Home is where F1's HRT is with Madrid facility

HRT call their new home La Caja Magica, the Magic House. Already, it has magically taken personnel who previously worked all over Europe and put them under one roof.

Before moving into their new headquarters in Madrid, the HRT Formula One team had personnel spread across Europe and made use of wind tunnels in the United Kingdom while they had an offices in Munich and Valencia.
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"The Magic Box" conjures images of a children's fairy tale, yet in a suburban park in the south of the Madrid, a chapter or two of an altogether different story is being penned. La Caja Magica, the new home of HRT Formula One team, opened almost three months ago. Instead of Lewis Carroll deciding direction, Luis Perez-Sala is the man in charge.

HRT, formerly known as Hispania Racing Team, became the first Spanish marque in F1 when they entered the high-power, high-expense sport in March 2010. Following a difficult debut season and a change of ownership last summer, stability was what the embryonic team required.

Ahead of this season, the former team manager Colin Kolles was replaced by Perez-Sala, a former F1 driver in the late 1980s, and an announcement was made that the marque would relocate from Germany to Spain.

On April 1, the doors opened to HRT's new home: an 11,000- square-metre space within a multifunctional complex also home to the Madrid Open tennis tournaments. Split across two buildings, HRT's headquarters features a workshop area and departments for finance, legal and marketing. It also boasts a pool and gymnasium. According to AS, the Spanish sports daily, the team pay annual rent of €800,000 (Dh3.7m).

"While in terms of manufacturing we are still going outside to suppliers, the immediate benefits of the factory are clear," Perez-Sala told The National yesterday. "We have better communication, which provides better coordination, which helps us solve problems in a faster way and allows us the ability to plan better for the future.

"The way we were before was no way to go forward."

For the previous two seasons, HRT's group of 75 staff - 60 per cent of whom are Spanish - had been forced to travel from different parts of Spain, Germany and the United Kingdom.

"One of the advantages of being a small team is you can be more agile than the others, but we didn't have that before because we had an office in Munich, a base in Valencia and our wind tunnel was in England. It was not a functional structure," said Pedro de la Rosa, the team's experienced Spanish driver.

"Now we are operating like a serious, professional Formula One team, instead of lots of islands around Europe."

The speed of development appears to have increased for the backmarkers, although nobody is under any illusions of the Herculean challenge ahead.

During qualifying for the European Grand Prix on Saturday, De la Rosa and teammate Narain Karthikeyan finished 21st and 22nd from 23 cars.

However, according to Toni Cuquerella, HRT's technical director, both drivers had enjoyed their best qualifying sessions of the season.

"Opening La Caja Magica is a great step because now we have a house," said Dani Clos, the team's Spanish reserve driver.

"Everything is together and while we have seen an evolution from the first race, now we have the factory, we've made a step forward with the car also.

"We obviously still have a lot to do, but we are on the way."

Perez-Sala, 53, often claims the worst thing about Formula One is the incessant travelling.

He hopes his staff will now exploit their new base and move their homes to the surrounding area.

Karthikeyan and De la Rosa, who currently reside in India and Switzerland, have proved non-committal, but Clos intends to relocate to Madrid from Barcelona.

Yet for Cuquerella, his priority is developing the car as quickly as possible and that means creating a technical engineering office where the team can manufacture their own supplies within La Casa Magica.

"What we want to create is a group of technical engineers in our HQ in Madrid who are in charge of the car's design," Cuquerella said.

"The second, and in parallel, is to work with this new group of engineers on its evolution. The fully operative technical office we want is a project for the future, but for it to become a reality, we have to begin preparing now."

In these tempestuous economic times, the team's future remains as unpredictable as the results on track, but with a brightly lit new home sitting proudly in the Spanish capital, De la Rosa is allowed to dream.

"When I first walked through the doors, it felt very special," said the 41-year-old driver, who joined HRT at the start of the season.

"It was very reassuring to me, proof that I did the right thing coming to this team and it felt like we can now decide our future."

The next chapter of HRT's story begins this afternoon, a few hours south of base and in front of a hopeful Spanish crowd.

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