Inspiration through Shared Passion
Interview with INFINITI Engineering Academy China winner Muyao (Nimo) Li
Previously on our Engineers' Series: Holly Watson Nall: Having the Bigger Picture in Mind
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© All photos (including featured cover) provided by INFINITI Engineering Academy unless otherwise noted
Since 2015, INFINITI and Renault Formula One Team has been running a program called INFINITI Engineering Academy to select engineering students around the world to join INFINITI and Renault F1 Team for a 12 months placement and potential future opportunity in both automotive industry and motorsport industry. This year, the winner from China is Muyao (Nimo) Li, a young woman from Shanxi Province. In January 2020, she will join another six winners from other regions of the world to start their journey at INFINITI Engineering Academy.
Before knowing motorsport, Nimo was already an excellent chassis designer and aerodynamicist. She had a Bachelor of Engineering degree from Tongji University (top university in China for engineering disciplines) and held several internships at car OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers. When she was studying at University of Melbourne, she finally had a real taste of motorsport through Formula SAE. “My interest for motorsport came from the influence of people around me. I went to Tongji University to study Chassis Design and Aerodynamics because there are automotive engineers in my family and I’ve always been interested in engineering. When I was at Tongji, a lot of my classmates were super into cars and motorsport, and I heard about Formula SAE for the first time through our team. My classmates on the team were designing the race car and went to different countries for races. At the time I was busy with my internship at Bosch so I didn’t have time to participate in the team. It was kind of a missed opportunity during my undergrad years. When I started with my study at University of Melbourne, I found out they had a Formula SAE team as well. So I jumped on board right away this time. I was on the team for two years, my teammates were from all over the world. Regardless of who we were and where we were from, we shared the passion for motorsport. I love working on stuff with people who have a shared interest with me, it’s inspiring and fun. I loved cars, but I didn’t really know much about motorsport when I was at Tongji. Through participating in Formula SAE at University of Melbourne, I truly developed an interest in motorsport, and would love to build a career in it.”
Formula SAE not only marked the start of Nimo’s love for motorsport, more importantly, it provided her a team environment to work in and crafted the necessary soft skills for an engineer, which is also one of the things INFINITI Engineering Academy is looking for in their winners. “I was the lead engineer on chassis design section. I was responsible for most of the design and simulation work on the chassis. I had a team member responsible for driver cell who was also a senior engineer. Then there were also many junior engineers who helped us with information collection or production of the car. There was a lot of team work, and I also needed to demonstrate leadership skills. I think these two actually helped me to win INFINITI Engineering Academy Final.”
With theories learned through her university studies, practical skills and soft skills gained through her internships and Formula SAE experience, Nimo marched onto her quest for INFINITI Engineering Academy this year. It was quite a long process from the beginning of the year with registration and application. She went through online written tests and skype interviews to show her knowledge in engineering and her personality. In September, Nimo and nine other shortlisted candidates gathered at the INFINITI Experience Center in Beijing to compete for the final win. Through another series of technical exam, interview, group challenge, and media challenge, Nimo came out as the winner for the 12-month placement with INFINITI and Renault F1 Team.“The 2015 winner in China was from Tongji University, so I’ve heard about this program back then. When I was at University of Melbourne, a lot of my classmates were really passionate about motorsport so we would also talk about participating in the program. I went through some of the videos and materials on their website to learn more about the program, what they are looking for ect. Other than that it’s just things you’ve learned along the way in your past experience.”
Nimo with team in group challenge. The judge in the white shirt is Max Zhu, 2018 winner from China.
“I was quite nervous at the beginning of the Final. I mean after all everyone participated really valued this opportunity, so you’d definitely feel a bit nervous. But then after you get to know everyone, not just the other candidates, but also the judges from INFINITI and Renaul F1 Team, you see they are all really nice people and you’d feel more relaxed. Many of the candidates are students from overseas universities like me, and I’ve also met students from Tongji University. So I have a lot of shared experience with the other candidates. The whole process of the day was quite relaxed and fun. I’d say it was more like an opportunity to learn from each other than a competition.”
“The most intense challenge was probably the group dragster challenge when we were randomly assigned to two groups to assemble and set up a car to race against each other. They were testing our practical skills, logical thinking, and team work. I think part of the difficulties of this challenge is that you have to trust each other on the team to have a functioning team. There is a lot of unknown factors, so you have to trust your teammates. We also didn’t have a ton of time so time pressure also contributed to it. I was lucky that our team built real trust even though we’ve only just met the night before. My team trusted me and supported me throughout the process.”
“I think the part I did best was the interview and case scenario challenge. In the case scenario challenge they would give you a hypothetical scenario and you had to communicate with your team and work together to solve the problem and reach your goal. The judges would be observing each and every one on the team in the scenario. The interview is a face to face communication with the judge, and I think it was a better opportunity to express myself so it was easier.”
As mentioned before, Nimo was inspired by people around her to find a career in motorsport. Those people were also the source of support for her in her pursuit of this career path. “My friends at school and my family in the auto industry have been really inspirational and supportive. I think everyone in this industry has this passion and loyalty towards cars and racing. They all know it’s difficult to make a name for yourself in this industry. It takes a lot to make it. But no one is taking short cuts because it’s difficult. Everybody is giving 100% because they love this. That has been the attitude I’m determined to follow. I haven’t encountered anything that made me want to give up. There aren’t a lot of women in this industry, but people around me, my colleagues and classmates, have been really supportive and gave me a lot of help. Even though sometimes it is challenging in my work or my study, I’ve never felt depressed or really negative about my prospect. I’ve been positive when facing obstacles, and never thought about giving up even when I’m exhausted.” Besides family and friends, Nimo also takes role models from industry legends. “I’m currently working at Ford. I think some of the stories of Henry Ford can teach us a lot. He said ‘Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.’ This is kind of similar to this Chinese proverb we have. I think it’s really inspirational.”
In January 2020, Nimo will start her placement with INFINITI Engineering Academy in the UK. Even though Nimo hasn’t found out her specific placement at INFINITI Technical Centre Europe and Renault F1 Team, she already looks forward to her 12 months in the UK. “I really look forward to working with the engineers at INFINITI and Renault F1 Team. I will be able to learn a lot from them. There would also be challenges of course. Adapting to a new environment is perhaps the first thing. In addition to that, I think we all know motorsport a high pressure, fast paced environment. My work currently at Ford in Australia isn’t as intense and is kind of slow paced. So adjusting to that would also be a challenge. But I really look forward to it. When I was working on our Formula SAE team it was also a very demanding job. We needed to design a car for racing in 10-12 months, so it was a lot of work in a very short period of time. I had a blast then, so I think I can perform very well under pressure.”
Since Nimo will spend six months with Renault F1 Team, we asked whether she had been to the F1 GPs in Shanghai or Melbourne. “I’ve been to both. I was on Jiading Campus when I was studying at Tongji, which was very close to the circuit. We would go as volunteers or take the student tickets offered by our school. When I was at University of Melbourne, our Formula SAE team had a stop at the circuit to promote our team and the series. So I went for that too.” Next time she’s trackside, she will be there as part of the Renault F1 Team. We hope she can have a great time next year and also enjoy some outdoor activity such as hiking and rock climbing that she likes during weekends and holidays.
Nimo is not the first female winner of INFINITI Engineer Academy. Last year, Sabré Cook won in the US. In 2016, Xuezi (Sally) Li and Caitlin Bunt won in China and US respectively. Please see below mini-bios for all three of them. We look forward to seeing more young women excel in motorsport engineering through INFINITY Engineer Academy.
Left: Sabré at W Series Gala. © W Series; Right: Sabré with Renault F1 Team
Sabré is from Grand Junction, Colorado, USA. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Colorado School of Mines. As the winner from 2018, She is currently in her placement on the Renault F1 Team and participated trackside with the team during the US GP. Sabré not only knows how to build a fast car, she also masters the skills to drive one. Growing up racing in karting and Formula 4, she earned a seat in the 2019 season of W Series and finished 12th overall to guarantee herself a seat to continue in the 2020 season.
Xuezi (Sally) Li
Sally is from Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China. She has dual Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and Automotive Engineering from Beijing Institute of Technology and Politecnico di Torino, and a Master of Science degree in Aeronautics and Aerodynamics from Imperial College London. During her placement at the Renault F1 Team, her design of the front wing (Sally’s Wing) is used on the racing car. Now after her placement and study at Imperial College London, she works at Nissan Motor Corporation as a graduate engineer.
Caitlin is from Rockford, Illinois, USA. She has a Bachelor’s degree from Kettering University, Michigan and a Master’s degree in Motorsport Engineering from Oxford Brookes University, UK. After her placement at INFINITI Engineering Academy, Caitlin worked as trackside engineer and performance engineer in various sportscar and/or endurance championships in Europe and North America.