The road leading up to Lotus's Enstone-based Formula 1 headquarters is unassuming to say the least.
In fact, if you are the sort of driver to have little faith in your sense of direction or map reading abilities, it is likely you'd think you had taken a wrong turning into a farmer's yard.
The road is lined with dry-stone walling and almost unending miles of lush green fields that are peppered with the odd sheep until, out of nowhere, a large, modern building looms on the horizon.
Said building is home to the successful Lotus F1 team, a team that placed fourth overall in the Constructors Title of this year's Formula 1 season, only beaten by giants such as McLaren, Ferrari and Red Bull.
The relatively small team (in terms of budget spent each season) tasted success beyond expectation, with Finnish driver Kimi Räikkönen winning the first race of the season and teammate Romain Grosjean placing third in five races.
Despite the team's drivers possessing skills beyond the realms of many, a large amount of that success is down to the hundreds of staff that busily fill the vast corridors, rooms and halls of the Enstone HQ.
Click on the gallery below to take a virtual tour of the factory
Behind the scenes at Lotus Formula 1 HQ
Behind the scenes at Lotus Formula 1 HQ
The unassuming Enstone frontage disguises a busy world of technical genius, click the next slide for a sneak peek behind the scenes...
The wind tunnel
As a sport, Formula 1 regularly comes under fire for its wasteful, natural resource-consuming nature but despite the Enstone factory using vast amounts of electricity every day, measures have been put in place to give something back. For example, the huge amount of energy created in the wind tunnel - where engineers test car components for aerodynamic performance – is stored in batteries and re-used to power the tunnel for future use. The tunnel is vital to a Formula 1 team's success as, despite the vast improvements to computer technology, nothing beats testing it for real.
The advent of 3D printing has not only reduced the amount of wastage involved in designing and engineering ever better and increasingly complicated Formula 1 car parts but also sped up development and improvements. Our guide, Luca Mazzocco, head of technical account management at Lotus F1, says: “The 3D printing machines allow us to come up with ideas, create and test them in a single day. A part can be modelled and tested on a Friday thanks to this technology, and then handed to engineers to build and fitted to the car come Sunday.”
3D printing (Continued)
Plastic parts, hot off the printing press, can be bolted directly onto a test car and scrutinised instantly. Even the most complex of engine components can be created by the printers in a number of cheap and easily-attainable materials and tested using real life fluids such as oil, water and fuel.
A room with what looks like row and rows of minimalistic Ikea cabinets sits deep within the Lotus F1 HQ site and this room acts as the ‘brains’ of the entire operation. The super computer with its 32.5 terraflops of computing capacity can make calculations much faster than anything us normal bods would be used to on a day-to-day basis. In fact, the racks of hardware can write around 8GB to disk every second. Luca Mazzocco says, “We have similar computing power to the aeronautics industry. In fact, BAE systems will often come to us with questions and we will make suggestions as our engineers are constantly pushing the boundaries of aerodynamics.”
The racing simulator
Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to even get near this room as new technology was being tested ahead of the 2014 F1 season. But this multi-million pound, super-realistic simulator is a vital development tool as it allows drivers to virtually get behind the wheel and experience any tweaks to the car Lotus engineers may have made. A Lotus source accompanying us on the tour said: “Kimi hates that thing. He says that it gives him motion sickness because we actually have hydraulics that realistically move the car.”
Precision engineered clothing
Most of the mechanics, engineers and technical bods on site were kitted out with CAT Footwear thanks to a recent sponsorship tie-in. "Even the clothing has to be cutting-edge," a CAT spokesperson told us. "The pit crew and factory staff demanded a shoe that blended the durability and strength of a steel-toe CAT boot with the flexibility of a trainer."