x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Formula One stars of the future have a new opportunity to get ahead of the curve

Potential Formula One stars of the future will be able to hone their driving skills when the new £280 million circuit opens in the Welsh valleys in the United Kingdom next year.

The Circuit of Wales features a 5.6km track with seating for between 7,500 and 12,500. Circuit of Wales via Getty Images
The Circuit of Wales features a 5.6km track with seating for between 7,500 and 12,500. Circuit of Wales via Getty Images

Wales is set to be the home of a motorsport circuit with big ideas

Foreign Correspondent

Next year, potential Formula One racing driving stars of the future will be able to hone their skills at a new £280 million (Dh1.65 billion) circuit in the Welsh valleys in the United Kingdom.

But there is more to the track than just motor-racing.

The Circuit of Wales is part of a huge regeneration project that the development company behind the scheme hopes could involve investment from the Middle East.

The Heads of the Valley Development Company (HVDC) is led by Michael Carrick, the founder of Aventa Capital Partners and a former global head of infrastructure investments at Merrill Lynch.

“There are a number of Middle Eastern investor groups that we’re talking to. We are targeting ­long-term real asset investors, not private equity,” he says.

The Circuit of Wales near Ebbw Vale has received support from the Welsh government and will include not just a new 5.6km track with seating for between 7,500 and 12,500 fans but also a range of other facilities.

Although the circuit will not stage Formula One races, HVDC expects to bring MotoGP, World Superbikes, World Motocross and World Touring Car races to Wales as part of a project that will also include a four-star 150-bed hotel, a low-carbon technology park, commercial and industrial facilities and a motor sports academy.

“The [UK] has an amazing position in motorsport development and that’s one of the reasons we chose to invest,” Mr Carrick says.

“This is a leading industry and we are looking at what we need to do to keep that going.”

The price has risen, from an initial £150m up to £250 and more recently to £280m. Mr Carrick says this reflects the growing nature of the project.

“That’s not all going into the track but the enterprise around the track in a way that [happens in] the Middle East,” he adds.

The HVDC wants to draw on the role of the motor industry in Wales. This ranges from Ford’s car plant in Bridgend to Toyota’s engine plant at Flintshire in the north of the principality and the role of universities in Cardiff, Swansea and Vale of Glamorgan in training graduates in precision engineering.

This base extends deep into England and Mr Carrick talks of a motorsport “rainbow” running from the F1 team Lotus base in Norfolk through the English midlands – the traditional home of the UK car industry – into Wales.

The track is being built on an 830-acre greenfield site near the Brecon Beacons National Park but the nearby urban area is one of the poorest in Wales.

“Blaenau Gwent is top of every league table in the UK that you don’t want to be top of,” says Mr Carrick.

As a result, Blaenau Gwent is recognised as a UK enterprise zone to encourage investment and rated a Tier One Assisted Area by the European Union.

“Companies can get capital allowances, it’s a cheap place to operate but there’s a culture of people wanting to work there,” Mr Carrick adds.

A £150m project to extend a 7.8km section of the A465 road leading to the site into two lanes is underway and will improve transport links.

The combination of undeveloped location, established industry, willing workforce and subsidies is what HVDC hopes will encourage companies to relocate and entice investors.

“We’re encouraging people to think not just about the track but the role of motorsport in regeneration,” says Mr Carrick.

“We need to make sure that people see this not just in terms of the track. That’s why you need a masterplanner like Populous on board to understand how it works and how people spend their money.”

Populous was one of the designers behind the London 2012 Olympic Games and is working with Powell Dobson on the plans for the project, which this month received planning permission without being subjected to a public enquiry.

The Spanish contractor FCC and the local outfit Alun Griffiths are teaming up to build the project and HVDC expects enabling work to start on site in early January with main construction beginning by the end of the first quarter of next year.

The circuit will present a novelty for racers as, to maximise the existing landscape, the track will run anti-clockwise to a finishing line that Mr Carrick and HVDC expect to be ready to cross by September 2015.

And who knows, perhaps in future a home-grown F1 racing star will return there to a real welcome in the hillsides.