Innovation and technology are the bywords of Ricardo, an engineering company behind many
Motorsport history is littered with game-changers through the years; Mercedes introducing direct injection in the 1950s, Connaught introducing disc brakes through Jack Brabham and his rear-engined racer. The 1960s brought Ford’s partnership with Cosworth that produced legendary DFV engine while Colin Chapman and Lotus perfected wings and then ground effect aerodynamics in the late 1960s and 1970s. There were Renault’s turbocharged engines. The 1980s dawned with carbonfibre monocoques by Mclaren in F1, fourwheel drive in World Rally with Audi, the 1990s gave us active suspension and sequential gearboxes with Williams and Ferrari, the new millennium heralded Audi’s dieselpowered car win at Le Mans…. And, well, the list goes on.
As engineers and manufacturers embrace new technologies and materials, ingenious solutions to the basic problem of getting from start to finish in the fastest and – more recently – the most efficient way possible get more and more radical, restricted only by regulations.
Names like Mercedes, Audi, Ford, Lotus, Williams and Ferrari are all household names, synonymous with winning and revolution. Nowhere on that list is the name Ricardo. Never heard of the centuryold innovative British engineering company? There is actually good reason for that. Most of its work is, for obvious reasons in this ultra-competitive day and age, confidential. It’s also because the company has a culture of letting its work do the talking, instead of just shouting from the rooftops.
Ricardo’s managing director, performance products, Mark Barge, explains. “We are proud of being the best kept secret… You would not believe what you don’t know about us, which, yes, is a crazy thing to say.
“We’ve been producing and supplying specialist products for years. Some of which are borne out of our engineering and some of which come from our clients, who require a partner to manufacture it. Ricardo is a flexible organisation. What’s common in what we do is competency in complex products. Whether we’re supplying the driveline system for Bugatti, the engines to Mclaren for their entire road car range, working on rally transmission systems, components for F1 teams – even supplying components into the world’s largest aerospace for companies – it’s just another challenge for us.”
Barge, 30 plus years at Ricardo, is proud and passionate about the company’s breadth and the spectrum of what is achieved, whether it’s at the Shoreham-by- Sea headquarters, Leamington Spa’s technical centre, Cambridge or the bases they have near Stuttgart in Germany, Shanghai in China, or Detroit, Chicago and Santa Clara in America. It has a turnover of some £300 million, and overall the staff numbers almost 3000, of which approximately 2600 are engineers “pursuing every technology possible,” reinforces Barge. Communication is paramount, global and 24-hour, with locations driven by being close to its customers.
Barge knows that Ricardo’s efficiency and speed are just as important as innovation: “There are some physical things about being a manufacturing company. I have my office in Leamington Spa but our network infrastructure is just One Ricardo, it has joined together, globally, and I think that makes us the successful company we are.”
Professor Steve Sapsford is another 30 plus year veteran of Ricardo and elaborates on its history: “It started 101 years ago at the Shoreham HQ, primarily as an engine company. More and more was gradually added to it and that’s probably one of the key features here. It is still fundamentally a British company.”
There is no doubt Ricardo is successful. In 2015 it celebrated its 100th year since founder Sir Harry Ricardo – a brilliant engineer – founded the company. He was a pioneer (known as “the high priest of the internal combustion engine”), and registered patents in his name are still in use today in automotive, transport, energy and environmental sectors. His thinking and approach is central to the company’s approach and way of thinking now, despite the vastly different technical challenges faced today.
“I’d say we’ve gone through two clear cycles,” says Barge. “We’ve gone through the ‘we’ll just tackle the challenge, it doesn’t matter what shape or size it is. It’s a brand new challenge, a clean sheet of paper, we’ll apply our tools and the technologies and get a solution.’
“Now we are at a phase where we have such well-developed engineering tools, understanding of material sciences, load case and stress analysis capabilities, that now we have to find a balance between innovative engineering and ‘proven’ fundamentals and how to apply it to a new application. You can’t get so stuck in your ways that proven always means you use that option. That doesn’t keep it competitive.
“Equally, if you’re always cavalier, wipe the table and have a clean sheet each time, then you put too much risk into the program. You’ve got to find that balance.”
The pace of development in motorsport is such that finding that sweet balance is a fast-swinging, moving target, one where standard practices can become extinct almost literally overnight.
“Motorsport, traditionally, has been people who make engines, people who make transmissions, and people who chassis work,” explains Sapsford. takes the team to bring it all together. with increasingly complex and integrated powertrains, you need companies Ricardo because the engine, the transmission, the hybrid system, energy recovery/energy storage system is a completely integrated unit.
“There are very few places you can now that can deal with it all; the control system to optimise the energy, harvesting, recovery storage and reuse like you F1 and particularly in WEC. That’s change over the last four or five years.”
Without actually saying it, it’s clear Ricardo is “one of the few places” can deal with all that’s required to the front in topline motorsport, whether it’s Formula 1, Formula E, WRC, WEC, Indy Lights or Porsche Cup. It’s just outside world don’t know about all F1 especially.
“The trouble with what we do is never allowed to say anything about says Sapsford.
Barge expands a little more, adding: “There’s a diversity that we promote, because it keeps stability in the organisiation. We genuinely actively pursue and engage with the WEC, whether specifically Le Mans or the global platform, open-wheel single- series, the various levels of the WRC, yes, F1. That maintains that balance commercial viability, load in the factory,
is we’re about it,”
actively WEC, the single-make WRC, and balance of factory,