The UK is leading the electric and hybrid car revolution thanks to F1

In 2016, we’re very aware of just how bad fossil fuels are for us and the environment – and that means finding clean, efficient transport is more important than ever. Electric and hybrid cars represent our best option – and thanks to motorsport, the UK is a world leader in both fields.

Beyond global warming

Global warming isn’t just bad for the planet, it’s bad for us. According to a recent report by the World Health Organisation, air pollution cost the EU more than $1.6 trillion (£1 trillion) in 2010 – about a tenth of the continent’s GDP that year.

The study also found that 90% of people in Europe were exposed to pollution above WHO guidelines. In 2010, deaths and diseases caused by pollution cost the UK $83 billion – around 3.7% of its annual GDP. And in the past few years, the population and the number of car owners has continued to grow – which means things have only got worse.


It’s against this grim backdrop that the race to develop affordable, sustainable car technology has started – and the UK is miles ahead of the field. But our dominance isn’t down to the chemical or automotive industries, but rather good, old-fashioned motor racing.

Motorsport Valley: the UK’s engine room

Once an amateur pastime of Europe’s rich elite, motorsport has grown into a professional, multi-billion-dollar business – but it’s still firmly rooted in the UK.


Today, McLaren, Williams, Red Bull and Force India are UK-based – and even German powerhouse Mercedes develops its car in Brackley and its hybrid powertrain in Brixworth. But these teams represent just a fraction of the 4,000 companies that form “Motorsport Valley”.

With a combined annual turnover of £9 billion, Motorsport Valley is the driving force behind the UK’s innovation in hybrid technologies. Its closely linked companies act like fast-twitch fibres, reacting to tech and using it to eke out performance improvements. “The cluster is SME-based, and that proximity is vital for fast reaction to new technologies,” adds Chris Aylett, CEO of the Motorsport Industry Association.

Winning races helps teams demand more money from sponsors and increases the income they generate. And what happens to this money? It goes back into R&D and the hunt for the next few tenths of a second. Most SMEs in Motorsport Valley spend well over 30% of their sales on R&D, a far greater proportion than in most industries.

The process is ongoing, and the need to be the fastest every week means motorsport is able to skip through idea cycles significantly faster than other industries. “The turnaround time of a Formula One car from a blank piece of paper to running it on the track is normally about 18 months,” says James Francis, senior communications manager of the Williams F1 team. “A lot of bigger companies can’t really do much in 18 months; because they’re so huge, it’s very difficult for them.”

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