When Susie Wolff hung up her racing helmet at the end of 2015, she immediately set about trying to put something back into the sport in which she had made her career. Her aim was really to maximise opportunities for young women and girls to get involved in motorsport, and potentially achieve more than she herself had managed in her time in Formula 1.
“Dare to be Different” is an initiative focussed on getting girls interested in motor racing, both from a driver’s perspective but also introducing them to the wealth of career opportunities as engineers, mechanics, marketing and sponsorship people than the industry offers. Motor sport has always been a male dominated arena but there is little or no reason why it should be in the future and a notably increasing numbers of females now make up the ranks compared to when I started my career.
Dare to be different is affiliated with the RACMSA as an educational initiative but it isn’t associated directly with any teams or companies within the industry. Several other schemes have popped up over the past few years however as motorsport and in particular Formula 1 have become aware of the need to promote themselves and make it easier for young people to enter the sport. Compared to when I started my own quest for a career in Formula 1 this is great news and a change that I fully support.
The Formula 1 teams are also getting behind existing initiatives much more than they have done in the past. Mercedes AMG HPP and Renault/Infiniti F1 are big supporter of the UK Formula Student program and have not only contributed financially but also have a very visible presence at the competition itself. For the last few years, Mercedes have had a large marquee with a Mercedes F1 car and F1 engine on display. Their staff have been on hand to give out information and to explain a little bit more about what they do and how newcomers might get involved.
The rapid rise of the F1 in Schools initiative has also grabbed the headlines in recent years and Williams F1 Team and their partner Randstad have aligned themselves closely with the World Finals competition to promote their own Engineering Academy program. Williams have taken on students during their university studies and several have now I believe gone on to take up permanent roles at the team after first getting involved through F1 in Schools and the Randstad Academy.
Renault F1, again through their partner company Infiniti, have held a Engineering Academy for several years. Initially promoted through Red Bull in 2014 / 2015, the Infiniti Engineering Academy again offers a 12 month work placement for successful students partly based at the F1 Team and partly at an Infiniti road car development centre. Since the relaunch of the works Renault F1 Team last year this same scheme has now moved under the Renault branding but essentially works in the same way. The scheme is truly international with regional finals taking place all over the world and giving students from outside the traditional F1 centre of the UK and Europe.
The emergence of these schemes is a fantastic opportunity for young people and students to get a break in motorsport. Whilst the opportunity is welcome, they have however also created an impression that starting a career in F1 is a competition and that inclusion in one of these schemes is essential to getting your career off the ground. The promotional aspects of these schemes should also not be ignored, they are very much sponsorship and marketing exercises for the companies involved and the main reason they exist is to spread brand awareness amongst young people. In the second part of this post I will discussing how much time and focus you should really be spending on engineering academies, what less well promoted alternatives exist and how they compare.