Motoring: Bringing it all together in a drive for the top

With its fingers in many pies, it's the future of the motoring industry. John Simister visits Prodrive

PRODRIVE IS a very Nineties company. Its offices contain few tones other than white, grey and blue. People talk of "best practice", "world class" and "turnkey", and many nouns have become verbs.

This is how the language of business works nowadays. It's a way of thinking which makes it hard to have a fuzzy outlook, however much it grates with lovers of language. Prodrive is clear and focused; when you drive past it on the M40 by Banbury, the buildings seem almost to be surrounded by a crisp halo.

But what is it? A driving school? A maker of high-tech golf clubs? Neither: Prodrive is an automotive and motor-sport engineering and marketing consultancy, a beacon for Britain's hidden motor industry. It designs things for car and motorbike makers, distributes parts for competition cars, designs and builds the competition cars themselves, and invents new ways of doing familiar things. And it runs Subaru's rally team, the most successful of the past decade. This year it will also run Ford's campaign for the British Touring Car Championship.

Last year, Prodrive ran Honda's BTCC team. Previously it has run BMW's and Alfa Romeo's. Why those deals ended tells you a lot about the company that David Richards, a former accountant and world rally championship- winning navigator (he won in 1981, sharing a Ford Escort with Ari Vatanen), set up with commercial director Ian Parry 14 years ago.

"At the beginning of the Nineties, we realised that engineering was the core of what were doing," says Richards. "We'd developed our skills through motor sport, which called for ingenuity and motivational skills within tight budgets and time constraints. If we could apply this to mainstream engineering, we would have a unique operation."

Richards is Dave within motor sport's mateyness; David as a businessman; DR within the company. He took over the running of the Benetton Formula One team a season ago, replacing the mysterious Flavio Briatore, and pledging a new, open management style. "Benetton wouldn't sell, but maybe we could work together and solve the management problems. And part of my own ego wanted to prove I could do something different. When I arrived, Briatore asked how long he should stay for the handover. I said, until lunchtime."

Late last summer, however, Richards and Benetton parted. The Benetton family didn't like Richards' vision of the future, and installed 29-year- old Rocco Benetton as chief executive instead. There's speculation that Richards might return to Formula One, possibly with Ford's backing and a mission to revive the stagnating Stewart-Ford team and run it under the Ford-owned Jaguar banner. Such a deal would tie in well with the Ford Mondeo BTCC effort.

Which brings us back to the split with Honda. Prodrive prefers to run the whole racing operation, developing the cars and "interfacing" with the manufacturer's marketing organisation. Honda and Alfa Romeo were not willing to relinquish control, favouring a piecemeal approach which only came together in the Alfa or Honda headquarters. "This is not the right way to succeed," says Richards. "When you have different people doing different things, there's no accountability."

The integrated approach brought Subaru the World Rally Championship for three years in succession, only for Mitsubishi to break Subaru's grip in last year's Network Q Rally of Great Britain.

Motor sport is just one of the pounds 50m-turnover company's three divisions, the other two being sales and engineering. Trying to understand how it works is puzzling.

The engineering division, with roomfuls of uniformed engineers, is where the most secrets lie. Try to probe, and the PR man will say that he's "struggling with the transparency of our engineering projects". So we talk generalities: a batch of six complete prototype cars, an electric steering rack design, a sequential rally-car transmission, a two-stroke racing engine evaluation, body-styling kits to help spice-up an ageing product, suspension re-designs, innovative transmissions and electronic control systems, and a great deal else.

The work can be done for manufacturers, or for component suppliers, and can be done quickly. "There must be engineering integrity in everything we do," insists Richards. "We've bridged the gap between modern management practices and motor sport, and we've broken the back of engineering credibility." And the future? "We'll either align ourselves with one manufacturer, or develop each area of the business independently. The important thing is to stop it getting too big."

For all his business-speak, though, Dave Richards still loves motor sport. "I'm thinking of building a lightweight Aston Martin DB4 for historic events, not too expensive because I'll probably crash it a lot. And Ari and I borrowed our Escort rally car from the Beaulieu museum for a month in the summer."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Life and Style
Powdered colors are displayed for sale at a market ahead of the Holi festival in Bhopal, India
techHere's what you need to know about the riotous occasion
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant / Credit Controller

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

    Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

    Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

    £10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

    £17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable