Formula Student is a huge success story and becoming more and more popular by the year. The chance for undergraduate students to design, manufacture and then race their own racing machine is an enduring concept which has become justifiably popular worldwide.
Formula Student is considered by many as a “must-do” programme for anyone wanting to make it in the motorsport industry but as I have warned before, its popularity now means that you have to make the very most of rather than just take part.
Today’s post is something new for this site. It won’t be me doing the talking for once. Instead, I will be interviewing Beth Lily Georgiou (@BethLjon), the Formula Student Project Leader for the IMechE who organise and run Formula Student (FSUK) here in the UK. Beth is heavily involved with the teams, running the competition side of Formula Student and has great experience of what it takes to be part of a successful team. She is a self-confessed petrol head and even when she is not working on FSUK she is never too far from a racetrack or marshal post. I caught up with her and she kindly agreed to give up a small part of her busy day to share her insight and tips on what Formula Student is all about and how to make the most of it.
Beth, many thanks for agreeing to speak to us. To start things off, could you first tell me a little bit about your current job role and what you are responsible for ?
“I am the Formula Student Project Leader at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE). This means I am responsible for the management and delivery of the Formula Student automotive competition events.
Formula Student (FS) is Europe’s most established educational motorsport competition, run by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. Backed by industry and high profile engineers such as our Patron Ross Brawn OBE, the competition aims to inspire and develop enterprising and innovative young engineers. Universities from across the globe are challenged to design and build a single-seat racing car in order to compete in static and dynamic events, which demonstrate their understanding and test the performance of the vehicle.
I work with my project team at the IMechE, as well as our patron and ambassadors, an incredibly supportive committee of around 20 industry experts, our sponsors, and also nearly 300 judges, volunteers and ambassadors.”
Could you describe your background, qualification and how you got involved in Formula Student ?
“My background is quite different from most of the students I work with as I didn’t actually study engineering. I studied Music, English, Chemistry and Physics in sixth form (luckily right next to Silverstone Circuit) and then actually spent four years at music college, where I spent a lot of time creating electronic installations and even using motorsport racing grids as graphic scores!
I then went on to project manage various types of events, festivals and competitions for many different industries here and there until I was lucky enough to come across the role at FS.
My love of motorsport grew from being a spectator and reading car magazines when I was a kid. I remember knowing the specs of cars I liked by memory when I was in primary school and being convinced that my first car when I learned to drive would be a Subaru WRX rally car… Sadly it was not!
I am still an avid fan of motorsport. I love F1, never miss a BTCC race and follow nearly everything else I can, including club meets where possible.
Now, of course, I work on FS, but I’m also a marshal and hopefully soon, an amateur driver as I have my heart set on entering a series with a club in 2016.”
What do you think the main benefits of FS are and how would you recommend that students make the most of it ?
“Formula Student gives students hands-on experience in an innovative racing team, which is viewed by the motorsport industry as the standard for engineering graduates to meet, transitioning them from university to the workplace.
Crucially, students have the chance to demonstrate their technical, engineering design and manufacturing skills. They learn important lessons on team working, time management, project management, budgeting and presentation: all things that any prospective employer will be looking for. The talent we see at FS each year is absolutely incredible.
To make the most of FS, I would recommend that the teams really think about their time-management in terms of all the documentation that is submitted throughout the year and also, trying to get some solid, safe testing of their car done ahead of arriving at Silverstone. We normally run a test day called Learn To Win Live ahead of the main competition to give the teams a chance to shake down their cars and it makes a huge difference to their performance in the competition.”
How many students and teams take part in Formula Student and why do you think it is so popular ?
“In 2015 we had 100 Class 1 teams and 24 Class 2 teams from over 30 different countries. Class 1 bring a car and Class 2 just compete in the static events. 30 of our Class 1 teams this year were electric.
I think FS is popular because of its grass-roots motorsport feel, its international reach, the unbelievable talent of the students, its educational value and also simply because it is so much fun.”
Where do you see Formula Student in 5 years time and what would you like to achieve whilst you are involved in the project ?
“Well Formula Student UK will have its 20th anniversary in a couple of years, so that will be a big, exciting milestone to be celebrated. In terms of my goals, I would love to see a competition where most (if not all) of the cars are getting through scrutineering and getting out there on the track. Typically, 60% of the cars make it through at the moment and so we are looking at ways we can support our teams and increase that number. I am constantly thinking about how the experience for the teams, judges, volunteers and spectators can be improved so that is a big priority.
FS is also backed by some fantastic sponsors and we could not run the event without them. I hope in five years we will see even more companies recognising how important the competition is for the engineering industry and backing us.”
I see you are a trainee marshal. How did you get involved in that and would you recommend it to aspiring Formula 1 students ?
“It was something I had thought about doing for quite a while because I believe that in order to be successful in my job (and the motorsport industry), I need to experience every aspect. At FS we have an amazing “orange army” that, like all marshals, are volunteers who give up their time for their love of motorsport. When I began marshalling, I instantly found out what a sociable, caring and supportive community of people they are and despite the often long, tiring days, it really is very rewarding.
I would recommend that every single person who works or aspires to work in motorsport tries marshalling for at least one day. Not only does it give you a really fascinating perspective of how motorsport works, it also really makes you understand how hard these volunteers work and how incredible their dedication to the sport is.”
For someone new to motorsport but who wants to get involved what would be your single best piece of advice to them for getting started ?
“If they are a student, I would say get on your Formula Student team, of course! You will thank me!
For everyone else I would say to go to every race you can, volunteer for anything you can, read as much as you can and don’t be afraid to speak to people. The motorsport community is very friendly and I learn a lot just from talking to people, whether they are marshals, drivers, engineers, press, officials, fans etc.
And on that note, I am happy to talk to anyone about FS or motorsport in general, so please feel free to tweet me or FS @FormulaStudent @BethLjon if you have any questions.”
Where can I find out more ?
If you want to know more about Formula Student there is a wealth of information available on both the IMecheE website and elsewhere on the internet :
The Formula Student YouTube channel also has vast amounts of footage from previous events to get you in the mood and also tips and advice from design judges for those wanting more from their car.
Last of all many, many thanks to Beth for giving us some of her valuable time and I hope that some of you are intending to compete in FSUK 2016 and make the most of her advice. I will be heading to Silverstone on 14-17th July to take a look at the cars and catch up with students there and I would recommend that you consider going along as a spectator even if you are not competing this year. This is grassroots motorsport but you might well rub shoulders with some of the F1 pitlane as they often come along to FSUK after the British Grand Prix to check out what is happening.
Best of luck and make the most of it.