Where will future F1 engineers come from?

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity for a tour around Oxford Brookes University recently, specifically looking at their motor sport faulty.  The university has been running courses in motor sport for several decades and it was a useful opportunity to talk to the teaching staff and see the facilities that are available to the students.

I have certainly commented on this blog before about the lack of training opportunity for engineers wishing to progress to F1, due to virtually all the feeder single seater series being one make championships.  After hearing that the university (just one of several in the UK running motor sport engineering courses: BSc, BEng, MSc, MEng, Phd) had an employability record of over 90%, with graduates in every F1 team and over 50 ex students working at Enstone alone, I wondered how the training of the students compared with that of their predecessors who went through junior series rather than formal education.

A large part of the learning seemed to be available through the voluntary participation in the Formula Student team.  This is a competition entered by over 600 teams worldwide, where the teams have to design and construct their own racing car, before competing in a series of events.  There are a series of static and dynamic challenges that the team are assessed against:

Static events:

  • Design, Cost and Sustainability, and Business Presentation Judging;
  • Technical and Safety Scrutineering;
  • Tilt Test;
  • Brake and Noise Test.

Dynamic Events:

  • Skid Pan (Figure of 8);
  • Sprint;
  • Acceleration;
  • Endurance;
  • Fuel Economy.

With the team getting as much prestige for winning the static events as the dynamic events, this seems a really good way of developing the next generation of motor sport engineers.  It was pointed out that some of the better funded European teams have budgets of over €1Million, and as a result sub-contracted a lot of their component manufacture out to local suppliers.  At Oxford Brookes, they have considerably less funding available, so the students have to not only design the components, but build them as well.  As an example the uprights on last year’s car cost a total of £4.37 in materials (the student’s time and use of the machine shop is not factored in), where the top German team spent tens of thousands getting their uprights manufactured.  As a result the students not only learn how to design the components, but how easy their designs are to manufacture and maintain when in use.  Valuable lessons when parts need to be changed during a race weekend.

Impressively the students had access to several F1 cars (2003 BAR, 2001 Williams, 2009 Force India), a 1996 IndyCar(Reynard), a 1988 F3 Ralt and a recent F4 car.  These they could examine for ideas to help them understand the decisions their designers had made.

The students have access to a 3D printer and a small wind tunnel to develop the aerodynamics, a four post rig for suspension dynamics, and engine dynamometers for the engine design.  They have yet to invest in any hybrid engines, but have looked at all electric drive, and are working with Dallara to develop a feeder series for Formula E.  Formula Student competitions are held all over the world, as standalone events, the biggest in Europe is held in Germany, and their organisers have stated that from 2020 they will not be accepting any car with an internal combustion engine, so alternative power sources will need to be found.

If you get the chance, find out when the nearest Formula Student event is happening in your country and go along (20-23 July 2013 at Silverstone).  You may be impressed by the level of design put into these cars, and be able to talk to the star designers of the future.