WHAT's a chap to do when he's in the UK's Milton Keynes? Marvel at traffic circles and fake cattle, obviously; wonder at the sheer banality of planned urban sprawl, indeed. But I prefer to do something more useful - like visit the Red Bull Formula One headquarters.
It's odd, I know, that Milton Keynes is where you'll find Red Bull. You're left with the vague sense it ought to be based somewhere sexier. But that seems to be a theme with the UK-based Formula One teams. Red Bull is in Milton Keynes; McLaren is based outside Woking. Someone needs to set up in Slough and it'll be an unholy trinity.
I wandered into the Red Bull factory and dutifully switched off my phone. The visit was characterised by a guided tour from a hugely enthusiastic young man. To be honest, I thought the most exciting thing would be the cars. But no. In fact, two things stand out: one was the design office, where half a hectare of floor space was filled with people designing bits of cars on their computers, all beavering away to find a design that might shave fractions of a second off a lap time.
Depending on your point of view, that's either unbelievably cool or the definition of futility. And it's not like they design a car, deliver it to Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel, have a pint and then go home until the next season. If a team was to race the car it used in the first race of the season in the last, it would be seconds off the pace.
The second exciting thing was the 3D printers, a newish technology that's going to change the way stuff gets made, and has huge implications for industry generally. 3D printers create objects from a digital design by repeatedly adding layers of whatever material is being used, as opposed to the standard process, which would require moulding or machining.
And they're fascinating machines because you can "print" anything you like, including, if the research goes well, organs and tissue, toys, models, jewellery and even replacement hips. And they're doubly fascinating because they completely remove economies of scale from the manufacturing process.
If I went to Stihl and asked it to design and build me a single spanner in the conventional way, it would be a very expensive spanner. They have to design it, create the mould and then cast the spanner. However, if I can download a digital model and print the spanner, it's very cheap and means I don't have to get into the car and go to town. The implications for remote communities could be huge. The Economist reckons the advent of 3D printing could be as significant as the arrival of the steam engine and the printing press, saying it is "likely to disrupt every field it touches". This is pretty exciting. We're getting closer to those machines in Star Trek that just created food. Lost a certain-sized Allen key? Just print a new one.
The potential for businesses is also huge. Businesses based on the concept of building uniform products and building them in large numbers now have complex opportunities to offer much cheaper personalised or differentiated products. Want a steering wheel with your name embossed on it? Want your initials inlayed into the gear lever? Sure. We'll print one for you.
At Red Bull, however, they use their 3D printers to create incredibly detailed models of their digital designs for the purposes of wind-tunnel testing. And because it's relatively cheap and simple, they can play with designs all day long. Nobody has to create moulds or machine bits and pieces.
I had a great day at Red Bull. It's an impressively youthful and dedicated team. And they build seriously fast cars.
One manufacturer that's always embraced old-fashioned quirkiness in design, as opposed to the clinical form-follows-function design at race teams, is Citroën. And yet in the DS5, its latest offering, the car is so incredibly futuristic it looks as though it was printed, not bolted together. The DS5 is an arrestingly lovely car to look at, outrageously flamboyant and unashamedly futuristic.
Please excuse a moment of car-nerdery; look at those wheels. Aren't they stunningly complicated and pretty? In a world dominated by careful and conservative German creativity, Citroën, especially in its DS range, stands out like a monument to the unapologetic love of automotive design.
And what is this thing? A crossover? A hatchback or a station wagon? God knows, to be honest. The only thing we can be sure of is that it's a Citroën.
The flair continues on the inside. It's like the suits just told the interior designers to really go for it. It's like a cockpit. Brilliantly designed, chunky buttons and levers festoon the centre console and the ceiling, which itself dissects a clever three-piece sunroof.
The seats are insanely accommodating and the cabin generally instils a sense of, dare one say it, fun. It's just a hugely stylish place to sit.
I drove the 147kW manual, which was pretty fun. It also comes with a de tuned version of the same motor with an auto box, and also with a diesel motor. Those 147kW do from time to time overwhelm the front wheels, but generally it all adds up to a pretty spunky performer.
That manual box also matches the ride well, too. It's firm. In fact, it's very firm, which is very unlike Citroën, and very, very unlike previous cars that have worn the famed DS badge. This is a pity, because while it translates to good poise on the Western Cape's superb roads, I would imagine it might get tiresome elsewhere.
I love this car. I love it because it is unashamedly stylish and fun. It's nearly R400,000 and, of course, it's a large Citroën, so it'll depreciate like a meteor. But the world is better for innovative cars such as this. I do wish more people would at least test-drive it. It's the future today. We should embrace it.
. Parker visited Red Bull as a guest of Infiniti.
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