I recently had an interesting trip up to Milton Keynes for a tour of Red Bull F1’s facility.  As you would expect given F1’s fondness for industrial espionage, security was tight. No cameras were allowed and all phones had their camera function disabled.  Our escorted tour initially took us around the design offices. These were open plan for all to enhance team working, though Messrs  Horner and Newey had their own huge offices. Presumably they don’t need to work in teams.. Interestingly there were three times as many aerodynamasists as there were other engineers.

Moving from area to area via touch sensitive security key pads we were constantly told about what a relaxed and friendly team Red Bull were compared to other teams. The demeanour of the people we met did not suggest that was necessarily the case. Sure, whilst the extreme dress down of the staff and the slight untidiness about the place would bring on palpitations in Ron Dennis, you get the impression that beneath the “hey, aren’t we fun” persona there is a degree of steely and ruthless determination. No bad thing in F1. You don’t win four consecutive F1 titles by being relaxed.

Formerly the home of Jaguar Racing and prior to that Stewart GP, Red Bull’s Milton Keynes HQ still accomodates people who worked for those teams, albeit in a facility now eight times bigger.

Unfortunately when we visited the race bays the current cars were out with only some reliveried older cars on show. I guess they didn’t want us to see the new aero screens shown this week at Sochi.

 

This vertically displayed show car highlights the new Red Bull matt paint finish. I tend to dislike matt paint finishes but it certainly seems to suit the Red Bulls.  Apparently Red Bull repaint the cars for each race to suit the expected climate and light conditions. That way the sponsors’ logos always look the same on TV wherever the cars are in the world and whether the race is a night race or day race. Great attention to detail.

 

 

The vast trophy cabinet on display in the reception of Red Bull F1. The drivers are not allowed to keep their trophies and must hand them over to the team. Red Bull are also so paranoid about their IP they throw nothing away nor do they sell any of their old cars. 

 

The Red Bull trial visor. It looks okay, does not seem to interfere too much with access and if it increases safety surely a good idea?

Red Bull seem to be doing much better this year. Apparently the new Renault engine is putting out substantially more horsepower than last year. You will not, however,  see the name of the engine builder on the side of the Red Bulls, their place having been taken by the wings of Aston Martin.

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Although production of the fabulous Aston Martin One 77 ended in 2012 I spotted this lovely unregistered example for sale at HMW in Walton on Thames.  This white car carried badges stating that it was the “last one” so it was presumably the last one off the production line.  The One 77 originally sold for £1.2m – this example was for sale for £1.6 million.  That’s some appreciation in three or four years!  But what a fantastic looking car.  I’m sure it’ll be worth much much more in the future.  With a carbon fibre chassis and aluminium body the car weighs only 1600 kg. That comparatively light weight when coupled with a naturally  aspirated 7.3 L engine pushing out 750 bhp can propel the car to 60 in 3.5 seconds and then on to 220mph.  

I better start saving ..

 

Earlier this week I had the chance to visit Aston Martin at Gaydon and to drive a couple of their cars. I have never been a particular fan of the marque. Their poor reputation for reliability, snooty sales staff and dynamic equality with my XKR have meant I have never been tempted to “upgrade” from Jaguar.

When Aston Martin moved to Gaydon 10 years ago and they made a real effort to reshape their image as a modern car company. The style of their factory communicates that. It combines striking modern architecture with clean spaces and an aura of efficiency.

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Not your average car factory..

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A beautiful fast British icon .. and a little AM V8 strangely wrapped in chrome

Aston Martin make much of the fact that their cars are handbuilt. Certainly during a tour of the factory we didn’t see much automation on the assembly lines. In fact it seems that they make only about 10 cars per day. The people showing me around were charming and certainly dispelled my concerns over snobbishness. It was also noticeable that the staff working at the factory seemed proud to be there,  which is surely a good sign.  That pride in their work may explain why reliability, whilst still not up to the standards of their competitors, is much improved.

Following the tour of the factory I was able to drive a V8 Vantage and DB9 Volante. Both were good cars. The V8 felt surprisingly spacious inside but is certainly beginning to show its age. The new DB9 felt a notch up in terms of quality and the normally aspirated V12 made a fantastic sound. Dynamically both were a bit twitchy when pushing on, certainly more so than my similarly powered Jaguar XKR.  I suspect that was more down to my style of driving rather than to any shortcomings in the car.  If I owned either car I would just need to drive in a different style.

Whilst I doubt the V8 is better than a 911 it is hard to think of a GT in production which is better than the DB9 and racier sister, the Vanquish.  Now my XKR is four years old I am looking for a new GT but sadly my budget does not stretch to a DB9…

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So good it can walk on water? Gravity defying V8 Vantage

Inside the factory Aston Martin maintain a small heritage collection. As well as Bond cars they have some of their rarer cars on display, including a DB7 Zagato Volante. I think Zagato lost their way in the 70s and that is reflected in their more recent work. Compare their efforts on the DB7 with their efforts on the DB4 (see my post below relating to Techno Classica Essen).

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Bond’s Vanquish and DBS. Given how awful the gearbox was in the Vanquish I am surprised that in the great ice chase scene in Die Another Day the villain Chang in his XKR didn’t get the better of 007..

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A rather ugly concept car..

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The rear of a DB7 Zagato at the neighbouring Gaydon Motor Heritage Centre. Not as attractive as Ian Callum’s original design but better than the America Roadster below.

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DB7 Zagato Volante American Roadster. Oh dear.