There was something more than a bit ironic about arriving at the building site that is the heart of the ongoing development of the Aston Martin team, and seeing the word ‘McLaren’ everywhere.
This is a team that has hired a number of staff with backgrounds in Woking -– group CEO, the CMO, multiple members of the communications and digital team – but that’s not the reason. McLaren Construction is the company tasked with delivering Aston Martin’s new factory, and it’s starting to take shape.
During a visit to the site after the end of the 2022 season, the thing that stood out about the 400,000 sq/ft facility wasn’t actually the size of the enormous Building 1 that’s due to open in May, it was the focus on its functionality. Team owner Lawrence Stroll has previously stated it’s the “reverse” of the McLaren Technology Center – the last all-purpose F1 headquarters built from scratch back in 2004 – and in many ways you can see his point.
The design is understated, with three buildings all linked by bridges but largely plain in appearance, and a large grass space in front of the north-facing windows – to reduce glare on screens – ready to host summer events.
Inside the main structure, a 160-meter Main Street that runs the entire length of the factory and lets in natural light will be the centerpiece to allow ease of movement between departments, while polished concrete will line the floors as the most functional solution.
The only bits that feel a little more extravagant are the running track in the shape of the Silverstone circuit (but itself simply prioritizing employee wellbeing) within a wild meadow and a helipad at the far end of the campus. But both are still to be worked on, with wet weather meaning those sections of the former farmer’s field are a mud bath at this point.
In the middle of that campus currently sits the old Jordan headquarters that are flanked by a number of temporary cabins to make up the current Aston Martin base on the same site. It’s still functioning but not fit for purpose, and the multiple different outbuildings are expensive to run.
Showing a group of media round the site and admitting his role is now becoming more tour guide than project manager, Guy Austin has worked on multiple Formula 1 factory projects before – including the original Jordan building back in the early 1990s – and keeps using a term to describe the impact of the new facility that he came out of retirement for: “Game-changer”.
That shows the importance of the new factory, and with it comes an impatience from senior management to get in as soon as possible. Aston will be into the first building over a weekend, with employees packing up their desks in labeled boxes on Friday afternoon and leaving them at their workstations, to find them at their new location the following Monday morning.
The initial move into the first building, with systems needing switching over and machines to be installed, will be a massive challenge given May’s race schedule. A trip to Miami is followed by the triple-header of Imola, Monaco and Spain, that all needs the team to be performing while relocating its entire factory set-up.
Some of it is softened by expansion, with two new autoclaves being included in the new building while the existing pair will be sent off to be refurbished before they are also installed, but there will still be a huge amount of complexity.
The August shutdown would be the ideal time, but such is the expected impact of the almost $250 million project there was no consideration to wait. Team principal Mike Krack believes it will be the best facility in F1, and agrees with Austin’s assessment.
“The fact you can talk to people without having to arrange meetings; it facilitates dialogue easily,” Krack says. “You either need to pick up the phone or organize something and sometimes this is a natural barrier of more exchange. The other thing is logistics. To bring stuff from left to right or from A to B it will be massively easier, so from that point of view I agree with using the name ‘game-changer’ for team dynamics and logistics.”
All the problems that Krack says will be addressed hint at the weaknesses in the current set-up, and as soon as the move is complete in May work will then immediately commence on demolishing the old Jordan building. The regulations and demands of a modern building mean that converting the original structure (that Austin says was built on an extremely tight budget for Eddie Jordan) was more expensive than simply replacing it with what is currently known as Building 2.
That structure will house central facilities such as a restaurant, gym, logistics, simulator and esports department, and will actually be the final development finished at the end of 2024. Before that, Building 3 – home of the team’s new state-of-the-art wind tunnel and currently rising from the fields – should be complete.
“I think the target for the wind tunnel is to be online in the middle of 2024, so we’re hoping that will have at least some contribution for the AMR25,” technical director Dan Fallows says. “I think depending on how the commissioning and things go, that will be the first car where we’ll be able to have a significant impact with the new tunnel. In terms of the factory, that’s coming online next year and we’re hoping the car prior to that will see the benefit of the new factory as well.”
A new wind tunnel is an eye-catching investment and one that McLaren is also pushing ahead with in order to try and close the gap to the top three teams, but despite his technical background former Red Bull head of aerodynamics Fallows says simply moving the majority of other departments to the new main building will have a massive impact.
“I think it’ll change (the working dynamic) significantly,” he says. “It’s a factor of the small factory here and we have these modular buildings where we have some people who are not necessarily designing parts of the car at the moment, but they are very connected to our design process and having them not in the same room just makes it slightly more difficult to communicate with them.
“I’ve been in a big open-plan office before with the ability to walk around and talk to people easily, and it makes a huge difference in terms of those interactions and particularly those serendipitous chats where you can have a chat with somebody about one thing and you end up talking about other things and they often end up being the most creative conversations. And that’s what we’re trying to build, really.
“The first step is moving into the factory, then the other parts will come online. They are all positive steps for us. Building this team is a journey, and each of these things are milestones in that journey and all contribute to the level we want to operate at.
“The last phases, Building 3, which is the employee wellness side of things, I think are almost as important as the initial phases, but demonstrating we are going that way and looking at these things is almost part of the solution in itself, as that engages people; knowing we want them to operate at a good level but feel like they’re supported and part of a team they want to be part of.”
Perhaps the most telling aspect of the whole design is Austin’s admission that Stroll doesn’t like his personal view out over Silverstone Technology Park. The Aston Martin executive chairman has a corner office above the entry gates, and you sense could have had whatever he liked but his main desire has been for the factory to do exactly what it needs to in order to give the team its greatest chance of success above everything else.
It’s a business after all, and Stroll means it.