Hagar Niblett

Where are you working, what is your role within the company? 

This year I am working for Red Bull Racing Formula 1 team in the systems design group. The systems group take care of everything you can’t see on the car, for example the engine, radiators, fuel cell, exhausts, ERS (Energy Recovery System), electrical installation and new for this year, the Turbo. This includes the design of the parts as well as packaging into the strict boundaries set by the aerodynamic group. 

It has been a particularly good year to be here (not that there would ever a bad one) thanks to the large rule changes within Formula 1. Most of these rule changes affect the systems department; this means it’s not a case of looking at what was done last year and incrementally improving, more taking a clean sheet of paper and starting again. The role gives an insight into designing with a range of materials, from aluminium to magnesium, as well as many carbon composite parts including designing the tooling required to manufacture them. 

Describe a typical day. 

There isn’t really a typical day within F1. Usually a piece of work will last at most 1 day, and the day doesn’t end until it is done. Particularly at the moment as it is so busy with the start of the season just a couple of weeks away there is a distinct urgency to get parts manufactured, for example: last week I was given a part to design and draw in the morning; it was manufactured that afternoon to make an evening flight for Bahrain where it ran on the car the following morning. This is definitely one of the best aspects of the job as no two days are the same. The winter has felt quite long with what feels like very little to show for it. That’s until the car build in mid-January where it all comes together.

During the season, after a race weekend a faults list of the components that have failed, or look close to failing is produced. A solution and design have to then be produced ready for the next race. This is often only a few days away and usually the other side of the world so quick turnaround is required. 

Soon after I started I was tasked with designing and building a test rig to simulate the movement of fuel around the fuel cell. The rig had to mimic the acceleration and deceleration characteristics of the car which are used to keep fuel as low as possible in the car to aid performance.The rig was used to test a new method of moving the fuel that uses less tubing than previous years therefore saving weight. The testing went well and influenced the overall design of this year’s fuel cell. 

Why did you want to undertake a year in industry? 

In short, I didn’t… the course is 4 years already and to make it 5 seemed daunting. I said I would only do a year out if I could get a good placement, and in my book they don’t come much better than this. 

Although, now I am here I think a year in industry should be a compulsory part of the university course. It gives you a raft of skills and experience that you could never obtain within the confines of a lecture theatre. It teaches you how to work more efficiently. You are also able to generate links with industry; even if you don’t go back to the same company. You are also able to develop a better understanding of what area of engineering you would like to focus on when you return to university, maybe even ideas for projects all making you more employable when you leave. Also, if you mess up, you are still a student, making errors as a graduate is not so good!

What do you hope to get out of this experience? 

I am hopeful that as a result of this experience it will be slightly easier to obtain a job within Formula 1 once I have finished university. I am looking to become chartered after I have finished although this will not be top of my priority list straight away. Continuing to gain knowledge and experience will be the key once I finish. 

Do you have any tips/advice to current students thinking of undertaking a year in industry? 

Definitely do a placement, even if it is within an area of the industry that is less appealing to you, it may surprise you and the experience gained is invaluable. To a prospective employer experience can be more valuable than academic results. I would say that I was as good as useless for the first two month of my placement. Not because of a lack of technical knowledge, but because I wasn't familiar with the processes of a company, the software they use or the best way to complete a task.