Speech by: Lord Drayson
Venue: European Cleaner Racing Conference, Birmingham NEC
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Good morning, everyone.
The first couple of times I attended this event, it was as a driver and a team owner.
But I’ve been the minister for science and innovation for just over a year now – and I’m primarily wearing that crash helmet today, rather than my Drayson Racing one, because I want to talk about how UK motorsport can become an even greater national asset as we move to a low-carbon economy, and why that’s an opportunity for you.
Now, I understand the basic motivation of people involved in motorsport. We want to win. Period. Securing pole position and then standing on the top step of the podium, I know, the be all and end all.
And that’s what we’ve been doing in this country. The UK is – hands down – the world’s best in this industry and in this sport, and I’m not only thinking of Button and Brawn. 2009 saw other triumphs for the likes of Dario Franchitti and Kris Meeke.
Away from the rostrum, we have a motorsport sector which – according to the Advanced Institute of Management – involves around 4,500 firms with an annual turnover of £6 billion; employs some 38,500 people on a full- and part-time basis, including 25,000 engineers; and contributes £3.6 billion to the UK economy through exports.
The Government recognises the value of this industry – not only to the country’s bottom line, but to the UK brand. I’m delighted that the British Grand Prix is now secure. And with two British world champions both driving for McLaren, the F1 spotlight will continue to be directed on UK motorsport – on the talent of our drivers, on the quality of our science, engineering and technology.
That’s all to the good, but I’m also very aware of the challenges facing this industry – both from the perspective of the paddock and from the viewpoint of someone pre-occupied with how we go about rebalancing the UK economy after the credit crunch.
The recession has hit motorsport, just as it has damaged other sectors. The decline in income from sponsorship, especially outside of Formula One, is just one consequence of the global downturn.
And I believe that’s it has also proved damaging to the low-carbon agenda in motorsport.
My sense is that we’re at risk of losing momentum in green racing: in promoting technologies with clear potential for wider application and in convincing a sceptical public – sceptical about green cars and even the very relevance of motorsport in a world facing the challenge of climate change.
Failure to meet that challenge is really not an option for us.
Motorsport has a significant role to play in preparing for and benefiting from that transition to a low-carbon economy. In fact, it’s custom-made to do so, and I don’t believe it will detract from motorsport’s core purpose: winning races.
You need fresh sources of sponsorship, but you also need sustainable business models where sponsorship isn’t the only income stream. Going green and pursuing technology transfer opportunities isn’t the sole answer, but it’s one of them and it’s going to be more important in future.
The automotive industry, meanwhile, needs help pushing ahead with green tech, and the Government needs help in persuading people to change what they drive – because the presenters of Top Gear are having a field day making fun of green cars, and any thumbs-down from the Stig leaves a stigma that’s hard to dislodge. When a green car is rated as “sub zero” on “cool wall”, then we know we’re getting somewhere.
That’s a crude summary of where we are, and it raises the question of what we do next. I want to concentrate now on how we can work together more effectively, but first, I want to issue a challenge to the administrative – as opposed to the team – side of the sport.
Competition is what drives us on. When rules change, teams are quick to adapt technology.
I want to see governing bodies championing radically greener racing by redrafting their rulebooks. It’s the best catalyst for change and a sure means of proving that motorsport is in touch with the abiding issue of the 21st century – and staying ahead, but in step, with what’s happening in the car and other industries.
So what are the barriers? Competition itself certainly won’t suffer, because the rules – the parameters of racing – change all the time. Indeed, what better way is there to secure motorsport’s future, attracting a raft of new potential sponsors?
As I’ve already said, going green would also open up far greater opportunities for developing technology partnerships with the automotive sector – and that’s the other thrust of my speech today.
Where motor racing leads, mainstream manufacturers often follow. We can all reel off examples of motorsport technologies finding their way into aerospace and marine applications, medical and military – to say nothing of cars on our roads. But there’s more you can do to become a greater asset to this country’s industrial base.
My honest view – and this isn’t about allocating blame – is that motorsport and the mainstream car industry aren’t doing enough together – especially in terms of low carbon.
At the same time, UK motorsport and Government aren’t talking to each other enough.
Take the case of mainstream automotive.
Through the Innovation and Growth Team, the Government sat down with the automotive industry to figure out the major drivers of change over the next 25 years. CEOs discussed business opportunities against the backdrop of carbon legislation and energy security. Industry scientists and engineers defined the absolute limits of existing technologies, and the potential of new zero-carbon cars in 40 years.
The outcome was a roadmap for the future, and a significant new body: the Auto Council, where Government and automotive will work together to make this happen.
The process also gave birth, indirectly, to the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (or OLEV), which brings together senior Whitehall figures from business, transport, energy, local government and finance to work with automotive, power generators and infrastructure companies; with experts on pricing and systems design; with academics and creative thinkers.
Things are really moving. OLEV is coordinating over £400 million in direct government support for, amongst other things, the world’s largest EV and plug-in hybrid car demonstrator competition.
Let’s build on this, with more input from motorsport: a greater role on the technology side, a greater role in addressing people’s attitudes to low-carbon.
I’d like to see two things happen – and, to be blunt, neither involves extra money from government. The purpose is to work together and seek out market opportunities.
First, I’m aware that the Automotive Council secretariat is already in dialogue with the MIA, but we need more motorsport companies to engage directly with the Council and its working groups.
Second, we need to identify ways to boost the role of motorsport within the low carbon agenda. I know that my Cabinet colleagues, Andrew Adonis and Pat McFadden, who oversee the work of OLEV, are keen to hear from industry representatives how motorsport can support the move to high-efficiency, low-carbon transport.
I’d like to get your take on this, but I’ve seen it working in the US, where the American Le Mans Series is closely, and productively, involved with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy.
One last thing, I’m delighted to be launching today the new CRP electric race bike, designed for exclusive use in the TTXGP race series.
As many of you know, Azhar Hussain, the man behind TTXGP, had the vision to run the world’s very first zero-emission motorsport event in the margins of the Isle of Man TT last June.
Azhar got a fair bit of stick for doing so, but he received support from UK Trade & Investment. The event was a great success, and it has grown into an international series, with races this year in Europe and North America. It demonstrates what I said earlier: when you change the rules of the competition, new technology follows close behind.
Azhar is now behind the CRP, which boasts a good deal of British technology and sets an important precedent. I challenge other firms to develop bikes like this one – which allow enthusiasts to race against constructors. It’s a fantastic development. Great PR.
And I suppose that’s what I want to stress above all. The UK is out in front on low-carbon: the first to set legally binding targets for emissions; absolutely serious about renewables; way ahead of the limited consensus in Copenhagen. Our future industries, jobs and economic growth depend on the UK being a leading developer and manufacturer of low-carbon goods and services.
OLEV is all about affecting cultural change in line with these commitments. And yet we’re struggling to bring domestic opinion along with us.
Motorsport can lend the necessary street cred to going green. You represent the best possible response to Top Gear ridicule – to move the low-carbon story away from lentils, sandals and self-sacrifice.
It can be much more exciting than that.
Thanks for listening.