Formula One (1/6)

Peter Snow presents this fascinating documentary series which looks at the untold stories of British scientists and engineers who developed some of the modern world’s most incredible technology.

The first instalment finds out how the country’s successful Formula One industry has its origins in a remarkable amateur racing club and a visionary group of motor enthusiasts. Snow meets the surviving members of the Lotus Engineering team whose revolutionary car, the Lotus 25, changed the sport forever.

Peter Snow is on a quest to track down the people who made the UK a world leader in science and industry. He is searching for the unsung heroes of modern British history – the media-shy scientists and engineers whose resourcefulness and determination shaped much of today’s incredible technology.

Over the course of this six-part series, Peter learns about the jet that helped win the Falklands War; finds out how scientists used chemicals from a hair salon to launch rockets; and hears the remarkable story of two teenagers who teamed up with a 13th-century mathematician to create the world’s first 3D computer game. He encounters the men who worked behind a Newbury curry house to create Britain’s first mobile-phone network. And he tells the tale of the train that was so advanced that British Rail cancelled it, only for Virgin Trains to spend billions buying it back from the Italians 20 years later.

The series focuses on the true backroom boys of British engineering – men who worked in their bedrooms and backyards to make inspirational breakthroughs in technology and kick-start whole industries. These people battled against the odds, taking on sceptical governments, hostile unions and indifferent corporations to make their vision of tomorrow’s world a reality.

In the first instalment of the series, Peter discovers how Britain’s £5 billion-a-year Formula One industry has its roots in a tiny North London lockup and the humble Austin 7, a vintage car produced during the interwar years.

Back in the early 1950s, men like Dick Scammell, Len Terry and Mike Costin were a million miles away from the glitzy world of Formula One. Their racing took place on disused airstrips, where they drove souped-up Austin 7s they had brought off scrapheaps and modified in their backyards.

Their dreams of racing on the world stage would have gone unrealised if it had not been for one of their number, the late Colin Chapman. His modified Austin 7 was christened the ‘Lotus Mk3’. Not only did this nippy little vehicle wipe the floor with its competitors on the amateur circuit, it also went on to form the basis of Lotus Engineering, planting the seed for the company’s near-total dominance of Formula One in the mid-1960s.

Whilst Colin Chapman was the visionary behind Lotus, Dick, Len and Mike were its backbone. From making kit cars for members of the 750 motor club, they went on to design the legendary Lotus 25, the first monocoque (or single shell) racing car on the F1 circuit. Debuting in 1962, this car changed the face of Formula One and made Britain the epicentre of the world motor-racing industry. Thanks to the amateurs from the 750 club and their legendary car, over half the vehicles on today’s Formula One grid are designed and built in Britain.

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