Formula 1 has a number of young stars coming through its ranks at the moment. The likes of Charles Leclerc, Pierre Gasly, Esteban Ocon and George Russell are all products of teams’ junior programmes, put in place to nurture upcoming talent and allow them to reach their full potential.

Yet we don’t hear a huge amount about the next generation of Adrian Neweys, James Allisons, Nick Chesters or Aldo Costas. Engineering is a field fewer and fewer young people are getting into, with studies predicting a serious shortfall in STEM workers in the future. So what can be done in F1 to encourage more young, engineering talent?

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This is where the Infiniti Engineering Academy comes in. Launched in 2014, the scheme is open to engineering students from all over the world for the shot of winning one of seven placements on the academy programme. The winner in each of the seven regions – Europe, Canada, Asia-Pacific, Middle East, Mexico, the United States and China – gets a six-month placement at Inifiniti’s automotive technical centre in the UK, plus a six-month placement with Renault Sport Formula One Team, of whom Infiniti is a key partner.

“We have this fantastic engineering academy that we started five years ago. The reason why we did it is because we are probably one of the few brands in the sport that communicates how Formula 1 and motorsport, in general, is becoming more and more relevant for automotive, and vice-versa,” said Tommaso Volpe, Infiniti’s director of global motorsport.

“We do it with hybrid technology in the Formula 1 car, we do it with the Infiniti Project Black S, but we also wanted to give emphasis to the human side of the sport, to show how important the talents behind the technologies are.“

The Infiniti Engineering Academy attracted over 12,000 applications in both 2017 and 2018 that span all over the globe. While it is a tough challenge for the adjudicators to whittle down to just seven winners, Volpe explained how the programme was looking to give opportunities to young engineers that may not otherwise be within their reach.

“Formula 1 is a global sport, but it’s a very tiny industry,” Volpe said. “More than 90 percent of people who work in Formula 1 are Europeans, and actually, the majority of them are British, because teams are in England.

“The aim of Liberty Media is to make the sport also a global industry, to get momentum and to get more appealing all around the world, not just as a sport but also as an industry. The academy is the only project that recruits on a regular basis and in a structured way engineers from all across the world. We had a winner from Saudi Arabia three years ago, we have regular winners from China, from Australia, from the US, from Mexico, from Canada – there is no other team or sponsor that does this in Formula 1.”

While each winner only spends six months with Renault’s F1 operation, team technical director Nick Chester explained the significant contribution they are able to make from the moment they start.

“It’s really beneficial to Renault Formula 1,” Chester said. “We’re lucky because there is such a big pool and such a strong selection process that we get some really talented, young engineers.

“We put them into six different departments, and what’s quite interesting is rather than them having this kind of easy time where they maybe carry on their studies a bit, they’re thrown straight into projects where they are working with other engineers.

“Sometimes we give them some pretty challenging projects, developing wings and developing new electronics systems, and that’s great for us because we’re actually getting something back really early on and getting some real input.

“It’s nice to have young, talented engineers who have got fresh ideas as well, because our engineers are maybe very experienced, but it’s good to be challenged by young graduates who’ve got extra input. It’s nice we can put them onto proper projects straightaway.

“It has worked out really well because some we’ve offered jobs to once they’ve finished their studies, which is great because it means that we have a route to where we can get some really talented engineers and employ them full-time.”

A real impact has been felt by Renault: in Barcelona earlier this year, the team conducted part of testing with a rear wing that had been designed by an Infiniti Engineering Academy winner.

“We had one from China, who was very successful,” Volpe said. “She actually designed the rear wing of the Formula 1 car that was utilised in the Barcelona test. She was very, very bright, and we’re trying to hire her now at Infiniti.”

“I expected the academy students would be strong, very technically strong, but I think what surprised me is how quickly they can contribute,” admitted Chester.

“I thought it was going to take quite a while until they saw what we were doing and start to work on projects, but the contributions were made really on. It’s really effective.”

A recent final was held in Austin, Texas at the United States Grand Prix race weekend. From the thousands of applicants, 10 finalists were invited to Austin to take part in a number of additional challenges. This was then reduced to a final three, who went through a final set of challenges that also looked at “soft skills”, such as media handling, before a final winner was announced.

The victor would follow in the footsteps of 2017 USA winner Evan Sloan, a Caltech graduate who has spent the last year working with Infiniti and Renault F1.

“I’m currently finishing up my six months with Renault, but they have requested for me to stay on because the new academy is starting in January. But our official end is the beginning of November, which would leave them short-handed for those two months. So they requested that I stay on and I have accepted, so I’ll be staying there, finishing up the season and a couple of my development projects,” Sloan said.

“It’s been crazy. When I go to work, I’m surrounded by all of these incredibly talented and experience engineers, and really just trying to take everything in because there’s so much happening all of the time, it can be overwhelming, but you really need to concentrate and understand this experience that you’ve been given and try to make the most of it.

“Every day is a new learning experience at work, just trying to improve my engineering skills, trying to understand where I need to put a little bit more effort in.”

Each of the final three candidates in Austin displayed exceptional technical skills, but there could only be one winner. Sabré Cook, 24, of Colorado University, was named the 2018 Infiniti Engineering Academy USA regional champion in a presentation with Renault Sport Formula One driver Nico Hulkenberg.

“It feels amazing. It doesn’t really feel real right now, so I’m just trying to let it all sink and think about what could be next,” Cook told Crash.net soon after the announcement was made.

“I knew what to expect after winning it, but I didn’t let myself think to fantasise about it. Now that it’s happened, I guess I’ll just listen to what these guys tell me to do and make the most of it.

“Infiniti and Renault have been amazing, super-open and helped us with every opportunity, letting us look at the cars and ask any questions. Whatever we needed, they were always super supportive. It’s been an amazing experience.”

For Cook, the success came on a busy weekend in Austin: not only was she taking part in the Infiniti Academy final, but she was also racing in the Formula 4 series, with her on-track commitments being something she hopes to continue once in the UK.

“I’m on-track at 9:45 am tomorrow!” she said. “It’s going to depend on what they will allow me to do, but I’m hoping Infiniti will be OK with allowing me to try and run the women’s series. We’ll see what happens. It’s going to depend on what they say.”

The 2019 edition of the Infiniti Engineering Academy will be launched in January as the marque continues its push to find and nurture the next generation of engineering stars with its unique programme.

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