Fast cars, faster brains

by | Apr 9, 2020 | Skill Set, Spring 2020 | 0 comments

The best drivers in the world compete in Formula 1 racing. But, no matter how well they drive, if their car isn’t engineered to perfection, they don’t have a chance at winning.

Formula 1 engineers design and build a new state-of-the-art race car from the ground up every season, considering every possible improvement—no matter how small—that could give their team an edge. The rapid pace of innovation means that Formula 1 teams are always looking for talented new engineers to add to their rosters.

“You can have an amazing driver but the best they can do is sixth because their car just isn’t as good as the best car,” said Sabré Cook ’17, a professional racing driver and mechanical engineer. “Because the cars make such a big difference on performance, that’s why engineers really enjoy getting into Formula 1.”

Cook, who began racing when she was 8 years old in her hometown of Grand Junction, Colo., competed against thousands of applicants to land a coveted spot at the Infiniti Engineering Academy. She spent six months working at Infiniti and six months working with the Renault F1 team.

F1 teams need engineers of all specialties and backgrounds, relying heavily on their expertise in everything from aerodynamics to materials to batteries.

They design and manufacture custom-built parts, simulate and test changes and, ultimately, build a car with mind-blowing acceleration and braking capabilities, all while complying with F1 technical and safety regulations. Cook, for instance, helped improve the top rear wishbone for the Renault F1 team’s 2020 car.

An engineer’s involvement doesn’t stop at the factory, either. On race day, engineers sit on the pit wall and in the garage, monitoring real-time conditions and communicating changes with the driver for optimal performance.

It’s an enticing career path for engineers, particularly young professionals who thrive in a high-intensity environment and are eager to see their work in action.

“It’s the pinnacle of engineering,” Cook said. “You’re designing and building a car from scratch every single year. Every single area has been engineered and thought out and vetted a million different ways.”