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.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your university course, and how your passion for F1 began

I have loved motorsport and Formula 1 since I was young and I would put that down to a mixture of watching F1 on the weekends as well as a real love I have for racing games! Motorsport was always a passion I observed from the side-lines, being involved in engineering or motorsport always felt like too steep a mountain to climb and I never really considered it a career when I was younger.

That all changed when I left my job in 2019 and applied to Oxford Brookes University to study Motorsport Technology. I arrived to a Course and Formula Student Team filled with aspirational and truly exceptional individuals and that atmosphere is infectious. Brookes and OBR are environments that can really reward you for putting in the hard work, people notice your successes and guide you in your shortcomings. This was the place I picked up a real desire to work at the top tier of Motorsport Engineering.

Was the interview process all you expected it to be?

Alpine was not the first team I had interviewed for and I had also interviewed with them a year earlier under Renault ownership, that really helped prepare me mentally for the interview and helped settle the nerves. The hardest bit of an application is getting yourself an interview but once you do just make sure the interviewer can tangibly feel your passion for the sport and your passion for engineering, that’s the only advice I could give!

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

I was in absolute shock when I found out that I’d be joining Alpine. I knew there and then that it would be a huge challenge, but an incredible privilege and one I definitely wanted to make the most of. I immediately went into preparation mode and tried to set myself up the best I could for the first day.

What was your first day like?

The first day was just an onslaught of information and trying to take in where you are and what you need to be doing. The Enstone factory is just incredible and you really don’t know where to look when being shown around.

What does a typical day involve for you?

That’s quite a difficult thing to put your finger on. I would say that the only certainty in F1 is that today won’t be the same as yesterday; there will always be something new to learn and always a new challenge to overcome.

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

No, whatever I thought I’d learn in my year here at Alpine; I learned twice as much within the first month. Being around such incredible engineers and working on such complex projects and problems, you have no choice but to take it all in and I know I will be leaving this team as a completely different engineer than when I joined.

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

The most important lesson I learned is one I learned back in my first year at Oxford Brookes, question everything! No matter how smart, or how senior someone is, it’s always worth asking questions as that really is the only way you will learn. Never leave a conversation not really understanding something. Don’t worry about feeling stupid for asking someone to repeat themselves, the most important thing you can do in engineering or in life is to ask the question and learn from it! Nobody goes into motorsport without a passion for what they do and you’ll find that people are more than happy to talk and share their passion and expertise with others.

At Brookes I’ve been lucky enough to attend a number of talks from Willem Toet who needs no introduction. His expertise in F1 aerodynamics is surpassed only by his pure passion for racing and he, like many others, loves sharing that with aspiring engineers from across the globe.

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

When we won in Hungary I was quite literally speechless, I watched the race with close family and it was such an unbelievable event. Coming back into the factory and seeing the race debrief from Esteban and being able to hold the trophy felt like a dream.

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

Home working is tough sometimes and nobody likes wearing a mask for a full working day, but when you consider the sacrifice that NHS staff and keyworkers have made then no pandemic challenge has really affected F1 very much at all.

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

Lots of people have said this before but Formula Student really is just F1 on a smaller budget. The talent, the ingenuity, the comradery, the hard work, it’s exactly the same in F1 as it is in Formula Student.

What role would you like to do after finishing university?

Having had this incredible experience at Alpine, I know I want to be a composite design engineer for my career. F1 truly offers a challenge like no other, it’s a lot of work but that’s what makes it worth it! Alpine F1 is such an incredible place to work as every single person that drives through the gate in the morning, evening or weekend is doing so for the same reason, to win. I think you’d struggle to find a more holistic workplace with so much passion for what you do.

Any other advice you’d like to share?

I cannot play down how important it is to ask questions, I really would say that that’s the only way to really learn. The first stage of innovation is questioning why something has been done how it has in the past.

Connect with Jonathan on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jonathan-bagnall-0012/
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