We take a tour of the ren­o­va­tions at the Re­nault fac­tory, as Team En­stone pre­pare for their next step


Left: the smart new re­cep­tion area as it will look when works (right) are fin­ished. As things stand, plan­ning in­spec­tors have found it hard even to lo­cate the re­cep­tion

‘Team En­stone’ was once F1 in­dus­try short­hand for mak­ing a lit­tle go a long way. Un­der var­i­ous own­ers (Tole­man, Benet­ton, Re­nault and Lo­tus) they snagged four driv­ers’ ti­tles and three con­struc­tors’ cham­pi­onships on a mod­est spend, un­der­pinned by the ag­ile minds of a core group of tal­ented en­gi­neers. That was un­til the money started to run out.

Starved of spon­sor­ship, own­ers Genii Cap­i­tal ceased in­vest­ment in 2015, and those en­gi­neer­ing brains be­gan to look else­where. Lights went out across the fac­tory: de­part­ing staff were not re­placed; CFD soft­ware li­cences not kept up to date; and con­trac­tors took le­gal ac­tion as their bills went un­paid.

When Re­nault re-bought the team in 2015 it was in a woe­ful state, so they set about adding re­source, re­cruit­ing staff, and em­bark­ing on an ex­ten­sive build­ing pro­gramme. As F1 Rac­ing ar­rives for a site visit, win­ter is yet to with­draw its icy grasp from this quiet cor­ner of Ox­ford­shire coun­try­side, yet part of the fac­tory ex­ten­sion is al­ready com­plete and an­other sec­tion un­der way.

Out of this sea of mud, con­crete and steel may come Re­nault’s sal­va­tion, though it means drop­ping the lean-op­er­a­tion ethos that has held sway since Flavio Bri­a­tore ruled the roost. The last ma­jor in­fra­struc­ture pro­ject here, the 1,000m2 un­der­ground CFD fa­cil­ity, built in 2008 for $50m and hous­ing what was once one of the world’s 50 most pow­er­ful com­put­ers, was a far­sighted punt at a time when other teams were spend­ing even greater amounts on sec­ond wind­tun­nels.

“We looked at where F1 is go­ing as an in­dus­try, hav­ing an­a­lysed Mercedes and Red Bull,” says MD Cyril Abite­boul. “Red Bull is the model. What makes them strong is their man­u­fac­tur­ing ca­pac­ity; the speed at which they bring in­no­va­tion to the track is best in class.”

To that end, much of the new fac­tory is given over to ac­tiv­i­ties that in pre­vi­ous years were out­sourced. Part of the new com­plex houses paint booths: yes, even the fi­nal coat used to be ap­plied off-site. Closer to the gates a pair of holes in a con­crete foun­da­tion will soon ac­com­mo­date up to two state-of-the-art CNC ma­chines.

“This will be fin­ished by the end of March,” says fa­cil­i­ties man­ager Martin Cum­mings. “A five-axis CNC ma­chine is seven me­tres tall and needs nine me­tres of clear­ance for us to get it in­side and in­stall it, plus it needs to be iso­lated from the rest of the build­ing be­cause you’ve got the dy­namic load mov­ing around. So they have a separate foun­da­tion, de­cou­pled from the floor.

“We have one on or­der. It made sense to fu­ture­proof the fa­cil­ity by mak­ing room for two in case we need an­other. We’ve de­signed the lay­out so the first ma­chine can run while we in­stall an­other.”

A com­plex new air re­cir­cu­lat­ing sys­tem will keep the build­ing at a con­stant 21°C, crit­i­cal for main­tain­ing fine en­gi­neer­ing tol­er­ances given metal’s propen­sity to ex­pand and con­tract in chang­ing tem­per­a­tures. In­sourc­ing rather than out­sourc­ing will re­duce the team’s car­bon foot­print, reck­ons Cum­mings, but the busi­ness rea­son isn’t to save money. In fact, in­sourc­ing can be less cost-ef­fec­tive be­cause the ma­chines won’t nec­es­sar­ily run all the time.

“It is prag­ma­tism, but it’s not about cost­ef­fi­ciency,” says Abite­boul. “For the best cost­ef­fi­ciency ra­tio, you don’t in­source ev­ery­thing be­cause the level of util­i­sa­tion is low. We’re want per­for­mance. To bring evo­lu­tion to the track quickly, as soon as the con­cept is ready you

The first phase of build­ing has been fin­ished, with fur­ther works due for com­ple­tion in Septem­ber 2017

need the ca­pac­ity to re­act – which means hav­ing equip­ment on site and not be­ing de­pen­dent on a sup­plier. We have to ac­cept the eco­nomic ef­fi­ciency will be lower as we in­crease our ca­pac­ity to per­form in the medium- to long-term.

“We can halve the time it takes to bring a com­po­nent from ini­tial de­sign to be­ing fit­ted. We’ve been ex­posed to the Red Bull model for years, and it’s been painful be­cause lead times in the chas­sis and en­gine worlds are so dif­fer­ent. That ex­plains the dif­fi­cul­ties we had in 2014-15 [when the part­ner­ship nearly dis­solved], but it was in­struc­tive when it came to trans­pos­ing the best el­e­ments of the Red Bull model to ours.”

When Re­nault col­lected the keys to En­stone, the head­count was down to 475. Mercedes, Red Bull and Mclaren num­ber around 750, though Abite­boul says: “We’re not aim­ing to match that fig­ure but we want to get close enough to fight them.” The phys­i­cal lim­i­ta­tions of the En­stone site gives Re­nault an ef­fec­tive cap of 650.

In com­par­i­son with the glit­ter­ing zig­gu­rat of the Mclaren Tech­nol­ogy Cen­tre, Re­nault F1’s present digs lack charm and util­ity. Its in­ter­nal lay­out is un­de­fined, with a re­cep­tion that’s lit­tle more than a vestibule fac­ing the car park.

“What’s now an earth bank is what we’re call­ing ‘front of house east’ – we’re ex­tend­ing to cre­ate around 840m2 more space over two floors,” says Cum­mings. “It will house lab­o­ra­to­ries and of­fice space but will be open­plan from front to back, and in the cen­tre will be a 24-seat op­er­a­tions room. The re­cep­tion will be 2020 rather than 1990s – the plan­ning in­spec­tors com­mented that when they vis­ited they could never see where the re­cep­tion is.

“We hope to get per­mis­sion soon and are aim­ing for com­ple­tion in Septem­ber. There will also be an im­prove­ment to wel­fare fa­cil­i­ties. Cur­rently we’ve got a 100-seater can­teen, and we’re ex­pand­ing it to 160. It will be a much nicer en­vi­ron­ment; at the mo­ment it’s quite noisy.

In spite of be­ing a brown­field site, bounded by farm­land, the fac­tory is sub­ject both to rig­or­ous plan­ning con­trols and the pro­tec­tive sen­ti­ments of the lo­cal com­mu­nity, who might re­gard ad­di­tional de­vel­op­ment and the traf­fic it brings as a pox on their ex­pen­sively ob­tained ru­ral idyll.

Re­nault’s ap­proach is to build in phases, tak­ing small steps that plot an ag­ile route through the plan­ning process. But that still re­quires on­go­ing ef­forts to en­gage with the lo­cal com­mu­nity, per­form­ing traf­fic as­sess­ments and be­ing seen to be a good neigh­bour. It’s the na­ture of the busi­ness that if a truck rum­bles by at 40mph in a 30mph zone, res­i­dents nat­u­rally as­sume a con­nec­tion with the lo­cal race team.

Plan­ning re­quire­ments dic­tate that Re­nault au­dit where staff live and how they com­mute. Most jour­neys are by car. “We’re not close to rail­way sta­tions or bus routes, but we don’t make a net im­pact and there’s still mas­sive ca­pac­ity on the roads around here,” says Cum­mings. “A lot of peo­ple cy­cle in, espe­cially dur­ing the sum­mer.”

The ex­pan­sion may not open the way to a huge growth in staff but it will make En­stone a more pleas­ant place. Re­cruit­ing the most tal­ented staff hasn’t al­ways been easy, and not just be­cause of the per­cep­tion of tur­bu­lence at the top. Other teams have been able to of­fer a bet­ter en­vi­ron­ment with more up-to-date fa­cil­i­ties.

Once work is com­plete, Re­nault hope to dou­ble the ca­pac­ity of the de­sign of­fice and merge the CFD and aero de­part­ments. CFD has al­ready moved to be re­placed by PR and mar­ket­ing, who now en­joy an easterly view over a land­scaped area that’s tem­po­rar­ily home to a pile of rocks dis­placed by build­ing work. These will be crushed and used for land­scap­ing else­where, ob­vi­at­ing HGV move­ments.

The end date is still months away, though long into the de­sign cy­cle of Re­nault’s 2018 car. Abite­boul in­sists that the “com­pet­i­tive roadmap” calls for podi­ums in that sea­son, and for the team to be fight­ing for ti­tles in 2020.

“The car that will be de­vel­oped for 2018 will re­flect the re­struc­ture,” he says. “But there will al­ways be room for im­prove­ment in de­vel­op­ing the 2018 car in-sea­son and look­ing to­wards 2019. The first year of as­sess­ment of what we’re do­ing will be 2018. But there will be no ex­cuse for not mak­ing a sub­stan­tial step in 2017.”

If in­ter­nal dis­ci­plinary mea­sures are re­quired, there’s a pile of rocks out there to break…


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