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Brexit is a subject that creates a great deal of emotion in the UK. People feel strongly about whether Britain should leave Europe or not. It is an argument in which there are no answers, only guesses about what will happen. What we do know is that leaving Europe will have an impact on the British economy – we just don’t know what that impact will be and whether things will be better or worse in the long term. The pro-leave people believe that there will be trade deals with all and sundry and that Britain will be better off, although there is nothing much to suggest that they are right. However, come what may, motorsport does not – and cannot – live in a bubble and if there are seismic shifts in the world economy, then it will be affected. The sport may be cushioned from the effects of the economy, by its global nature and by long-term contracts, but it is fueled by money and if money is short, the motorsport industry suffers.
There are a lot of people in motor racing – the go-getters – who see this whole thing as a challenge and an opportunity to make Britain stronger, without European influence. Perhaps that will happen, but there is also the danger that the motorsport cluster that has existed in the UK since the 1960s will crumble away as a result of being unable to compete. Clusters are based on expertise that cannot be found elsewhere and if that expertise moves, so clusters will change. There was a time when Britain was the home of almost all racing car chassis manufacturing, but that is long gone. Dallara in Italy has a near monopoly on that today. There was a time when F1 engines were almost all manufactured by Cosworth, but that is no longer the case. Britain still boasts Mercedes-Benz High Performance Engines, the new Ilmor and the rump of Cosworth, but advanced engine technology is spreading to other places, such as Austria, Italy and, of course, the engine design cluster that exists around Paris. The Germans also have strong motorsport engine design groups.
It is easy to say that all will be well, but one must not forget that in the 1920s it was France that led the way in motorsport, with an impressive cluster of different companies in and around Paris, including Peugeot, Hispano-Suiza, Ballot, Bugatti, Delage, Delahaye, Gordini, and so on. That faded away because the country could not support it. The Germans came to the fore in the 1930s, with the Italians (Alfa Romeo, at least) trying to stay in touch.
So we should not take the motorsport cluster for granted. Yes, we still build the best grand prix cars, often raced under foreign flags, and at the moment it is the place that the ambitious young engineers come to get into motorsport. With Brexit, these things could change. The biggest cluster outside Britain is the NASCAR one around Charlotte, North Carolina, where there are impressive expertise and facilities. The Haas F1 Team may still be using European know-how, but the intention is for the cars to be designed and built in the USA. There is also a movement in Europe that no one seems to be paying much attention to, with the quiet growth of European NASCAR. The word is that the promoter, a French organization, may recently have been acquired by NASCAR itself and even if that is not the case, it is clear that NASCAR is working to spread the joys of stock car racing in the European market. That is not to say that they will bring the Sprint Cup to Europe, but rather that the best European racers will go off to America and see how they fare against the top men. NASCAR will not grow geographically, but it is aiming to increase its TV viewership globally. Stock car racing is rather alien to the average European, but it has a lot going for it… if only because it treats the fans with a little more respect than the elitist championships run by the FIA. <
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