10 January 2019

Fascinating F1 Facts: 43

The French are reckoned to eat around 500 million snails every year. Traditionally these are cooked with butter, garlic and parsley, with some shallot if that takes your fancy. Some other nations think this is a horrid idea and that snails should be left to go about their business of eating holes in the leaves of carefully-nurtured fruits and vegetables. Gardeners hate the slimy little molluscs… but feel that eating them is a little extreme. It is ironic, therefore, that the Renault F1 team suffers because of these gastropods, or at least their ancestors. One might even call it the revenge of the snail…

When you are interested in motor racing, some of the world's other passions might seem a little strange. Some people like to go into old quarries and rootle around looking for fossils of gastropods from the Bathonian Age. If you rootle hard enough you might end up getting something named after you. This happened to William Arkell, a palaeontologist who discovered a gastropod now known as Aphanoptyxis ardleyensis Arkell, back in 1931. This may have been very nice for him but it the cause of some difficulty for the Renault Formula 1 team because its headquarters sits in an old quarry where Bathonian White Limestone used to be mined, for use in the manufacture of concrete and as stone for building houses.

And that means that the quarry is deemed to be a Site of Special Scientific Interest, not only because of the long-departed gastropods, but also because the quarry is one of the few remaining examples of a limestone grassland habitat, which is defined by people with clipboards as being "a national nature conservation priority" because of its colourful wildflowers and herbs, some of which are extremely rare. There are also some species-rich hedgerows. All of these factors combine to cause problems for Renault because there are very strict planning restrictions as a result of these natural wonders.

When the quarry was acquired for motor racing purposes, back in 1990, the purchaser Adrian Reynard probably did not expend much energy on the question of Arkell's gastropods. He wanted to build a Formula 1 factory and reckoned that 15 acres ought to be enough land on which to do it. When it came to designing a factory in the quarry, however, there were all kinds of problems to be overcome with the planning authorities and it was all so complicated that when Tom Walkinshaw bought the quarry from Reynard, as the latter ran out of money and the former was trying to make himself attractive to Benetton, he bought the factory plans as well. He wanted to get hold of a share of the team and providing a new factory was a good way to convince the Italians that it was a good idea to have a Scotsman involved. They took him on…

It did not work out well. The promise of shares in the company  was never delivered upon and in the end Walkinshaw upped and left to take over Ligier. The Benetton family then got bored of Formula 1 and in 2000 sold the team to Renault for $120 million, on the understanding that it would remain as Benetton for the 2000 and 2001 seasons, before being transformed into Renault F1 in 2002. This led to significant investment and to two World Championships with Fernando Alonso in 2005 and 2006, but then the team slipped backwards in the F1 pecking order and in 2007 it was decided that in order to be more competitive, Renault needed expand the facilities. And it needed to do so in a hurry. One of the planning stipulations at Enstone is that the team is not allowed to build upwards. The developable part of the quarry was already fairly crowded by then and so the team asked architects Ridge and consultant engineers Scott Wilson to come up with a solution. They wanted a new computational fluid dynamics facility by the middle of 2008 without all the red tape.

The result was a decision to build downwards. Ridge designed an underground facility and devised a landscaping scheme to minimize any environmental impact. The fastest way to do this was to construct a simple structure and so they recommended using a system developed in France by Marcel Matière, using pre-cast reinforced concrete arch structures, normally for the construction of tunnels and bridges. In fact, the Matière system had not been used before that in England to create a workspace. Pre-cast concrete gets the job done faster – as the major components can be manufactured at the same time as the site is being prepared, thus speeding things up and reducing the impact of construction work. The team thus went to Matière's UK licensee ABM Bridge Systems of Tuxford in Nottinghamshire and asked if it could manufacture a 60 metre long "tunnel", 16 metres across and 6.5 metres high, creating 1,025 square metres of working space - all within a couple of months. ABM said that it was possible.

The resulting structure was manufactured in 25 concrete rings, each made up of three elements, some of them weighing as much as 32 tons. While these were being manufactured SDC Builders of Bedford was busy preparing the site. Work began in the autumn of 2007. The concrete sections began to arrive in December and the structure was built in just six working days. The tunnel was then waterproofed and buried beneath earth, which was suitably landscaped and planted.

At one end of the tunnel there is a server farm, in the centre there is a curved entrance tunnel which arrives in an exhibition area and an auditorium. At the other end of the tunnel is the CFD design area, with a full height glass wall, giving the engineers a panoramic view of the wild life area in the quarry. The facility included four light wells. It was opened in 2008 and was named in honour of the team's head of aerodynamics, Dino Toso, who had died that summer of cancer, at the age of 39.

The facility was recognised as an outstanding example of "concrete performance" by the Concrete Society in its annual awards ceremony. Yes, even the concrete industry has awards ceremonies…

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