During the 2019 Canadian Grand Prix weekend, we had the chance to attend an INFINITI Engineering Academy 2-day assessment event.
Being the pinnacle of motorsports, Formula 1 only uses the best for the cars on the track. The highest and brightest engine technology available (and sometimes, yet to be available) and spacecraft-worthy materials and composites combined with a whole lot of wind tunnel testing for aerodynamics are only some of the very complex (and very expensive aspects) of developing a Formula 1 car.
Among the never-ending challenges of sourcing technology and materials comes a pivotal facet: qualified engineers. And this one can’t be bought with money. At least, not only money. There are hours, days and weeks of engineering work behind every nut, bolt and carbon fiber weave of a Formula 1 car. And the engineers putting in the hours not only have to be extraordinarily smart and excel in their field, they also have to be team players and work under pressure.
Training engineers that will drive the technical side of things
The collaboration between Renault F1 and INFINITI is a very special one. Both entities are technical partners in the development of hybrid technology for Formula 1 cars. But the partnership goes both ways since a lot of the technology ends up in INFINITI’s road vehicles.
However, Renault F1 also participates in the INFINITI Engineering Academy, reaching out to engineering students who want to work in motorsports and automotive. This collaboration helps Renault F1 find the needed workforce to win races and provides INFINITI with worldwide visibility. In the end, the partnership is technical, but also human.
What is the INFINITI Engineering Academy?
In a nutshell, the INFINITI Engineering Academy invites engineering students from around the globe to apply to a special program. Within all the applicants (about 10 000 applications were entered in 2019 alone), the most appropriate candidates are invited to complete an online suitability test, with the best performers being invited for an interview via video conference. The program then selects ten engineering students from seven areas: Canada, United States, Mexico, Asia Oceania, Middle East, China and Europe. Each student is invited to a 2-day assessment event where a regional winner is selected.
This assessment is composed of several challenges that are designed to evaluate technical and soft skills. From one-on-one interviews with a judging panel to building an advanced model car for a drag race. This eliminates seven of the ten contestants. Three carry on to the race track for an on-site evaluation at an actual Formula 1 race of their country. A decision challenge, like selecting tires to be used according to weather conditions, and interviews with journalists are part of the tasks the contestants need to accomplish to be further evaluated and move on… or go home.
Judges compile score the contestants throughout the activities and a winner is selected. The prize: to work with INFINITI and the Renault F1 Team on a unique 12-month paid placement.
Concordia, McGill, University of Calgary and Western were among the represented Canadian institutions
We attended the 2-day assessment event during the Canadian Grand Prix weekend. Luckily, 2018 INFINITI Engineering Academy winner Chase Pelletier was there to show us around. Pelletier, now part of the vehicle performance team at Renault F1, reminisced about his days at the event: “I know how these guys feel, the pressure is huge” Pelletier told us at the beginning of the event.
What have you designed in the past? Why should you win? Are you passionate about the automotive industry? Were among the questions asked by the judges to the freshly arrived contestants at the beginning of the event. Further down, more technical challenges were imposed, like the model race car build and drag race where contestants were divided into two teams and had to work together.
Once the top three was selected, the remaining trio was thrown in a high-pressure decision-making challenge that F1 engineers often come across. They even had to answer random questions from journalists for a period of 45 minutes. At the end of the day, just before the practice day at the Formula 1 Pirelli Grand Prix of Canada, driver Daniel Ricciardo declared the winner on-site at the Renault F1 garages.
Twenty-year-old Matthew Kemp, a young engineering student at the University of Calgary, was selected by a panel of judges from INFINITI, Renault F1 Team, the Alliance and Harvard University. Kemp will begin his endeavour with INFINITI and Renault F1 Team in January 2020, along with six additional winners from other regions.