Image Credit: Jerome Wassenaar
The Industrial Placement application season for 2022/23 recently saw students across the world nervously 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.
Tell us a little bit about yourself, your university course, and how your passion for F1 began.
My name is Guido Meindertsma and I’m a first-year master student at Delft University of Technology, studying Aerospace Engineering in the field of Aerodynamics. Currently, I’m working as an Aerodynamic Development intern for Scuderia AlphaTauri.
My passion for racing and F1 came at a very young age. It started with cycling, where I always wanted to be the fastest and I loved the speed of it.
Of course, I always wanted to go even faster, so after my parents had taken me to a karting track for the first time, I was mad about karting.
Next to that, my father always used to watch all F1 and MotoGP races, so of course I watched it as well. The older I got, the more my love for F1 (and MotoGP) increased. However, I had never expected to ever be working in F1. Even when I made the decision to study the bachelor Applied Physics at the University of Twente, I just chose that because I liked physics. Only after I was lucky enough to join Solar Team Twente as an Aerodynamicist, where I worked on designing, building, testing, and racing a solar car in a 1.5-year full-time project, I realised where my interest in aerodynamics could take me.
After my bachelor, I knew that I wanted to study Aerodynamics in Delft, since I had heard so many good things about it. To my pleasant surprise, I heard at the start of my first year that F1 teams offered internships, and I couldn’t believe that I had a chance to actually work in F1. As we say in Dutch: if you never shoot, you never score, so here I went to give it a shot at applying.
Was the interview process all you expected it to be?
Actually, it was! After applying for the internship by sending my CV and cover letter, I received an email that I was invited for the first round of interviews. This was not a normal interview, but an ‘on-demand’ one, which was more like an exam.
There were some questions on my motivation and soft skills, which I had to answer in a very short video. After that, there were some technical questions, where I went into the greatest detail possible, thereby accidentally also exceeding the time limit for the interview, oops. As I had passed the time limit, I could not submit it anymore, and I thought the dream was over. Fortunately, after emailing support, I could still finish the test and submit it.
About a week later, I was happy enough to receive the invite to the actual round of interviews, which consisted of two technical interviews of 45 minutes, along with a group assignment to assess soft skills.
I enjoyed the interviews, and the following day, I received the amazing news that my application had been successful!
How did you feel when you found out your application was successful?
As you can understand, I was over the moon. I could not believe it. I think I read the email about a dozen times, and I remember smiling from ear to ear, sitting down and just letting it sink in.
One of the first things I did was call my closest friends and my parents, and I remember thinking ‘I’m in, I made it’. It was definitely one of the happiest moments I’ve ever been in my life. Of course, I still had to wait about nine months for the internship to actually start, but I have thought about being accepted almost every day.
What was your first day like?
My first day was filled with a load of emails and invites to meetings to catch up with. These consisted of CAD trainings, but also presentations of all the departments in the team. We also had a tour through the on-site wind tunnel, which was an amazing experience to start the internship with. After that, I spent some time meeting the people in my team, which was really nice as well. When I finally got to do some work, I spent the rest of the day reading the exciting new regulations!
What does a typical day involve for you?
A typical day for me starts with analysing results of the simulation that has hopefully finished running overnight. Often, I already have an idea in mind of what I would like to draw and run next, and analysing the sim is just to verify if I’m headed in the right direction.
Sometimes, though, this is not the case, and I have to come up with another idea. On some days, I quickly think of something, but other days, I sit with my colleagues to discuss possible solutions. Then, I try to finish one or two geometries in a day, which will hopefully have finished the next morning!
Has the level of learning been as you’d expected?
Since I have never been part of a Formula Student team, I thought I would be quite far behind on the aerodynamics of a race car. However, I quickly got to grips with it by spending a lot of time looking at results and trying to understand the origin of all the aerodynamic features I could see. This does not by far mean that I fully understand the aerodynamics of an F1 car, but at least I understand the bits that impact the part I work on!
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned since your placement began?
The most important lesson I’ve learned since my placement began is that also people in F1 are human, don’t know everything and make mistakes. I always thought I had to be perfect to be good enough to work for a team at the highest level of motorsport, but that’s not true at all!
What’s been your favourite part of the placement so far?
My favourite part of the placement has been when my first geometry went to the wind tunnel to be tested. This means that it was good enough according to CFD simulations and that it could bring performance to the car. This gave me the feeling that I have an impact on the success of the team, and that was very satisfying!
Did you find it particularly challenging applying for placements due to the pandemic?
I didn’t really. I was used to doing everything online by the time of the interviews anyway, so the interviews went perfectly fine from the comfort of my own home.
I guess the only difficulty I’ve had due to the pandemic is the quarantine period when I arrived in the UK. This meant that I was still in quarantine at the start of my first day, as the results of the test-to-release were only in after a few hours.
Any particular extra-curricular activities you’d recommend to students wanting to work in F1?
Definitely. I think that an extra-curricular project that has something to do with the role you apply for is almost essential to make it into F1. If hundreds of people apply for a position, there has to be something that makes you stand out. Formula Student is one of these projects that is massively popular under students, and I think that 90% of the students that get accepted to an F1 internship have been part of a Formula Student team.
However, since so many students do it, I have the feeling that even Formula Student doesn’t really make you stand out anymore. This does not mean that the knowledge you gain in Formula Student is not useful (quite the opposite actually!), but I would recommend doing something else (as well) to make you stand out.
What role would you like to do after finishing University?
I’m not sure. I really enjoy the role I’m in at the moment as an Aerodynamic Developer, but I also dream of being a trackside aerodynamicist one day.
Any other advice you’d like to share?
I would advise everyone and anyone to fully go for what you really want, even if you think it is not possible. Last year, I never thought I would be where I am now. I thought I would never be one of the students to be accepted to the internship, but I just gave it my all by showing my passion and being honest about what I know and don’t know, and here I am.
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