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The Next Generation - F1 in Schools alumna Kelly Ashbridge 20 Jul 2010

F1 in Schools alumna Kelly Ashbridge with Red Bull's Adrian Newey, British Grand Prix, Silverstone, July 2010 F1 in Schools alumna Kelly Ashbridge with Lotus's Tony Fernandes, British Grand Prix, Silverstone, July 2010 Team Synergy at the 2009 F1 in Schools world finals, London, UK F1 in Schools alumna Kelly Ashbridge with Mercedes GP's Ross Brawn, British Grand Prix, Silverstone, July 2010 F1 in Schools alumna Kelly Ashbridge with Ferrari's Rob Smedley, British Grand Prix, Silverstone, July 2010

F1 in Schools, which challenges students to design, manufacture and race miniature Formula One cars, may boast a roster of famous patrons, but the most significant success of the educational initiative is on an individual level. Winning the hearts and minds of students across 30 countries, it has slowly and surely converted a whole host of youngsters into the engineers, technical directors and team principals of the future. One of the programme’s biggest fans is the UK’s Kelly Ashbridge. Originally planning to do a marketing degree, Ashbridge is now set to study industrial design at Northumbria University…

The F1 in Schools programme has been running at St Aidans County High School, Carlisle, for over five years, with students encouraged to participate in the initiative as one of the after-school activities options. Ashbridge’s involvement started with an all-girls team, The Diamond Girls, in Year Nine.

“We won the fastest car award at the National Finals that year, but it was our first year of reaching that level, so it was a great achievement for us,” she says. “We learnt so much about the competition by being at the finals and looking at other team’s entries. It was a real eye opener to see all the work that the winning teams put into their cars.”

However, her most rewarding experience of the programme came with her participation in the F1 in Schools collaborative category, which requires teams to include students from two schools from different countries. Ashbridge joined forces with a Malaysian school in the aptly-named Team Synergy for the 2009 world finals, which were held in London last year.

“The experience of being a team member of Synergy was very special,” she explains. “We had never met our Malaysian team members until we arrived at the world finals, and at one point we thought we wouldn’t meet them as the bird flu scare was stopping people flying. They did come over though and they have become very good friends now. I’m even teaching myself Malay, so that I can speak their language when I go and visit them. I don’t know when that will be, but I would love to meet up with them again.

“F1 in Schools broadened my horizons, giving me the opportunity to learn about cultures in other countries and how different people’s lives are. Malaysian schools are much stricter than the UK’s and they are less worried about things like fashion and make-up, while here we’re obsessed with it! It was Ramadan at the time of the world finals and as our Malaysian team members were Muslims, they were fasting during the day. We felt sorry for them when we were eating the delicious lunch on the first day of the event, as they could only drink water. It’s these sorts of things that make you realise how much more there is than just the ‘bubble’ of our school, town and home life.”

She also believes the F1 in Schools programme helped her academically too.

“It’s not just the social and cultural aspects of F1 in Schools which have been rewarding,” she explained. “We did a lot more science and aerodynamics work than in the standard course work - it was more intense and more specific than in school. It’s also a massive advantage for exams. I would not have done as well in science without this experience.”

F1 in Schools was also a major influence on her choice of university degree. She was originally considering a career in marketing until she came across F1 in Schools, but has now applied for the Design for Industry degree course at Northumbria University, which runs side by side with an automotive design course.

The first year concentrates on commercial projects, and then offers specialist areas after that. “It’s a four-year course with two three-month work experience periods,” she explains. “It’s a very intense and thorough course, but I think that will give me the best foundation. The graduates from this course have gone on to some very respectable jobs, so I’m hoping that I’ve chosen well.”

With her preferred course highly oversubscribed, the 17 year-old believes F1 in Schools gave her a valuable head start over other students.

“There was fierce competition for this course with over 2000 applications for 30 places and I’m lucky enough to have been offered a place,” she said. “It wasn’t long into my interview before I was asked about the F1 in Schools programme. I quickly realised it was the F1 in Schools information on my CV which had sparked the university’s interest in my application.

“F1 in Schools is definitely the main reason I beat other applicants. I genuinely believe that if I didn’t have the background of F1 in Schools I wouldn’t have got this far. I stand out from others as I already have shown the sort of skills I’ll be learning at university and have the advantage of experiencing a world championship, without it I would just be run of the mill.”

And after being involved in F1 in Schools for over three years, she is now a passionate fan of the sport itself, and hopes to find a job in the industry after university.

“When I started I had no idea about motor racing,” she admitted. “It wasn’t a disadvantage but as competition got fiercer I got more interested in racing and F1. Our work in the competition is so close to reality, especially techniques such as CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) and wind-tunnel testing, which are very important in F1. Now one of my goals is to secure work experience at a team. It definitely helps to be a fan, as you can relate to the real thing, but to work in the industry would be amazing for me. F1 is my goal. I have big ambitions, but why not! I think you have to aim for the top.”

She’s also keen for other students to participate in F1 in Schools, concluding, “I would definitely recommend it. It’s a hard competition, but is great fun too. I have learned so much. I have friends all over the world and have a much better perspective of the world outside of my own life, having met other people from all over the globe at the world finals. It’s a great challenge and very rewarding.”

For further information on F1 in Schools visit www.F1inSchools.com.