Blink and you’ll miss it. Immediately after the humped-back bridge and opposite the Volunteer pub stand the offices of Williams Grand Prix Engineering. The site previously belonged to Jannsen pharmaceutical and prior to that the Admiralty (Why they should need a site so far away from the sea never ceases to amaze me!). The offices are set back from the road on the outskirts of the village of Grove, Oxfordshire.
Williams reputably paid £5M for the 32 acre site and must have spent an equally significant sum on the obvious alterations that would have been required to turn the place from an office cum warehouse to a state of the art factory, a process which involved the building of an extension almost doubling the size of the existing warehouse.
Add to that the considerable cost in relocating the short, seven mile, distance from the old factory at Didcot and you begin to wonder if Williams had any money left to build race cars!
Surprisingly the new complex only houses the Grand Prix facilities and hasn’t brought the touring car operation under the same roof – no shared resources here obviously. What has transferred to within the main building is the conference centre and the Williams collection, relocated from the rather sterile looking cube they were housed in before.
Perhaps a better idea of the site can be gained from the rear. Approximately half the grounds are grassed over. Towards the back, hidden from view from the offices by a row of trees, is a solitary golf pin, surrounded by literally hundreds of abandoned balls.
You can imagine a frustrated Patrick Head or Adrian Newey stepping out to bang a few balls around while mulling over the latest changes to the car.
At the far side of the site, just beyond the helicopter pad, is the wind tunnel. This was the most complicated piece of equipment that had to be moved from Didcot and required hedges to be cut back, telegraph poles and cables brought down and fences removed along the route.
When running at full speed the tunnel, apparently, consumes as much power as all of Grove cooking their Sunday lunches. This is far more impressive than it might at first sound as Grove, despite the ‘village’ tag, houses as many people as a town.