As Formula Students race to win the IMechE prize for engineering excellence at Silverstone, British teams prove industry potential is on the rise.
As the world’s leading engineering universities gathered for the official opening of the Formula Student Competition 2010 a strong show of British talent defied those who bemoan the decline of the UK’s strength in industry-relevant skills and STEM subjects.
Now in its 13th year, the Institute for Mechanical Engineering’s (IMechE) Formula Student competition pits the world best young engineering talent against each other at one of the world’s most prestigious motorsports venues.
The competition challenges engineering students from around the globe to design, build and race a one seater race car against rival teams. This year university teams from 27 different countries are participating and thousands of students will be flocking to the Silverstone venue over the next three days. Among them will be a strong showing from Britain’s leading engineering institutions including: Brunel University, the University of Warwick, Imperial College London and Portsmouth University.
The competition gives students on engineering courses, which are frequently heavily weighted towards theoretical knowledge, the chance to apply their learning to a demanding manufacturing task. Jon Hilton, Chairman of the Formula Student event says “When you see the level of talent, dedication and enthusiasm that is poured into this event by students it is hard to believe statistics about declining STEM skills in the UK. Although there has never been a British winner at Formula Student there is always a good representation in the top ten teams. Perhaps this year is our year!”
Cheif judge for the event, Richard Folkson agrees with this positive perception of British manufacturing talent. “This gathering is more international than even the grand prix and the competition is intense. Ability and talent-wise the British universities are absolutely on a par with any of the teams that come here from further afield.”
Furthermore Folkson suggests that there is an upward trend in this talent pursuing industry careers and applications.”I think the proportion of students entering into engineering careers in industry is much better now than when I graduated in the late seventies. At that time a large percentage of my peer group went off into the city because they felt they could make good money there. Since the banking crisis and the turnaround in the way banking is publicly viewed there is now a lot less enthusiasm for that course.”
Student opinions at the event certainly seemed to support this optimism. Simon Dingle, a fifth year motorsport MEng student and team principle for Brunel University’s Formula Student offering says “I am certainly heading for a career in industry – probably in mainstream automotive rather than motorsport and perhaps after taking my PhD – but I definitely want to be able to apply my degree directly. The rest of the team are the same. Among all of us [the team was formed of more than 20 budding engineers] there is probably only one who is thinking of transferring into financial services. Quite a few the team have in fact already landed placements with leading engineering companies and Formula 1 teams such as Lola, Force India and Mercedes”
Formula Student has a strong history of facilitating this step into industry work with many past students finding placements. Steve Cook, currently power electronics engineer with TRW Automotive, was offered his first industry experience with Red Bull Racing following his student participation and has returned to the event this year to help with the organisation and “put something back into an event that has given a great deal to me”.
Jon Hilton says that “We have pretty good coverage here from all of the UK based automotive manufacturers – Jaguar Land Rover, Bentley and so on – though we would always want more people to be involved. In particular it would be great to see companies getting involved over the longer term. It takes a full year for the teams to reach this stage and there are plenty of opportunities for manufacturers to be involved in these earlier stages, supporting the background work that leads up to these final four days of the competition.”