BSc Mechanical Engineering, 1987
Rob is Deputy Managing Director (Technical) at Renault Sport F1
What made you choose Southampton?
Southampton was close to the top of my initial short-list for mainly academic reasons following advice of a trusted school teacher and backed up by what I could gather from the press and family friends. Once the application / selection process was underway, I learned a bit more first hand; Southampton became my first choice and I was pleased to be selected. I liked what I saw of the Engineering Faculty, in particular the broad range of disciplines present to an extremely high level (from Marine to Aerospace with Automotive and Aviation along the way). I hoped that the relatively traditional curriculum would allow me to grasp the important physical principles and apply them to whatever engineering discipline would ultimately interest me.
Visiting for an interview, I enjoyed the campus and the town, and was even more convinced thanks to a trip around leafy suburbs, past the cricketing County Ground in “Toastrack”, the vintage charabanc belonging to the Engineering Society. The bus ride terminated at the Student Union and groups of students taking advantage of a warm afternoon relax on the grass sealed the matter for me. I later learned that my lectures were on the other (rather starker) side of the campus and that free-time overlapped only rarely with afternoons in the sun, but I didn’t regret my choice.
What were your first impressions?
I had lived away from home for a year as I had a year of training by Jaguar Cars before going to Southampton. On arrival in Southampton, my first impressions were that I was lucky to get a place in halls – at Glen Eyre – as everything seemed straight forward. I quickly met great friends, with whom I remained close throughout my time in Southampton and beyond. The accommodation was good, the university was close: for lectures and labs in the day, the Union for events or the odd beer at evenings and weekends.
How did your time at Southampton influence your life and your career?
My Mechanical Engineering course was very much as I had hoped and the weeks and months passed quickly. I had known for some time that I wanted to practice as an engineer and that a good degree was a necessary condition to succeed. I did not have a single career path mapped out, and my time at Southampton gave me opportunity to meet like-minded people and gather skills and knowledge for the future. I was also lucky to meet friends from other disciplines and their influence would also stay with me in subsequent years.
Overall, I left Southampton better equipped for my subsequent life and career choices. One of my close friends from Southampton tipped me off about my first job; Cosworth Engineering was taking on graduate trainees; and I was able to navigate the recruitment process and be successful in my early career at least in part thanks to all I learned at Southampton.
Later on, I continued to learn and I was able to grasp the opportunities to pursue my career in motorsport, eventually joining Renault Sport in 2004. Although by that time I was no longer in touch with them, the confidence to go to work in France was inspired by some of my Southampton housemates. I work at the site where Renault has developed its F1 engines for decades, and which I first drove past on the AutoRoute while travelling south on holiday with friends from Southampton.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
I consider myself extremely fortunate to have an enjoyable job in which there is still real engineering at the centre. I work with a talented and committed group; and there is still plenty to learn. I enjoy that there is scope for individual contribution to make a real difference within the framework of an organisation that also requires great collective performance to succeed. It is particularly rewarding when the output of the group massively exceeds the sum of its constituents.
What motivates you?
My current job is in Formula One with and I am extremely motivated to win races. For me, Formula One is a formidable challenge, and racing results are the Key Performance Indicator, but I could be equally motivated to strive for excellence in another field. When we win I am never satisfied, I become immediately preoccupied with the opportunities and risks at the following event. When we cannot win, I need to understand the reasons why, and to figure out how to get back to challenge for future wins.
What are you most proud of?
I am proud to have played a small part in some fantastic racing successes. I have worked on engines that have won Formula One Grands Prix including traditional classics Monaco, Monza and Silverstone; Formula One Championships with Renault F1 Team and Red Bull Racing; Indycar races including the Indianapolis 500 and championships.
The nature of our work is that sometimes the sporting results have been offset in time relative to the work needed to achieve them; also there are some episodes of which I am very proud for which the results did not come! I am proud to have led the technical team at Renault Sport throughout our successful cycles first with Renault F1 Team, then with Red Bull Racing and I am most proud to be able to continue to lead the Viry team to aim for future wins.
What are the biggest challenges facing Engineering students/graduates today?
The biggest challenges facing Engineering students and graduates today are those facing all of society or indeed all of humankind. The world is a crowded place, and the very real problems to provide water, food, shelter and energy for all its occupants must rank at the top of any such list. The good news is that Engineers will be on the critical path to deliver solutions to these problems. Further, engineers are vital to create value in the 3 principal branches of wealth creation (agriculture, extraction, and manufacturing), so those who can adapt to their environment should be able to find challenging and worthwhile activity!
From where are F1’s engineers of the future likely to emerge?
Formula One is an exciting sport, a team sport with probably more members per team than any other. It is a fast moving environment in which the best teams are at the very forefront of known technology.
Talented hard-working engineers will earn their place in present and future F1 teams if they are well trained and adaptable. The strongest engineers are often those who have solid education and understanding of the physical principles of broad engineering science going well beyond any particular speciality they may have. The courage and confidence to tackle problems outside the comfort of their prior experience or specific training are great assets.
I feel that F1’s engineers of the future will be those inspired by the technology required to succeed in F1 and they will emerge from the ranks of classically trained engineers and scientists with broad based education.