fully operational in Hingham and through the nature of our work and the people we employ, a truly global outlook.”
It’s an outlook shared by F1 – and it’s good to know there remains a role for Norfolk to play.
• If fairytales come true, then F1’s very own Hans Christian Andersen will be sharpening his pencil this weekend.
After the usual frenzy delivered by Silverstone, it’s Germany next. Hockenheim and the Nürburgring alternate as venues – 2012 is the turn of the former.
But it will still be the German flag flying over F1 for the coming days – and while that holds special attention for a number of teams and drivers, there will be one stand-out story.
Michael Schumacher is a four-time winner of his home race – all of them coming at Hockenheim.
Add to that Schumi’s five European Grand Prix victories on home soil – all at the Nürburgring – and the seven-times world champion has more than a decent record on his own turf.
Compatriot and team-mate Nico Rosberg also drives for the German team – and everyone’s hope at Mercedes will be that their big weekend runs a little smoother than what McLaren have just been through at home.
After his four-year retirement, seeing success arise from Schumacher’s come-back has been like a romantic pipe dream.
His two and a half seasons have been littered with retirements, prangs, some woeful bad luck and in general, little to shout about.
But the message has started to change this season – notably from after his stupid crash at Barcelona with Bruno Senna.
He was the moral pole-sitter in Monaco and added his first podium finish since 2006 two rounds later.
Don’t forget, Rosberg has proved Ross Brawn’s W03 is a race-winner – and with Schumacher’s future beyond this season still a tough one to call, there will be plenty of people wistfully hoping for some Baden magic.
Of course, there will be the little matter of Sebastian Vettel, Nico Hulkenberg and Timo Glock also hoping to trouble HCA at Hockenheim – but given the British ugly ducklings didn’t bloom at Silverstone, the German crowd will be hoping their own happy ending isn’t shelved.