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‘A life-changing opportunity’ – What it’s like to work with a Formula 1 team as an F1 Engineering Scholar

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Anna Francis
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As part of F1’s drive to build a more diverse and inclusive sport, the Formula 1 Engineering Scholarship is one of the key schemes helping to break down barriers and provide opportunities for those from underrepresented backgrounds. But what is it like to be a scholar on the programme? We’ve been finding out from one of the students involved…

Founded in 2021, the F1 Engineering Scholarship offers crucial financial, academic and career support for students from underrepresented backgrounds, whilst also giving them an unparalleled insight into the industry.

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As part of the programme, the students’ entire tuition costs and living expenses are covered for the full duration of their degree, while they also have access to career workshops and mentoring as well as undertaking work experience with one of the 10 Formula 1 teams during their second year of study.

After so far supporting 30 students from partner universities across the UK and Italy, it was recently announced that a further 20 students will receive the scholarship over the course of 2024 and 2025 as the programme enters its fourth year.

The impact of the F1 Engineering Scholarship Programme

One of those to already experience the scholarship is Sean Mata, F1 Engineering Scholar at the University of Oxford since 2021. Sean’s journey began when, having been accepted to university, he received an email about applying for the programme in the months before starting his degree.

He admits that the decision to apply was an “obvious” one after seeing “the benefits the scholarship offers in terms of the engineering placement and the funding of your tuition fees”.

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“When I found out [about being awarded the scholarship], I was just so ecstatic,” he says. “I almost couldn't believe it, because it is definitely such a life-changing opportunity. I don't even know how to describe it.”

‘There’s a definite feeling of teamwork’ – Working with Haas

As part of the programme, Sean undertook his summer placement with the Haas F1 team. His first day involved receiving a tour of the squad’s factory in Banbury before meeting his colleagues – who he recalls as being “very welcoming” – and being introduced to his project.

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 24: Kevin Magnussen of Denmark driving the (20) Haas F1 VF-24 Ferrari in

F1 Engineering Scholars get the chance to have a real impact on how an F1 team performs on and off the track

The weeks that followed saw Sean work with two key departments – the test and inspection function, and the Research and Development area. During this time, Sean worked alongside Head of Performance Engineering Dominic Haines, who has spoken positively about the student’s contribution to the team.

“Over five weeks, I had two main projects,” Sean explains. “One was to develop an automation system for the testing of the stiffness of a component called the T-tray. With F1 cars, you want to have your car ride as low to the ground as possible, but there's a component on the underside of the car that essentially needs to deflect up to allow you to do that.

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“The FIA say there's a maximum amount of deflection, so how they were doing it before in the department is that they were manually pressuring that component and then measuring the deflection, but I helped create a process to help automate that.

“Then I worked on another project about modelling how one of the components from the car works. [There is a] function in a programme called MATLAB, so we have the inputs and the outputs, but we couldn’t completely characterise how that model supplied to us by the manufacturer got from input to output.

“My role there was basically to investigate all the different combinations you can put into that model and provide a report of how that function worked, so the results could be used in the rest of their simulations.”

F1 Engineering Scholars Welcome Event

Asked what his favourite aspects of the placement were, Sean cites the camaraderie shared by those working for the team.

“One of the things that I very much enjoyed was how everybody took pride in the work,” he says. “Everybody was really on it, and you [knew] you could rely on your team mates.

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“There’s a definite feeling of teamwork and being in it together, and that's something I really appreciated, because when you've been through a few different projects, having a group you can rely on is really nice to have.”

Working within an F1 team also provided even more of an insight into just how much the results mean to the engineers and those putting in long hours behind the scenes.

“When you're working 40 hours-plus a week on this thing, alongside 100 other people, it definitely invests you into it,” Sean adds. “At lunch, even if you're in the radio room, you're still watching the races and the practices on the TV. I think there's a lot of investment from the team and everybody wants to do well.”

Jon Enoch for Haas F1

Feb 2024

Dominic Haines, Haas's Head of Performance Engineering, has previously said giving opportunities to those from underrepresented groups is “essential"

‘It’s important to show that the engineering community is not just for a specific sort of person’

Sean believes that providing opportunities like the scholarship is crucial in ensuring that everybody is made to feel welcome in the industry.

“I think it is very important to offer these kinds of opportunities to underrepresented groups, because of the historical precedent that has occurred leading to underrepresentation of certain people within the engineering community,” he explains.

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“I have friends who’ve also had internships and placements at other places, and there isn't that much diversity in many companies. So I think it's really important to show that we want to support those who are from underrepresented backgrounds, and show that the engineering community, or whichever community, is not just for a specific sort of person – anybody can become an engineer if that's what they want to put their mind to.

“For me personally, the scholarship has been amazing for that, and also [having my] tuition fees [covered], that's just a great help for me in general. It manages to decrease my burden – I don't really have to think about how I'm going to focus on surviving in the future, or just earning enough money to cover my rent, for example.

“I don't have to focus on those small details in the now – I can build longer-term plans, I can spend that energy thinking about which placements I'd like to do, who I'd like to work with or focusing on my degree, so it's a very big help.”

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The scholarship has helped 30 students from partner universities across the UK and Italy to date, and will see 50 students in total supported through their studies by 2025

With that in mind, Sean is already contemplating his next steps following his placement as he completes his final year at university. As well as applying to study for a master’s degree, he is also considering his future career path beyond his studies.

“I'm definitely interested in a full-time role in F1,” he concedes. “I really enjoyed my work in the vehicle sciences department, so I think something like that would be quite interesting for me. I just like mathematical modelling in general, I really like thinking about how things work. But I guess I'll see after I graduate – I've got one more year of uni left.

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"I've also been interested in doing some research and things for some professors I've talked to in Oxford in different fields, so the scholarship has enabled me to explore my interests, for example in neuroscience as well, so it’s been really nice.”

What to consider if applying for a scholarship

What words of advice would Sean offer to eligible students considering applying for the F1 Engineering Scholarship?

Engineering Scholarship Programme Still 2.png

The F1 Engineering Scholarship includes work experience at an F1 team, with all 10 teams offering placements

“I think the most important thing to consider in situations like these is just to not be afraid,” he responds. “I think when people get into places they’re not familiar with, such as a new company, or they're applying for something, they tend to overthink too much about, ‘Do I really deserve this? How am I going to do this best?’ and things like that.

“But I think the most important thing to consider – which maybe is the most simple thing you can say, but usually the most simple things are the most applicable – is just to not worry too much and do the best job you can.

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“If you're on a placement, for example, just come in every day, do your best, try to really get to know the team, really get to know your colleagues, be really invested in your project and anything you do there.

“And if you do that, [with] that enthusiasm and that willingness to contribute, and if you treat your whole university education [and] applications like that, all of that positive energy will leak into everything else, and [that will] allow you to be much more successful.

“You just need to keep going and keep doing your best.”

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