What is Formula Student?
Many current Formula 1 engineers started their motorsport careers in the competition, so what is it and why is it so important?
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To put it simply, Formula Student is a huge engineering competition where teams from around the world compete on behalf of their university to design and build the best single-seater racing car. The competition is held around a week or so after the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in July, where teams complete a variety of static and dynamic events to see who will come out on top.
Formula Student was first started way back in 1981 by the Society of Automotive Engineers as Formula SAE, with the venue changing regularly until the permanent move to Silverstone in 2007. The Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) organise the UK competition, and have done for the past twenty or so years. Recently, two additional classes have been introduced, with both electric and autonomous vehicles also battling out for the overall class win (to be clear, the electric vehicles compete with the combustion vehicles and the autonomous vehicle are in a class of their own).
The competition is supported by numerous figures in the motorsport world, most notably the managing director of Formula 1, Ross Brawn. The ex-Brawn GP, Ferrari and Mercedes boss had this to say: “What I find most appealing about Formula Student is the innovation that it encourages, as the competition rules give the entrants a lot of design freedom. "
"Having worked my way up, I appreciate that to develop a good grounding in engineering, practical experience is essential. Formula Student combines hands-on practical applications with students’ academic studies, but also gives experience in vital skills such as budgeting, project management and teamwork."
Staffordshire Uni Racing Team Photo, February 2020
How am I involved?
Most of you that are reading won't know this, but I'm currently in my second year studying Motorsport Engineering at Staffordshire University. My long-term goal is to make it to Formula 1 as an engineer, with it made clear by both lecturers and career advisors that in order to achieve this experience would be key. I therefore decided to join the University's Formula Student team, Staffordshire Uni Racing.
In my first year in the team, it was a bit of a dive into the unknown. Up until this point, the only hands-on experience that I had was my Resistant Materials GCSE that I completed in secondary school. In the space of a couple of weeks, I had gone from not knowing anyone at university to being part of quite a large team who had strict deadlines to meet for the competition. Since I did not have much practical experience, the team leaders tasked us 'freshers' with taking apart the 2019 car so we could get a real-world idea of how it all worked. This was really useful, and I think it was the fastest way to get us all up to speed.
When I joined, the team was in the process of rebranding from Formula Staffs to Staffordshire Uni Racing. We were in need of a new website, and since I studied Computer Science at A-Level I felt like I could contribute to the team by building it. This was not only quite enjoyable for me, but it also meant that I could provide something meaningful to the team straight away. I think this is a good example of what Formula Student is about, it really isn't just about building the car. There is a whole host of roles within a team, from photography/filmography to social media to creating a business plan to present at the event.
My Role on the Team
Now that I'm in my second year, I've been given more responsibility for the manufacturing side of things. I'm now in charge of manufacturing the intake, which involves talking to various 3D printing companies to see who can help us out and give us the best deal. If this was a normal year, I would also have designed the intake but due to the 2020 competition being held virtually, last year's design is mostly being carried over.
Since September, we've all been back in the workshop continuing where we left off building the car in March (albeit under a new, socially distanced environment). We are on track to have a rolling chassis by the end of the year, with the car complete by late February/early March. We hope to begin testing at this point, a luxury which we haven't had in our previous years of the competition.
I'm sure that a lot of you reading this are also Formula 1 fans, and have seen Mclaren's Unboxed series on YouTube. For the people that haven't, the idea is that it's a behind the scenes video that just uses raw footage from the weekend. There are no interviews, no scripted scenes, it's purely just what goes on in the garage at a race weekend. We've decided to try something similar, so we've created a series called SUR Unmasked which follows the team as we work towards competing at Silverstone in 2021. I'll link the first episode (filmed before lockdown) below if any of you are interested, we'd massively appreciate any support that comes our way.
There are many great teams in the competition, and I encourage anyone who is also at university to have a look and see if you have a Formula Student team. Even if you're not hugely interested in motorsport, I can guarantee it will be one of the most rewarding aspects of your time at university. It's the main reason why I only post once in a blue moon on this tribe, as it keeps you very busy when it's alongside coursework but it's well worth the effort.
I realise that this seems like one massive advert for Formula Student/Staffordshire Uni Racing, but I'm writing this off my own bat as I thought there was no better place than DriveTribe to publish a piece like this. I know a lot of people that read my articles are in a similar position to me, so I hope to see some of you at Silverstone next year!