Sport: British Formula 1 Grand Prix — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:34 pm on 23 April 2009.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Labour 4:34, 23 April 2009

My Lords, I put my name down on the list to add to the bipartisan approach of the noble Lord, Lord Astor. We have not compared notes, although many of my points will reinforce what he said. I also want to reiterate our best wishes to my noble friend Lord Drayson. I have only done Le Mans once as a tourist—an anorak. It was incredibly exciting and different. I am sure that the opportunity to race there is almost as good as going as a spectator.

The noble Lord concentrated on F1, but it is not all about F1. There is a huge industry. This is a sport of business and a business of sport. The economic and job creation from this industry is enormous, with 50,000 people employed not in F1 but in the totality of motor sport. There are 25,000 professional engineers. Above all else, what they have of incredible value to business is transferable skills. They can move to jobs in space, aeronautics or medicine—I shall give one or two examples. About £6 billion of investment is involved, more than 50 per cent exports, which is phenomenal exports involving 150 companies. There is a big business out there that we need to nurture.

Of course, more than half the F1 teams are based in this country. They are using leading-edge technology materials. I said in a brief speech in response to the Queen's Speech that the United States' military visited one or two of our F1 companies to assess the materials technology that they are using. The MoD has not been near them, they are so leading edge. It is quite incredible. More than 15 universities are offering motor sport-focused engineering degrees at masters level. As the noble Lord, Lord Astor, said, virtually all the companies are SMEs employing, say, 25 people on average with a turnover of about £4 million, well over 50 per cent of which is exports, with massive investment in R&D. I understand that the pharmaceutical industry investment in R&D is 19 per cent of sales. Motor sport is investing more and exporting more.

The totality of the industry needs nurturing. It is not looking for subsidy, as the noble Lord said. We are not here today for that. The idea of the motor sport day in Parliament is excellent. One or two other industries have done it; the chemicals industry has a very successful chemicals industry day in Parliament where one can see how chemicals affect our lives as parliamentarians—clean water, new materials, food safety and other aspects.

What is proposed for 6 July is excellent. What would be better still would be if some of the exhibits that were recently in the Science Museum could be on display for the exhibition "Fast Forward: 20 ways F1 is changing our world". They were phenomenal. The space in the exhibition was less than half the size of the Chamber with 20 examples from interior design to driver-protected space materials now used in satellites for weather measurement technology—a direct benefit to us as a population. The technique used at the pit stop has halved the mistakes in intensive care transfers in some of our hospitals. They went to Ferrari and McLaren to learn the technology of transferring from intensive care after operations without mistakes. There is incredible tyre safety technology that will end up in our vehicles and improve road safety. There is the example of leg braces for orthopaedics and of greener cars with the new flywheel technology which will definitely—one cannot say when—transfer to production vehicles on the road and benefit the environment. This is industry that is working to benefit the environment. There were 20 examples, but one was the baby pod, for transporting sick babies. That is completely new technology absolutely different to what had been used in the past to transfer seriously ill babies between hospitals and doctors. They used the technology of the construction of the F1 car to design a brand new baby pod. Photographs of that could be brought here. It would be quite useful for Ministers, civil servants and others to see those examples, which are something that the industry can be incredibly proud of.

The noble Lord made the point that we want to keep the showcase race in the country. In some ways, I do not really care where it is. That is the reality. I care that it is somewhere that is effective and modern and that has good infrastructure. I could speak about my experience of being stuck in the mud at Silverstone for eight hours, but I will not; that is in the past. It does not matter whether the showcase race is at Donington or Silverstone or is a road race. I have not been to Donington for many years, but what is happening there is excellent.

The fact is that there are more tracks in the world than there are races. There is a limit to the number of Formula 1 races. Most of the tracks will operate at a loss on the race, but the finances go way beyond that, so one has to compete for the races. I understand that France is building a new track on the bank of the River Seine near the Renault plant that is supported by the local French département, so it has public money. Yet the Renault F1 team is based here in England—think how that sticks in the craw of our colleagues in France. Nevertheless, that new track has meant a new railway station, and a fast track to Paris is being put in again with a degree of public money.

I swear that I have not compared notes with the noble Lord, but I too believe that just because the sport is run in effect by two Englishmen gives us no right to guarantee a race here. We have to make that absolutely clear. Mr Mosley and Mr Ecclestone deserve praise for what they have achieved in the sport. I am not aware of many sporting bodies headed by a British person to great effect and with a big success for the industry; there is no question about that. Given the pressure which the FIA put on the teams to cut costs, I say that they probably saw the credit crunch coming long before the bankers. The costs were astronomically wasteful because they could do anything at high-tech—a nut for £800, I am told. Teams do not all need two wind tunnels. Wind tunnels are incredibly expensive. Pressure was put on those teams long before last year to cut costs to allow more people to compete and to maintain the stability of the team. The effect of that is coming through in what we are seeing now. Both Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley showed foresight.

I wanted to say a few words, as an anorak and a spectator, in support of the noble Lord, and to point out that we are talking about a business. It is a sport as well, but the industrial, economic and job ramifications are enormous and go way beyond the normal sport headline. That needs to be appreciated. We are not talking about massive companies, although the team owners and the motor companies may be. The vast majority of companies involved in this sport are small and medium-sized enterprises, which employ incredibly highly skilled engineers, male and female. That is what we need to nurture, because that is what we can sell to the world. That is our unique selling point. We need to keep the showcase and the rest of the infrastructure together, because that is how we will make good progress.