A visit to the Brembo R&D center in Bergamo, Italy leaves you with the unmistakable sense of a mixture of the old and new. This is exemplified by Bergamo itself, which features an utterly enchanting old city, perched on a hill above the more modern iteration of the city.
Surrounded by a wall built by the Venetians in the 15th century, the “Citte Alta” is a maze of narrow streets, alleys and piazzas, none more lovely than the Piazza Vechia that Maurice Stendahl gushed is “the most beautiful place in the world.” Meanwhile, hard by the Autostrada about 10 miles away from the Citte Alta is the Kilometro Rosso (ABOVE) – a high technology campus delineated by, quite literally, a bright red wall one kilometer in length.
As with many a high tech park, the idea behind the Kilometro Rossa is to provide a place where highly innovative – if seemingly unrelated – R&D, manufacturing companies and laboratories can generate new ideas through the cross-pollination that comes from siting (in this case) a global leader in braking technology in the same neck of the woods as Petroceramics (advanced ceramic materials and geomaterials), Intellimech (mechatronics/pre-competitive platforms for infra-sector applications), the R&D center of the Italcementi Group (advanced materials and chemistry), the new laboratories of the Mario Negri Institute (biotechnology) and the Innovation Center of the University of Bergamo.
Of course, there's a lot of cross-pollination within the confines of the Brembo R&D . . . but not too much. After all, a company that makes braking systems (systems being the key word there, as opposed to “just” brakes) for roughly half the Formula 1 teams (including Ferrari, Red Bull, Mercedes, Sauber and Toro Rosso); all the Dallara DW12 IndyCars; an assortment of prototypes and GT cars in Grand-Am, ALMS and WEC and a growing cadre of NASCAR Sprint Cup teams as well as 15 MotoGP contenders; manufactures motorcycle wheels (Marchesini); is an OEM for some of the world's highest high-performance road cars and is also a leader in passive safety restraint systems (Sabelt), including child safety systems; and also includes AP Racing under its corporate umbrella is bound to benefit from some internal information exchanges.
Take, for example, the latest-generation safety harness from Sabelt (LEFT). In a world where Brembo and its F1 teams invest a fortune in the quest for a lighter brake rotors and calipers, it's hardly a coincidence to find the Sabelt harness has gone from a weight of 730 grams in 2011 (RIGHT) to 520 grams in 2013 thanks, in part, to lightweight materials used in the buckle but also in the switch from nylon-based webbing to a fabric called “Zaytechs.”
On the other hand, although AP Racing is a subsidiary of Brembo Performance, a firewall – call it the Firewall Rosso – prevents AP and Brembo engineers from sharing secrets. Similarly, while Brembo works closely with its F1 teams – Brembo not only designs custom braking systems for each manufacturer, they tailor those systems to each driver within a team – there is a no cross pollination of ideas between, for example, the conceptual design of the Mercedes braking system and the Red Bull system, the Toro Rosso and Sauber systems or the Ferrari system.
Common elements like the knowledge Brembo has gained in four decades of designing and manufacturing discs and calipers? Of course. What Brembo learns in F1 percolates into tweaking the formulation of its carbon fiber rotors to enable a Dallara IndyCar's brakes to work at peak efficiency, even when they are only applied every 35 laps or so at Indianapolis when entering the pits. Similarly, what Brembo has learned running cast iron discs in Grand-Am is transferred to other categories and series where carbon fiber discs are strictly illegal.
Even in a city where the 15th century segues into the 21st and vice-versa, then, cross pollination has its limits.