Factory Visit: Marussia F1’s journey into the fast lane

Posted on 30 Apr 2012

Marussia, F1’s new kid on the block, has benefitted from the FIA’s levelling of the playing field and newly formed technical partnership with McLaren this season.

Rule changes from the FIA have centred on cost savings which have led to F1 teams embracing lean manufacturing techniques to reduce costs. The sport is certainly no longer a toy to have money thrown at it.

Marussia’s Mike Scudamore explains that the FIA’s ban on blown diffusers has allowed newer teams on the grid to catch up with those further up the starting positions, making for more competitive races.

Had the ban not been brought in, Scudamore says that the team “would have had to remap the whole engine, which would have cost around £2m” just to try and keep up with developments being made by its cash-rich rivals.

Marussia are pleased with its positive start to the season but results in Bahrain proved disappointing.

He explains: “The team wouldn’t have made as many gains with the money spend on blown diffusers as it would have had this money been spent on aerodynamics. The team has a relatively small budget by comparison to the other teams on the grid so we need to get as big a bang for our buck as we can.”

After a disappointing display at the Bahrain GP, the car was delayed on its journey back to McLaren’s site in Woking during the early part of this week after teams experienced problems on leaving the country.

Kevin Lee, operations director at Marussia, which takes its name from the Russian sports car manufacturer, explains that the team set up a partnership with McLaren for the 2012 season and beyond to gain access to the Woking-based team’s wind tunnel to test and map out aerodynamic improvements.

“Can’t give us access to their car design but it does give us working systems, methodologies and use of their equipment,” says Lee. “That will give us a huge depth of technical ability that we wouldn’t otherwise have access to. Marussia now attacks aerodynamics in two different ways. We have a significant computational fluid dynamics (CFD) capability and access to the tunnel.”

Marussia's new Sage ERP system links up from Banbury to Bahrain

“It may not be immediately obvious – looking at our finishing places – but we have made big strides this year. Our immediate competitor is Caterham, but we are aiming to compete with Toro Rosso and Williams.”

Lee points to the Australian GP as evidence of this, where despite having limited testing time after not passing all of the FIA’s safety tests in time, Timo Glock clocked a 14th place finish and Charles Pic took 15th.

Alongside Caterham, HRT and USF1, which never made it to the starting line, the four new entrants into the world of F1 signed up to contracts with Cosworth to manufacture their engines and Xtrac to provide the gearboxes.

While Caterham paid a hefty sum to cancel its contract with Cosworth and find an alternative engine supplier, Marussia has continued the relationship and has worked closely with Cosworth to find continuous improvements rather than jump ship.

The team’s drivers Charles Pic and Timo Glock

However, the team is constantly reviewing its supply base to source improvements to the 4,500 parts that go into making the car. 

The engine does not escape this and a review of the supply contract will be taking place with the deal ending in 2013.

This need is particularly acute when you consider that the team, as a newcomer to F1, is still establishing itself within the sport so has a limited manufacturing base at present, relying on outsourcing. “We are looking to manufacture more in house in the future,” says Lee, while adding that this is a process that will take years rather than months.

For Lee, all that matters is speed and establishing the team as a mainstay in what is arguably the most glamorous sport in the world, where the components are made is something that will follow when the team is more established.

Despite this, Marussia has the task of designing the car, testing the incoming parts and assembling a vehicle that ends up reaching incredible speeds. There is also the minor detail of servicing and continually adapting of a car which results in two thirds of it changing from the start to the end of the season.

Testing components against design specifications in Banbury
Testing components against design specifications in Banbury

Marussia recently installed the enterprise resource planning (ERP) software Sage X3 to help make its outsourcing model more efficient and cost-effective. Due to the fact that the majority of the car’s components are subcontracted and manufactured outside the team’s Banbury base, it is vital to have a system that maps the location of the parts through the supply chain.

F1, by its very nature, is all about speed and also applied to the timeframe that Marussia set aside to implement the Sage ERP system. According to Lee, the team, which has a 180 strong workforce, “Set Sage an aggressive time scale to have the system implemented by as we wanted it in place for the build of the 2012 car.”

Scudamore adds: “This only left a strict two week window to install the system that the FIA have set in place as off-season, a period no car developments can be carried out.”

The firm decided to walk before it ran and used the system without any configurations but the team are now reviewing Sage X3 and now plan to automate some of the supply process through a customisation that will save time that can then be allocated to improving the car.

Marussia were the only team in F1 not to use a wind tunnel but that has all changed with its new partnership with McLaren
Marussia were the only team in F1 not to use a wind tunnel but that has all changed with its new partnership with McLaren

The team looks set to be in F1 for the long-term after moving from Sheffield to Banbury and are currently looking for 20 new staff. The move has placed the team at the centre of the British automotive industry, with Silverstone racetrack, engine-maker Cosworth and McLaren all within a 60 mile radius.

As well as reducing lead times, this has also allowed the team to recruit a higher level of staff and tap into the skills that exist in the area to provide the impetus to go faster and take the challenge to Toro Rosso and Williams.