You would never guess from the outside. In fact, you wouldn’t look twice if you happened to pass this cluster of units that stretch along a quiet road on an industrial estate in Swindon. Yet inside this unremarkable façade exists a company that’s a key artery of the beating heart that gives life to Britain’s wondrous Formula 1 industry. The name on the signage doesn’t ring a bell. The Retrac Group, anyone? No? Welcome, then, to the unseen (and most definitely unglamorous) side of the F1 tracks: the one you never get to see on the telly but without which the grand prix wheels would struggle to turn.
Retrac is one of the UK’s leading advanced manufacturing specialists, dealing in composites, exotic materials, tooling and component manufacture. It services sectors such as aerospace, automotive, defence and medical. But all these activities have sprung from its core foundations in F1, where Retrac is a partner and supplier to five of the 10 F1 teams, and not just those based in Britain.
1972 but has recently undergone an ownership restructure as the late founder’s son, Andy Carter (Retrac is his surname backwards), prepares to step aside and allow new CEO Dan Walmsley to take the reins. Walmsley was formerly motorsport boss at McLaren Automotive and previous to that ran the Strakka Racing organisation that twice won its class at Le Mans.
Retrac’s F1 links can be traced back to the 1980s, says Carter, when Williams, Benetton and eventually McLaren were customers calling on its expertise to make parts. “We would turn up in the morning and the material and drawing would be on the doorstep,” he says. “That was just the beginning. The F1 business prompted us to move more heavily into CNC machining and became the driver behind a lot of investment. In 1997, we thought moving into composites would be a benefit to us and our F1 customers, because we could then offer them a complete manufacturing package: pattern making through to complex CNC machining for both metallics and composites. It was the natural progression.”
Without a natural succession plan within the Carter family, the time is right for a new chapter – which is where Walmsley comes in. Now the company exists under the ownership of a clever employee trust, meaning each of the 110 employees at Retrac has a quantifiable stake in the business. “It has created a sense of engagement beyond the level of a normal employee-employer relationship,” says Walmsley. “Our people know the decisions they make not only effect the bottom line for the financial accounts but also for the long-term customer pipeline, the perception of the company out there, all for their own futures. It has been a real enabler. We’re seeing increased productivity and an appetite to go that extra mile for the customer.”