The University of Southampton
Engineering and the EnvironmentUndergraduate study

Alvaro Sanchez Vela MEng Mechanical Engineering/Automotive

Reliability/Design Process Development at MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS Formula One Team

Alvaro Sanchez Vela's Photo

The course appealed to me as I could specialise in the Automotive theme whilst studying Mechanical Engineering. This meant that I could study all the topics that interest me the most, at the same time as building the knowledge base necessary for my future career.

Why did you choose to study this course?

Since a very young age I have always been very interested in cars, and mechanical related ‘stuff’. I’ve been a Formula One fan since I was 8 years old, and I knew I wanted to dedicate my career to design and compete with the cutting edge in engineering design, pushing the established concepts to the limit and pursuing engineering excellence.

After exploring career and degree prospects at several European universities, I understood that a Mechanical Engineering degree with a specialisation in Automotive development was what I needed to develop my technical skills.

I really enjoy working in a team, in an environment that consistently pushes you to learn but also to assess other people´s work and how we all approach the problems that we have to tackle. I wanted to do a degree where group projects and collaboration were at the core of the programme, making me move away from universities like Oxford/Cambridge.

Driven by my passion for racing and determination to reach my dream, I looked in more depth into UK universities with strong links to F1 as this is a very good opportunity to see if that world was what I was expecting.

Why did you choose to come to the University of Southampton?

The University of Southampton has very strong links to F1 and this was clear from all the alumni that have come out of it. Although many other universities have similar degrees, Southampton offers the Automotive theme as part of the Mechanical Engineering discipline, and this theme becomes very open ended towards the final years of the course. This was very appealing as I would be able to choose all the topics that interest me the most and that I can enjoy, and at the same time I can build the knowledge base necessary for my future career. With its existing links to high-end racing, I was aware that Southampton had a new Formula Student Team, where you are able to design and compete with a race car fully developed by students. This was a great opportunity because I was looking for a challenge like that, where I would be able to apply all the theory from lectures in a real-life project.

What has been the highlight of your course so far?

I think I can summarise my three years in Southampton with 3 key highlights. First of all, the amazing people I have met, from everywhere around the world! I was definitely surprised when applying to uni that my group of friends would have such a big diversity, from Indians to Canadians, passing through Mexicans, Italians. And of course British people!

Being in the Southampton University Formula Student Team, is an experience that I will never forget. Endless design meetings, very long nights, and taking the car to the competition are things that I have really enjoyed, mainly thanks to the people involved and the great atmosphere. It has also given me the experience necessary to tackle lots of different sorts of problems with new approaches that I would not have learnt otherwise.

How did the University help you to secure your placement, or help to prepare you for your placement?

The University´s proposition to teach you about design principles and modelling from week one of the degree, a very strong theoretical background (shout out to the people thinking of taking Finite Element Analysis: amazing lecturer, and the module makes you realise that the world is no more than springs and masses joined together!), and a great support to the extra-curricular activities such as Formula Student that help develop that critical mind-set, which is so important in a high-level engineering environment.

What have you enjoyed most so far about your placement?

Lots of things are very cool, such as walking along the race bays every morning to get to the office, and watching the race cars being assembled and prepared to tackle some of the toughest environments out there. But the main highlight is the people; I was not expecting such a friendly atmosphere in a company like this; everyone is very helpful, and because they know that you are there to learn, you get to know the in-and-outs of some of the most amazing tech out there. You really feel you are part of the team and everyone celebrates and suffers together, because after all we all share that passion for racing.

What are your career plans after you’ve completed your course?

I am determined to pursue my childhood dream of becoming an F1 engineer, and thanks to all the support that I’ve had, I am able to start ticking some of those boxes now. I’m definitely aiming to come back and have more experiences with the team, learning new things every day, and pushing the all the boundaries to win championships.

I can see myself working in F1 in the future as I like challenges and working under tight deadlines and in high pressure environments. And as a curious person, I am very interested in Research and Development topics which certainly match the business aspect of the sport, making it the most appealing industry to me.

How do you think your placement will help you in your career?

This placement is giving me the opportunity to learn how to work in a high pressure environment in which deadlines can be extremely tight, and that liaising with colleagues is key to complete any projects.

This will help me develop my organisational skills, having to complete several projects simultaneously, but also my communication and presentation skills, in order to update on my progress to the line manager and other colleagues.

At the same time, on a daily basis I am using industry-standard software and tools that otherwise would had to pay to be trained in situations far from the ones that I would encounter working in a company like this.

Being confronted with the state of the art in research and innovation, you are able to get a glimpse of many of the assemblies in the car, and how they work together to form the overall package. This placement is teaching me about manufacturing methods, design principles and reliability principles that are not taught in university, thus being able to be in an advantageous position against other people seeking a place in Formula One.

What advice would you offer to students who are considering a placement?

A placement is an excellent opportunity to apply all theory that it is imparted at university into real life problems. You will be able to develop your time management and organisational skills as you are progressively given an increased workload.

Above any other benefits, if you are able to get a placement within the industry/company that you want to develop your career in, you will be able to see how everything works and if it is what you were expecting.

In terms of the companies to choose, if you think you have what it takes to apply to any of your “dream” places, just do it! Companies look for students that have the aim to learn and interest in what they are applying for, and if you are one of them, you already have an advantage.

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