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A Formula One team is the Driver

The most visible person in a Formula One team is the driver, the man who receives most of the glory for a victory or the blame for a failure. So it is no surprise that it is his career path that attracts most public attention.

Tales of teams nurturing future drivers from a young age are now typified by the careers of the Briton Lewis Hamilton, who is second in the drivers’ standings heading into the Hungarian Grand Prix in Budapest this weekend, and the German Sebastian Vettel, the reigning world champion.

But out of the spotlight, the multitude of engineers who provide the driver with a racing car are now also being nurtured by teams as they develop programs similar to the young-driver programs to come up with the best technical minds of the future.

In the past, as recently as the 1980s and ’90s, most of the top Formula One car designers came from backgrounds unrelated to car design or engineering. At the time, it was still possible for one designer to conceive of and build the whole car.

Some of the programs aimed at cultivating young engineers have existed outside the series much longer than the young-driver programs. Formula SAE, for example, was founded in the United States in 1978 and also has European and Asian programs called Formula Student.

Formula Student is run by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, an international organization based in England, and organizes a competition for college engineering students to design and build a racing car using a basic set of regulations. Cars from the competing institutions are then judged according to several criteria, including design attributes and results in endurance and sprint races.

The top prize this year was awarded on July 13 to an electric car developed by a team from the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. The competition was held at the Silverstone track in England, involving 3,000 students and more than 100 teams from around the world.

Some teams, like McLaren and Williams, have developed secondary technology businesses that are independent but linked to the series and connected to racing, and they also require engineers.

“McLaren is a pretty sizable company now, we have 2,200 people across the three main companies,” said Ben Heatley, a McLaren spokesman, referring to McLaren Automotive, McLaren Applied Technologies and the Formula One team. “As a result of which, we have increasingly taken on a similar kind of approach to this kind of activity to other big technical companies. So it’s not far from what somebody like a Rolls-Royce, a GSK or a BA Systems would be undertaking.”

He noted that McLaren offers graduate trainee programs, apprenticeships, technical trainee programs, work-experience placements for internships, summer replacements and full-year internships. It also sponsors Ph.D. students, who work for the company while completing their doctorates.

To encourage young people from 11 to 14 years old to become scientists or engineers, McLaren has a number of programs linked to studies of science, technology, engineering and math. The McLaren Manufacturing Challenge, for example, invites youths to design a nonmotorized vehicle that they race in McLaren’s factory. McLaren also is a partner with GSK, the global healthcare company based in England, in the Scientists in Sport Pit Stop Challenge, which seeks to inspire students to apply their classroom studies to Formula One. With its technology partner Exxon Mobil, McLaren sponsors a program that this year challenged European teenagers to “design the safest, fastest and most energy efficient Formula 1 racing car for the 2040 F1 season.”

One of the oldest programs, F1 in Schools, is also one that takes students from the youngest age. The program was founded in 2000 and was sanctioned by Formula One in 2005. It is now promoted in 42 countries with more than 20,000 schools participating, according to Andrew Denford, its founder and chairman.

For students from 9 to 19, the program involves making a miniature Formula One car to specifications provided by the organization. Two cars race each other like dragsters on a straight track, powered by a burst of compressed air.

“There is a massive shortage of engineers in the automotive industry,” Denford said, “and we are using the magnetic appeal of Formula One to attract students.”

He said the way that the miniature cars are built and the team atmosphere and organization replicate the real world of racing.

Design software is provided free to every school and students do an aerodynamic computational fluid dynamics check, manufacture the cars and even use 3-D printing technology. One team at the world finals last year produced a carbon-fiber front wing, nose cone and rear wing.

The cars are high precision, working to thousandths of an inch to make sure they fit within the tolerance, like taking the Formula One rules and fitting them into the F1 in Schools rules. The world finals this year are to be held Nov. 13-16 in Abu Dhabi, a week before the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

F1 in Schools has spawned engineers who went on to study engineering and take part in Formula Student and then joined Formula One teams. There is an engineer at the Mercedes team, now 26, who started in F1 in Schools at 14, and at Red Bull Racing another is working in the aerodynamics department under the technical director, Adrian Newey.

Newey is involved in a program called the Infiniti Performance Engineering Academy, run by Infiniti and the Red Bull team and designed to give work experience at the team to three students chosen from 1,500 from around the world. The Infiniti car company, a Red Bull team partner and sponsor, aims to develop engineers to help bring racing know-how to road cars.

The winners of the competition this year, announced at the British Grand Prix at the beginning of July, were a Briton and two Americans: William Priest, 23, of England, and Eric LaRoche, 25, and Jason Zide, 21, from the United States. LaRoche had also been involved in the Formula SAE program.

“What really got me into motorsport specifically is the connection to the automotive industry,” he said. “I really like the types of motorsport that will push technology and then have some sort of technology transfer, which is what this program is about.”