Is it possible General Motors of the US and Cosworth of Northampton UK could be heading for Formula 1?
On a day when Infiniti Red Bull Racing was given the freedom of the borough of Milton Keynes, UK, the rumour mill is in overdrive. The mill suggests GM could be set to join F1. But the rumour mill could be wrong. It also thinks that Ford could be heading in the same direction.
One thing is for sure. Cosworth appears to be regrouping itself in readiness to make a greater presence in the automotive scene and in motor racing.
In February, Cosworth submitted plans to Northampton Borough Council to secure planning permission for a new building which will house “a first-of-its-kind facility in Northampton to manufacture components and assemble some of the world’s most advanced engines.”
Formula 1 engines are certainly advanced; the most advanced reciprocating engines there are.
And this month the company announced a collaborative R&D programme that aims to create a centre of excellence for niche volume manufacturing.
Cosworth will be the lead partner in the programme which teams the company with Flexeye and Cranfield University, supported by a grant from the UK government’s advanced manufacturing and Supply Chain Initiative (AMSCI).
That partnership must surely be linked to the new manufacturing facility.
Then, earlier this month former Williams Advanced Engineering’s commercial operations head Kirsty Andrew joined Cosworth as sales director. Her mission no doubt is to drum up sales worldwide; and not just sales.
And before that, in January, Cosworth announced several strategic board appointments in which, amongst others, Carl-Peter Foster joined as non-executive director. Foster had been chairman and managing director of Adam Opel AG and later president of GM Europe before he joined Tata Motors. Foster’s links with GM are well known.
Another board newcomer in January was Forster Adam Parr, previously chairman of Williams F1.
Add to this mix the presence in the frame at Cosworth since June 2012 of Steve Wesoloski in charge of business development and there is plenty of fuel to fire up speculation.
Wesoloski was road racing group manager at GM from June 2005 to April 2009 and before that chassis engineer at Corvette Racing, again part of GM. Previously he was a structural engineer at GM for 11 years.
Add to this the prospect that Ford may once more return to the F1 fold (especially as many engines used by Ford when it participated in F1 came from Cosworth, a company formed in the distant past by two clever men, Frank Costin and Keith Duckworth) and there is even more fuel for speculation.
Cosworth executives will be only too keenly aware that in July 2011 Ricardo opened a state-of-the-art engine manufacturing facility at its Shoreham Technical Centre site.
In December 2013 Ricardo announced a multi-year contract with McLaren Automotive representing revenue in the order of £40m a year for Ricardo from 2016 onwards. It was the largest new order in almost a century of Ricardo history and the most substantial single procurement ever made by McLaren Automotive. This contract demonstrates the extent and value of business that could be available to Cosworth.
According to Ricardo its engine manufacturing facility (below) has already assembled and delivered its 1,500th engine for McLaren Automotive.
The facility was designed around the manufacturing requirements of the McLaren M838T engine that powers the leading UK performance sports car manufacturer’s MP4-12C supercar. The facility provides a near clean-room production environment in which each and every process is carried out according to strict, best-in-class quality principles and within a comprehensive ‘no faults forward’ culture.
In this way, Ricardo claims it can apply the latest thinking in high-quality mass manufacture within a low-to-medium volume setting with lean manufacturing principles incorporated from the outset. The facility, which is also giving Ricardo hands-on experience of engine build, is now operating at its full production rate of 45 engines per week from a single shift, according to Ricardo
Added to this, Honda is setting up its own Formula 1 engine assembly and test facility in Milton Keynes, UK in readiness for the 2015 season with McLaren.
All of which has given the rumour mill something to think about – trying to make two and two add up to four. The thinking seems to be that entry into F1 will help GM develop its hybrid technology. That at least could be one good reason for GM to spend some money to allow it to participate in a high-profile global sport.
Quite what will happen though is anyone’s guess. ∎
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