The important role of motorsport in development
Motorsport is a high-stakes game in terms of money and danger. Your opinion on whether it is anything other than a business, entertainment or a sport depends on your involvement – to the club-level participant it is very much a sport; to many of you reading this it represents a business opportunity or your livelihood; and some companies involved treat it as a marketing exercise. In Formula One, there are teams which are run as businesses and which have made some very astute people very rich. Other teams are funded solely from the marketing budget of their parent companies, while others still are funded from the r&d budget.
Is there a real gain to be had from r&d in motorsport? Does it matter outside of the company in question? Well, yes, and people in positions of influence within governments do take notice. The British system of government, like many others, has an upper and lower chamber. The upper chamber (the House of Lords) is now populated by people who, in the main, represent political parties but who are proposed rather than elected. Two such people are Lord Rooker and Lord Astor of Heverbrook, and during a debate on the armed forces in March 2014, Lord Rooker asked a question on the UK’s use of biofuels in defence. In the question, he stated that most of the fuel and materials development in Britain stems from motorsport. In replying on behalf of the government, Lord Astor assured him that the government is working closely with the motorsport industry, and went on to give examples of our good work.
Fuels are an excellent example of how, as an industry or a business, motorsport can make itself relevant to the outside world. We can see that biofuels are going to form an important element of our liquid fuel supply in the future, so we should make rules that encourage motorsport to be early adopters of such fuels. There is no doubt that motorsport can be an extremely cost-effective way to undertake the rapid development of engineering concepts. Developing engines and fuel systems suited to the use of, for example, bio-butanol might be seen by the wider world as something very worthwhile, and technical partnerships might be forged that benefit everyone involved.
As far as the armed forces are concerned though, we aren’t going to be of much use for developing fuels for powering jet fighters, but there still remain myriad uses for piston engines – both small and large – and there is a very important role for companies with a motorsport background. What we should excel at is carrying out development for the wider automotive industry, and it seems that we are now waking up to this fact. We should take a long look at the direction roadcar fuel development is going in and get ahead of the game. If we are late to the party then we are an irrelevance – we have no role in development and derive little benefit from adopting such technologies. If we are the earliest adopters though, and can present multiple options, we assure our financial future far more easily.
Motorsport companies are always looking to do something new, especially if it can give them some advantage, but there needs to be an incentive to invest in development. We need to take a longer-term view of what future passenger car fuel trends are and move in that direction.
Written by Wayne Ward