Formula 1 racing tests the physical and mental capacity of its drivers, but unlike other sports, it shines almost as much of a spotlight on the STEM whizzes behind the scenes.
With world famous engineers like Red Bull's Adrian Newey, whose cars have won an astounding ten Constructors' Championships (the ultimate prize in Formula One) with three different teams — rumor has it that Newey turned down a $20 million per year job offer from Ferrari to stay with Red Bull — engineers are the true all-stars in Formula One.
F1 teams sport some of the world's greatest specialists in aerodynamics, batteries, engine packaging, fuel, oil, rubber compounds, and much more. Nothing is left to chance in the quest for the perfect lap time.
It also means that the competition for top talent is fierce, and the best engineers are routinely recruited straight out of university. But the Renault Sport F1 team, along with corporate cousin and sponsor Infiniti (both are owned by Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance firms) have a unique program to find the best young engineers.
It's called the Infiniti Engineering Academy and it's one part American Idol and another part toughest-job-interview-ever. Seven winners from seven different locations (Canada, Europe, China, Asia/Oceania, Mexico, the MIddle East, and the USA) will spend six months each at the Renault Formula One team and at Infiniti working on real projects.
"We put them on proper projects straight away," says Tommaso Volpe, Global Motorsport Director for Infiniti. "We recruit students, not professionals." Academy alumni have gone on to work for Renault, other F1 teams, as well as a who’s who of major engineering firms including SpaceX and Dyson.
Evan Sloan, the 2017 winner from the United States who holds a BS in mechanical engineering from CalTech, told me that he worked on a project to remap every corner on the Formula One calendar, some 300 turns, to determine entry, apex, and exit. As numerous settings on the car, from braking to differential and more, will change from corner to corner, determining exactly how these turns work is essential to taking them at maximum speed.
Sabre Cook, the 2018 US winner, is no stranger to motorsport. In addition to a mechanical engineering degree from the Colorado School of Mines, she also races herself in the US Formula 4 race series. In fact, the weekend she won her spot in the Engineering Academy, she was actually competing on track during the F4 support race at the US Grand Prix.
In 2018, some 12,000 students applied for just seven spots. Winners receive subsidized accommodations in the UK, a competitive entry-level salary, and coverage of all necessary employment and visa paperwork. Applications for the 2019 cohort are open now.