On cohabitation

From May, each Formula E racing team will have its own self-contained unit at Donington Park. And the tax payer won’t be footing the bill. Honest.


There are many problems with house sharing, as you’ll know all too well if you’re a youngish person trying to live in modern day Britain.

Usually, you begin as a building full of strangers. After some weeks, you may develop friendships or, more likely, strategic alliances and fronts of battle. You work out what time you have to get in to have any chance of watching your programme on TV – or at least, to avoid being subjected to something utterly horrific, utterly inane or football.

You work out many ingenious ways of calculating if someone else has been dipping their fingers into your cookie jar – or your mayonnaise, your milk, your loo roll and your other consumables that go mysteriously missing. In turn, you devise an arsenal of cunning techniques to engage in pre-emptive or retaliatory dipping activities.

It becomes apparent who turns on the central heating, leaves it on night and day while complaining of cold and walking around in a blanket, and then refuses to pay for either the increased heating bill or the cream and freezer packs that everyone else needs for the resultant heat rash and heatstroke.

You quickly come to an understanding of whether the chap in the room next door likes to play a loud musical instrument until four in the morning, and then you work out whether or not you’re grateful that the sound of the tuba mostly covers the squeals from the couple in the room above you until approximately the same time every morning. You work out whether you are impressed or appalled at their stamina and begin to wonder whether a total lack of sleep can be used as evidence in a court of law when you end up murdering them all in their sleep with the remote control. And then you wonder if any of them plan to murder you in your sleep and realise that sleep, really, is over rated.

House sharing, then, is not always a recipe for domestic bliss. Formula E promoter FEH has other ideas, however.

Racing towards racing

As of this May, a new development at British race track Donington Park will become home to the technical headquarters of the electric motorsport. Ten racing teams have signed up to contest the first Formula E season, and the intention is that all of them base at least some staff there permanently. Research and development, engineering, design and testing will all take place at the facility, situated just 100m from the track in the Western Paddock area of the circuit.

Donington park circuit courtesy Donington Park

 “The development totals 6,000sq m,” explains Andy Rose, economic growth and investment manager at the Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership (LLEP). The LLEP is the local government agency that has lent Donington Park Racing, which runs the track, £3.7million towards the £5.7million project. “Formula E will occupy around 4,000sq m, and suppliers associated with other motorsports are expected to use the remaining space.”

A fast track design and build process aims to have the facility ready for occupancy just four months from breaking ground. Architectural practice Pick Everard has an existing relationship with Donington Park and is providing multi-disciplinary design services on the project.

In a statement to Current E, a spokesperson for the firm details the new development: “Construction will comprise of eight buildings and associated infrastructure. Six of the buildings are semi-detached workshop units, 15.5m wide, 42m long and with an eaves height of 6m; each totals 650sq m. Five of these will be taken by Formula E, providing each of the 10 Formula E teams with 325sq m of workshop and office space.”

The buildings are being put up a little like a Meccano set to achieve the speed required of the project. Pick Everard goes on: “A big factor in the design was the compressed build time required to meet Formula E’s programme. To achieve this, the buildings have been standardised to be the same size and method of construction. Each building has been simplified and uses steel frame construction and silver finished insulated metal wall cladding and roof sheeting.”

Two more buildings of the same footprint and construction method will provide bespoke office accommodation for the Formula E administrative team and relocated office space for Donington Park Racing. These two are slightly different, featuring full height atria created with curtain walling, and internal floors to provide two levels. The internal floors employ a lightweight steel and plywood system to avoid the need for concrete construction, which would have required more robust foundations and time for curing.

Time has also been saved by using designs from a specialist sub-contractor for the steel frames, cladding and window systems. The existing infrastructure at Donington Park should be sufficient to support the facility, removing the need for wider development.

Breedon Aggregates will supply aggregates and ready-mixed concrete to the site. In a press release, the company’s chief executive, Tim Hall, said: “It’s great to be literally in on the ground floor of this exciting new development, which will put Donington Park at the centre of the new global sport of electric Formula motor racing. This facility will be the envy of the motor racing world.”

Formula E moves in – or does it?

“Around 150 people will be based full time at the new development, but we expect that number to double when the facility becomes fully occupied,” says Rose. “All in all, we expect there to be 300 staff here, in a variety of technical roles. Many of these will be recruited from the local area.”

All 10 Formula E teams rubbing shoulders full time at Donington is a difficult concept to swallow, given that some are established organisations with headquarters in other parts of the world. “The facility will more than likely have some permanent staff, recruited locally, with other staff visiting from their existing bases,” Rose explains. “But we expect all research and development for the sport, along with testing, to be carried out at Donington.”

Not everyone from Formula E has signed up to that vision, however. While early indications are that British team Drayson may well move operations lock, stock and barrel, Super Aguri for one is unlikely to.

“There’s not a straightforward answer to that,” says Mark Preston, team principal at the Japanese outfit, when asked about the move. “We’re working out what the most logical thing to do is. Probably, we’ll have a chief mechanic based there and build up slowly. But I don’t think we’ll have the whole team there. And it won’t be like F1, with thousands of R&D people and 10 tests between each race. It’s more likely we’ll just visit the Donington facility in between races, maybe once a week.”

Nevertheless, Super Aguri is still likely to recruit in the area: “We’ve already got CVs from local guys who might be based at Donington. For the races, we’re also looking at using Japanese mechanics who work on the Aguri Super GT programme.”

Away from prying eyes

The challenge doesn’t stop at trying to sweet talk the teams into moving in.

Racing teams are notoriously secretive: asking 10 to share the same roof and test track seems like a recipe for disaster. Rose disagrees: “The self-contained units give each team the ability to develop their cars away from prying eyes.”

On a site of 6,000sq m, they won’t be too far away from each other though, certainly when compared to other motorsports. The water features alone at the Surrey headquarters of F1 team McLaren total 50,000sq m.

Secrecy isn’t thought to be too much of an issue, though, especially in the first season when each team will be using the same car. Rose points out that the cars will be in plain sight at race days anyway, so that any small tweaks to the physical set up, such as the suspension, will likely be clearly and rather immediately apparent.

The cars themselves are being built by Spark Racing Technology – essentially the ART racing team, which is based in France and unlikely to up sticks and move across the Channel.

However, Formula E wants teams to start building their own cars from season two: can we really expect teams to carry out their early development testing at Donington, right in front of eachother? “That’s a good point, but Formula E will be focused on powertrain developments, not aero,” Rose responds. “The components responsible for power and range will remain largely hidden. The shape of the car itself probably won’t change a great deal.”

No risk to the tax payer

Rose is very clear that, although public sector funds are helping to build Donington’s new facility, there is no risk of the British tax payer being taken for a ride. (This despite the interest rate on the loan being just 3.7%.)

“There is onerous security for the loan, and a 30 page legal agreement in place,” Rose says. “The loan has been made direct to Donington Park Racing, to draw down as construction moves forward. Any additional costs and responsibility for overruns will rest with Donington, not the tax payer.”

He points out that as the project involves straightforward steel frame construction on a brownfield site, any chance of significant overruns are minimal – and that Formula E’s May deadline has given the project added impetus.

The loan will become due for repayment three years after the project completes in May, and will be paid back in a lump sum. “If Donington doesn’t pay it back, the tax payer will own the facility,” says Rose. “The loan itself is recyclable: the funds will go straight back out into the community once it’s been repaid, and will help with other types of projects such as housing and infrastructure developments.”

The facility is expected to bring wider long-term economic benefit to the area. “We actually granted the loan before Formula E agreed to move in,” Rose reveals. “The development is providing prime industrial and workshop units. It would appeal to the automotive industry whether Formula E had moved in or not.”

Law firm Browne Jacobson helped sort out the nitty gritty of the loan. The company’s Sarah Parkinson said in a statement: “Securing Formula E’s global HQ is a major coup for Donington Park, the East Midlands and British motor racing. The funding from the LLEP will help the project move forward at pace – it will also secure and create valuable jobs over many years.”

Rose is convinced that by creating up to 300 jobs locally, as well as becoming a global hub for Formula E activities, the loan will produce tangible short- and long-term benefits. “We expect the local community to benefit from business tourism, such as hotels, pubs and restaurants,” Rose says. “Then there is the impact on other local supply chains, which is hard to assess but which should bring wider benefits.”

Low carbon agenda

Why did Formula E select Donington as its worldwide HQ? According to Rose, it was something of a funnel approach: a list of global destinations was narrowed down first to Britain, thanks to the country’s reputation as a leader in high-tech R&D and, particularly, motorsports engineering. 

“Once the UK was selected, only Donington and Silverstone were suitable. Donington pipped Silverstone because we could offer bespoke, purpose-built facilities that tie in with Formula E’s low carbon thinking,” Rose says.

The development is expected to reach ‘Very Good’ under the UK’s BREEAM assessment criteria, which measures the sustainable credentials of a building. There’s not, however, much evidence as to how the facility will reach the standard, save for a note from Pick Everard that “the offices benefit from an extended eaves detail which provides a natural sun shading effect”, presumably reducing the need for power-hungry air conditioning.

Using steel frame construction does generally provide a lower carbon footprint than other forms of construction, removing the need for huge swathes of reinforced concrete, which requires vast amounts of materials and energy to produce. Steel-framed buildings are quicker and easier to assemble, deconstruct and recycle, which contribute to a more sustainable whole-life picture.

The case for Donington was strengthened by its proximity to East Midlands Airport. Formula E logistics partner DHL has a base at the airport, which is handy as the cars need to find their way from Donington to the far-flung corners of the world where the races will be held. DHL intends to ship the cars by sea wherever possible to reduce carbon emissions, but there are some fixtures where air freight will be the only option. Either way, cutting out long journeys from multiple points helps support Formula E’s drive towards avoiding travel wherever possible.

The new technical centre won’t prompt a move of FEH financial operations from an existing London office, however, and if the teams don’t move everyone into Donington there will still be plenty of air miles racked up by race personnel at each event.

EV engineering excellence

The area is already home to high-tech industries including many F1 teams. Will a half empty Formula E facility really have an impact on the local economy? Rose says: “Formula E won’t overtake F1 in significance and scale. But it isn’t intended to, and it will make a difference. Its technology will feed into mainstream automotive sector.”

That is what the Donington development really means to the local area: the opportunity to become a hub of world-leading, motorsports-inspired developments in electric propulsion technology that will directly inform the next generation of electric cars. And that may well be worth a few squabbles between housemates every now and then.

Donington Formula E HQ visualisation courtesy Pick Everard


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