F1 in Schools: Engineers of the Future

You know how it is; people say it's a sign of age when the policemen appear younger. In this business, it's the same with racing drivers. Time was when I looked up to them as my seniors; then we were the same age; then it suddenly dawned I was old enough to be their father. Now, worst of all, I'm older than some of their Dads.

You can imagine what it felt like, therefore, to visit the final of F1 in Schools at Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi. This superb initiative encourages school children and students between the ages of 9 and 19 to take part in a challenging educational experience. The competition for schools worldwide is designed to create a fun learning environment for young people to develop an informed view about careers in mathematics, science, F1, marketing and technology. This year's event attracted 33 teams from 22 countries.

The point I'm trying to make is that school kids today are way ahead of the guys I remember hanging around with more years ago than I care to remember. Their knowledge and capabilities are incredibly impressive and go beyond simply designing, manufacturing and racing miniature compressed air powered balsawood F1 cars. The challenge also includes dealing with media skills, budgeting and marketing as well as competing for the fastest time on a 20-metre straight.

Each team must build a pit box to display the details of their challenge. I was shown round by Gary Anderson, the chairman of the judging panel. This is quite a task for the former F1 technical director as Anderson and his team conduct interviews and examine superbly produced portfolios, some of which were vastly superior in quality to many magazines I've written for. Aero GP won the award for the best portfolio. A page was devoted to the German team's budget, the business plan showing how sponsorship was attracted to cover the Eur18,965.00 needed to design, build, test, market, provide uniforms and travel.

Anderson then showed me the car entered by the Australian team, Cold Fusion, his engineer's eye caught by a neat diffuser and ducting similar to the Red Bull F1 car. Not only did it look effective, the Cold Fusion car was fastest on track and that, combined with high marks in other categories, brought the Bernie Ecclestone Trophy for first place and engineering scholarships at City University London.

McLaren's chief race engineer, Phil Prew, and Rob Smedley, race engineer for Felipe Massa, were present for the prize giving, along with Mark Gillan, technical chief at Williams, and Nico Hulkenberg, who had accepted the offer to be patron of Aero GP. There were also representatives from every F1 team; not only a sign of the project's significance in finding F1 engineers of tomorrow but also a massive thrill for the young participants.

And it wasn't simply about winning. The taking part had been a significant process, particularly for the United Arab Emirates and other countries with little or no motor sport heritage.

Teams can unite with another country. The UAE team from Dubai College previously won their school event and placed third in the UAE Nationals. They got through to the world finals through collaboration with the third-place Zephyr from Germany to form a team known as Synergy.

"This has been the most fantastic experience," said Sandip Roy, the team's Head of IT and Communications. "We have learned so much about many things, and not just about making the car. When dealing with our colleagues in Germany, we've learned about the importance of communication. It sounds easy, but it there is a lot to it."

"It's teaching you about having your own company," said Pritika Mehra, the team manager and design engineer. "You learn about interacting with team members and how to compromise and be professional in everything you do. There is a whole range of skills, from using CAD design to how to divide your time and use if efficiently as well as how to approach large institutions.

"We've grown as a team while learning how to allocate cash and tasks more efficiently. Communication has also been such an important factor, particularly when dealing with language and cultural differences. The experience has been fantastic. We're very thankful to have been given this opportunity and meet so many interesting people. The competition has been intense!"

Adrian Newey is an enthusiastic supporter of the scheme. "It would have been easy to have created a competition that appeals simply to the racing aspect of motorsport," said Newey. "But that is only a part of the F1 in Schools competition. As a Patron, I am extremely encouraged to see how well these young people rise to the challenges of working, design, engineering analysis, manufacturing and marketing, in addition to having to develop a variety of presentation skills. It's comforting to know that our engineering and manufacturing future is in safe hands."

Maurice Hamilton , a freelance motor sport writer and broadcaster since 1977, is the author of more than twenty books and contributes to websites and magazines worldwide.

His weekly column for was Highly Commended in the 2011 Newspress New Media Awards.

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