Caterham’s race trucks began their journey to Belgium for this weekend’s grand prix from a new location after the team officially opened the doors at its Leafield factory over the summer break.
While the importance of a move from one headquarters to another – albeit ones 150 miles apart – might be underestimated, Caterham believes the relocation from Norfolk to Oxfordshire marks a seminal moment in its relatively short history. As not only does it place the team firmly in the heart of the UK’s ‘Motorsport Valley’ but the site provides the platform for future expansion. The Leafield facility, previously occupied by Arrows and Super Aguri, is five times bigger than Caterham’s original Hingham home and sits on a 35-acre site, not all of which is currently built on.
Factory staff began work there on Monday 20th August and, coming in the middle of the season, the team strived to make the transition from one base to another as seamless as possible so not to disrupt its ongoing work.
Speaking to JA on F1, Caterham’s head of communications Tom Webb said: “The key really for us was to make sure that everybody really that needed to have a seamless break between the end of the first half of the season and the start of the second, around the August summer break, could leave the previous factory that we had in Norfolk, be able to move house and start work two weeks later on the Monday morning as if nothing had changed.
“We needed to make sure that we didn’t lose any time and that therefore the IT infrastructure was in place and that people could literally kind of pack up their bags and then two weeks later on the Monday morning unpack and get straight on with work. So from that perspective it’s gone absolutely perfectly.”
While the Leafield site has a long-established history in F1, dating back to Arrows’ purchase of it in 1993, since Super Aguri’s demise in early 2008 no F1 team has occupied the building. Webb says the passing of teams means some refurbishment has been inevitable – with the process expected to be completed by mid-late October.
“We could have moved in here not changed anything and we could have operated as a Formula 1 team,” he said. “But the refurbishment process really was to bring a building that had been dormant for a few years since Super Aguri moved out [up to date]. So if you imagine the general wear and tear that any building suffers from and then in a place that’s kind of been quiet for a few years, albeit with one or two small projects happening in areas like the race bays where we keep cars between races and things like that.
“So it’s quite an extensive refurbishment project just to get the building cleaned up to a point where it’s not obviously a slightly kind of older building. So that’s a relatively big task.”
The increase in space means that for the first time Caterham has been able to install a race simulator in its main building while the expanse of surrounding land opens up the possibility for further key improvements to its core infrastructure.
“As it’s such a large site there is quite a lot of brownfield area on it,” he said. “We potentially could expand into any areas that we wanted to really. Theoretically we could put a wind tunnel on this site with the right permission and going through all the normal process that we’d have to with the council. But there’s also a couple of buildings here which I believe in the past planning permission had been sought and granted for those to be turned into accommodation areas.
“So one of the great things about Leafield is that it is a site that has a huge capacity to expand and meet our future needs, as well as the needs that we have for the immediate present.”
Caterham is also expecting the move to give it the chance to cast its recruitment net considerably wider. “We now can offer staff and existing team members maybe who have family in these kind of areas, because they previously worked for other teams, the opportunity to commute quite easily without having to uproot their entire family to be able to come and work for us,” Webb added.
“Similarly we can now attract staff from other teams without having to maybe pay over the odds to get them to relocate 100 miles from where they were up to Norfolk.”