Caterham poised for Leafield move
17 July 2012
When the Caterham F1 team returns from this month's impending grand prix double-header in Germany and Hungary, it will be to unfamiliar surroundings as it finally completes its moves to the Leafield Technical Centre.
The Caterham Group confirmed on Monday (16 July) that work has started on the Oxfordshire facility, which will form the new global base for the company's motorsport, automotive and technology businesses, comprising Caterham F1, Caterham Racing (GP2), Caterham Cars, Caterham Composites and CTI (Caterham Technology and Innovation). A complete renovation and refurbishment of the 'new' base, in the middle of the UK's 'Motorsport Valley', and the F1 team will be the first element of the company to move in when it returns from the Hungarian Grand Prix in Budapest at the end of the month.
“Work has now started at Leafield," team owner Tony Fernandes confirmed, "The first task is to refurbish the whole site and prepare it for a long and successful future. While that work is taking place, the F1 team's race trucks have left Hingham with our 2012 race cars for the last time. The next time they are back in the UK, they will go straight to Leafield and that is excellent news for everybody associated with Caterham Group.
"More than 200 of the F1 team staff are making the move to Oxfordshire over the next few weeks and, when we have finished the refurbishment, in late October 2012, we will have a facility that will put us on a par with the teams we are trying to catch in F1. Importantly, it will also give us the base we need to allow Caterham Group to achieve the impossible for many years to come. This is why I am so excited about what we have ahead of us, and this is why I am now dreaming of bigger, better and more ambitious plans than ever before.”
It is less than three years since the first building blocks of what has now become Caterham Group were put in place by Fernandes and his fellow shareholders when they were granted entry to the 2010 FIA Formula One World Championship in September 2009. With work now starting at Leafield, the Malaysian is excited to see how far his dream has come in under 36 months.
“It is hard to believe that it is less than three years since we first walked into the empty factory in Hingham, where we started the F1 team back in 2009," he reflected, "At that point we had four full-time employees, a couple of notepads and a rather daunting joblist that many people said was utterly unachievable.
"While the F1 team was building up fast, we also had a plan to lay the foundations for an automotive and technology-focused group of businesses that would allow us to compete with some of the most famous motorsport and car brands on and off track, through innovation, passion and value. We wanted to support the road and racing operations with a range of associated companies that would specialise in the high-tech materials that are so prevalent in F1, allowing us to tap into a creative and technical pool of talent that are usually focused on winning on track or improving handling on the road, applying their expertise, ideas and knowledge to any industry that could benefit from world-class thinking.
“We have had a couple of well documented issues along the way, but we are now in the middle of 2012, 34 months since work started on our first F1 car and I think we have reached the most important point in our development so far. Caterham Group is now the embodiment of all the ideas and dreams we had in 2009 and now, with Leafield open for business, we have put in place the next vital stage for the continuing development of all the Caterham Group businesses.
“The F1 and GP2 teams will be first in place in Leafield, and Caterham Cars will be moving its HQ to Leafield in due course. Caterham Composites will remain in Norfolk and CTI will retain its offices in Germany whilst expanding production into the Hingham site to join Caterham Composites at the base we have owned since '09. These are important moves, not only for the incredible staff we have in place in each of our businesses, but also for the message it sends to our partners, suppliers, local communities and our competition. 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 the Leafield HQ, we have another major site fully operational in Hingham and through the nature of our work and the people we employ, we have a truly global outlook.
“To any observer of what we have achieved in such a short space of time this is incredible. From a starting point of zero, we now have more than 500 staff working on a range of extremely exciting projects. Our F1 team is about to make the final step to join the established teams ahead, our GP2 team has already won in Monaco and we will soon start sharing the plans we have in place for Caterham Cars, fuelled by CTI, who are leading the design and production concepts we have for our roadcar operation. Caterham Composites will be making a couple of announcements in the next few months that will propel them to the forefront of their cutting-edge industry and, alongside the roadcar work, CTI is already branching into a number of new industries that will see their expertise showcased in some very surprising environments."
For a large proportion of the race team, the move to Leafield represents a return to familiar haunts, with the Hingham factory having operated outside of the established F1 hub centred around Silverstone.
“In common with most of the current employees of the F1 team, I have moved back nearer to our new base in Leafield and I am very excited about the future this gives us, not just for the F1 team but Caterham Group as a whole," technical director Mark Smith commented, "The Leafield site is perfect for our needs in F1, GP2 and all our interests in motorsport now and in the future, and it also gives us the platform to expand into any industry that sees that we can provide new ideas and world-class performance.
“One of the immediate benefits of the move is in attracting people to come and work with us. Since I joined the team in 2011, I have been aware that there have been people we wanted to bring to Norfolk who were reluctant to move their families out of 'motorsport valley', where all the UK-based F1 teams, and their associated supply chains and partners, are based. There has never been an issue with people not sharing our vision, being as excited about our future as everyone who works with Tony and [Caterham Group CEO] Riad [Asmat] are, but it was undeniable that geography may have prevented us from expanding at quite the rate we want to.
"Now Leafield is open, we have no barriers. We are in the heart of the motorsport industry, not only in the UK but worldwide, and we have an aggressive employment plan in place that will help us keep moving up the grid. With so much investment made in giving us this platform to work from now it is down to the people who work in Caterham Group and everybody we work with to help us keep achieving our goals and we could not ask for better motivation than that.”