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The Next Generation - F1 in Schools alumnus Steve Walker 14 Jul 2010

The F1 in Schools contenders. F1 in Schools World Championships 2009, Royal Horticultural Halls, London, England, 17 September 2009. © Ebrey/ F1 in Schools Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren tries his hand at racing one of the competing machines. F1 in Schools World Championships 2009, London, England, 17 September 2009. © Ebrey/ F1 in Schools Teams compete in the F1 in Schools World Championships. F1 in Schools World Championships 2009, London, England, 17 September 2009. © Ebrey/ F1 in Schools Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren with Andrew Denford (GBR) Chairman and founder of the F1 in Schools Challenge. F1 in Schools World Championships 2009, London, England, 17 September 2009. © Ebrey/ F1 in Schools The F1 in Schools competing teams. F1 in Schools World Championships 2009, Royal Horticultural Halls, London, England, 17 September 2009. © Ebrey/ F1 in Schools

F1 in Schools has fast become one of Formula One racing’s favourite causes, and it’s easy to see why. The educational initiative, which was set up back in 2000, sees youngsters design, manufacture and race their own miniature F1 cars. Some of the programme’s alumni have already started to make their way into the world of work, and inspired by the programme, many have chosen a career in motorsport. One of the ‘converted’ is the UK’s Steve Walker, who is now a graduate engineer at Mercedes-Benz High Performance Engines…

It was eight years ago when Walker took his first step to achieving his childhood dream of working in Formula One by entering the F1 in Schools competition. Initially finding out about the competition after seeing a poster on the wall at school, he banded together with a few friends to enter. It was the start of a two-year journey which would end in the team winning the title of National Post 16 Age Group Champions.

Initially, the team had little experience of CAD/CAM engineering processes, but as a wannabe design engineer Steve grasped the opportunity to develop his technical skills in a role he thoroughly enjoyed. During their first season of competition Walker’s team won the ‘Best Team Marketing and Sponsorship’ award at their regional heats, but failed to progress to the national finals.

“At the time, I felt a huge amount of disappointment with the result, but it inspired me to work even harder to achieve national success,” he explained. Following months of development, the team returned to F1 in Schools with an improved car and increased professionalism to sweep three regional awards and progress to the national finals. It would be at the 2004 finals where the target laid out two years earlier would be achieved.

Using the confidence he had gained through the F1 in Schools process, Walker successfully applied to Loughborough University to study Automotive Engineering, where he became a member of their Formula Student Team. Steve felt Formula Student was the national progression from F1 in Schools, offering him the opportunity to further develop his skills whilst competing against students from around the world with similar ambitions.

“When I first started Formula Student I felt a long way out of my depth, but I persevered knowing that the experience could only benefit me,” he recalled. Following three years of competition Steve became chief designer for the 2008 car, and although he stepped back to concentrate on his studies in his final year of university, he still played a large role in the design of the ’09 challenger.

From 2006 to 2007, Steve completed a year’s work experience at Nissan Technical Centre Europe. This gave him the opportunity to take all of the skills developed during his studies and apply them to mass-market vehicle design. During this time he worked with suppliers throughout Europe and Japan, which offered him the opportunity to work with people from many different cultures.

Walker firmly believes that all his extra curricular activities aided his academic studies, seeing a significant rise in module grades following his work placement year, and all his work eventually culminated in the award of a first class degree at the end of his studies. After successfully passing through two stages of assessment centres at Mercedes-Benz High Performance Engines, he was finally able to embark on the career he had been dreaming about since childhood.

Today, Walker wants to act as inspiration by proving that dreams can be achieved if you are willing to work hard for them. As for the future, he wants to help Mercedes-Benz HPE to continue to build on its reputation as one of the best engine marques in Formula One racing and to be an important part of world-championship winning teams in years to come.

The F1 in Schools global initiative takes place in over 30 countries, with more than 15 million students aware of the programme.

For further information visit www.F1inSchools.com.