Aaron Harris >> Mechanical Design Engineer
Williams Racing

We have entered the Industrial Placement season for 2022/23, and with the application window currently open students across the world are excitedly preparing their submissions in the hope of spending a year on placement with a Formula 1 team.  But what is really like to be told your application is successful, and what is the whole experience actually like?  We thought it was a great time to find out, and so we caught up with some students currently on placement to get the inside track on life in Formula 1.

Hi Aaron, please tell us a little bit about yourself and your university course, and how your passion for F1 began

My name is Aaron Harris. I’m an Automotive Engineering student at Loughborough University who’s currently on an industrial placement year, between part B and C. Being brought up in a family of motorsport enthusiasts and with a dad who has had a lifelong relationship with motorcycle racing, my passion for F1 began young. However, it was in 2007, when Lewis Hamilton was given a seat in the McLaren, that my love for the sport really ignited.

Was the interview process all you expected it to be?

Yes, the interview process at Williams was what I expected. At application stage I was asked questions about my interest in Williams, my CV and my cover letter. At the interview stage, I was part of an individual and group interview scenario where my technical knowledge was tested, and the business was able to learn a lot more about me as a person.

How did you feel when you found out your application was successful?

I was honestly speechless. It’s a dream come true and the realisation definitely took a few days to sink in. Working in F1 was something I never thought I’d be able to achieve.

What was your first day like?

On the first morning, we spent a couple of hours with HR and on a health & safety talk. Then, we were taken to our departments to meet everyone, get set up on the IT systems and get settled in.

What does a typical day involve for you?

On a typical day, I spend a lot of time using NX, which means looking at anything from creating models and engineering drawings to looking at faults presenting on the cars and then trying to think up solutions that will make sure those faults don’t happen again. As I’m part of the front of vehicle group, I have a very concentrated area to focus on and I’m really able to get into the detail.

Has the level of learning been as you’d expected?

Yes. When you first start, the business gauge what you know and what tasks you’d be capable of picking up straightaway, but they also expose you to other departments so you can develop your experience. So, far, I’ve spent a day in composites, but, more generally, I’ve been able to have regular chats with technicians and engineers from all different areas of the business. Because everyone’s so friendly and hugely passionate about what they’re doing, it always makes for great conversation and means that I’m constantly finding myself in situations where I’m able to learn something new.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned since your placement began?

That you don’t have to be 100% academic to get a placement. Williams looks for people who want to work hard, have the right enthusiasm, value being part of a team and know how to communicate well with others. Realising that was eye-opening for me, as I’m not someone who took the ‘usual’ route into university.

What’s been your favourite part of the placement so far?

Working and learning from others, as well as being able to develop my skills at the highest level is definitely one of the highlights of my placement so far. But I’ve also enjoyed that I’ve been able to get involved in different parts of the business – for example, working with race ops to transcribe the radio conversations had by other teams. That experience has given me great insight into the dialogue between drivers and their engineers.

Did you find it particularly challenging applying for placements due to the pandemic?

Not at all. The application stages didn’t vary much. It was only when I got to interview stage that I noticed the difference between pre-pandemic and now. There were possibly less placement opportunities available, but I was lucky enough to not have that cause me too many issues.

Any particular extra-curricular activities you’d recommend to students wanting to work in F1?

The obvious one to me is Formula Student. That’s what ultimately helped me get my placement here. With that in mind though, there are lots of different ways to stand out – any experience that shows you know how to take an engineering idea from conception to production or work experience in the field is super beneficial. Your experiences don’t always need to be F1 related either. I’d spent many years working my way up the ranks as a football referee, which is completely unrelated to engineering but taught me skills that are very helpful in my current role now. Having things like that to talk about in your application, in my opinion, really helps you to stand out.

What role would you like to do after finishing university?

After my first month at Williams, I’m really enjoying mechanical design and would certainly consider continuing as a graduate in this area if the opportunity arose. That said, I really want to use my placement time to explore all kinds of different business areas and see what they’re about. Right now, it’s about learning as much as I can and making the most of the year ahead.

Any other advice you’d like to share?

I was someone who really struggled at school, leaving with minimal GCSE’s, which ultimately meant not being able to sit A-Levels. Instead, I did a BTEC in Engineering and worked really hard to show I had what it takes to go far in my chosen career, and it was that hard work that got me the place on the foundation course at Loughborough University. The foundation course itself is designed to bring you up to the minimum standard required by your chosen degree, which means it’s sort of a crash course in learning. Early on, I was told by one of my lecturers that I probably wouldn’t be capable of passing due to the fact I didn’t come from an A-Level background, but I refused to listen and worked hard to prove them wrong. And I’m still proving them wrong. So, really, my advice is that it doesn’t matter what your background is. If you’re prepared to work for what you want and make sacrifices, you can do anything. Say yes to every opportunity that helps you develop, and you’ll get where you want to go!

Connect with Aaron on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/aaron-harris-4ba799160/
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