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The will to win - careers advice to get ahead

The will to win - careers advice to get ahead

Do you have the will to win? Nottingham’s expert team on the Formula 1 grid share their top tips on what it takes to work in the ultra-competitive worlds of motorsport and applied technologies.

From graduate trainee and apprentice programmes to internships and placements, technology leaders like McLaren and Toro Rosso are opening their doors to students and experienced engineers with the right skills and attitudes. We asked our experienced alumni to share their career paths and advice with all those who aspire to work in these exciting, technologically advanced industries.  

From the top of McLaren Racing:

Jonathan Neale
Physics, 1984
Chief Operating Officer
McLaren Technology Group

McLaren COO Jonathan Neale - 300x325

“To work for McLaren you need to understand what it takes to win and accept the peer challenge which comes from being surrounded by brilliant and competitive people.

"We don’t want the ‘universal soldier’ who is good from end to end because that's asking more than is humanly possible.

"We just ask people to bring their talent and curiosity to the table and be bloody good at it.

"Collaboration is also important. No-one works in isolation and team work is paramount for high performance organisations.

“I wouldn’t worry too much if you don’t know what path is right for you when you’re young. The only game plan I had was to build solid foundations and keep my options open. 

"Remember that employability is not just about a technical or professional skill, but also about how you relate to other people and the environment around you.

"Always look at the world through curious, rather than sharp, eyes". 

Jonathan's career:

"After University, I joined the defence industry with Philips. I started off doing calculations to detect missiles– by hand! After that I did five years in electronic naval warfare technology for surface ships and submarines. After a period of about 5 years I left Philips and joined the commercial aircraft division of British Aerospace in Manchester.

"Initially I worked with a team developing stall warning systems on aircraft and gained experience on the workshops in production management. I was lucky enough to work at a number of sites including Jetstream Aircraft in Scotland. Eventually I became a Site Director at Brough in Yorkshire and Project Director for the Hawk, a military training aircraft programme for UK and export markets. I learned so much during this time. 

“I initially sent the head-hunters from McLaren away when they called but I also knew that I risked becoming typecast within the aerospace and defence sector if I stayed too long. So I explored the motorsport sector and found a lot of crossover technologies – both involve a lot of science and engineering ranging from materials technology, electronics, systems, software and engines-  not forgetting a man in the cockpit! 

"What attracted me was the speed and agility of motorsport development – defence projects sometimes move much more slowly and with huge complexity.

“I joined McLaren Racing as operations director in 2001 to oversee the race team’s operations and engineering processes and became managing director in 2004, before chief operating officer and acting CEO in 2014. In 2015 I became Chief Operating Officer for the McLaren Technology Group. I didn’t imagine for a minute that I would be here for 17 years but McLaren becomes part of who you are." 

From the top of McLaren Applied Technologies:

Ian Rhodes
Mechanical Engineering, 1987
Chief Executive Officer
McLaren Applied Technologies

CEO McLaren Applied Technologies - Ian Rhodes - 300x325

“University graduates, especially STEM, are extremely important to us. It’s a fantastic time to be entering the market – we plan to double the growth of McLaren Applied Technologies (MAT) in the next few years.
Graduates have a wealth of resources to tap into at their fingertips. Progress is no longer about people’s ability to retain or recall information; what matters is knowing how to access information rapidly and then do clever things with it”.

“There's a global war on talent and we need potential leaders for the future.

"Fundamentally, graduates need to have an excellent technical understanding of engineering and the physical sciences.

"We want people that are digitally enabled, creative and innovative – those who are bold, ambitious and willing to take risks.

"We look for people who will constantly challenge us - and we're hiring now."

Ian's career:

"As a teenager, I wanted to be an RAF pilot, but an opportunity to join Rolls Royce’s sponsored graduate programme seemed too good to miss when both offers were actually on the table.

"After a great time in Nottingham I moved on to PA Technology, the Cambridge based consultancy which specialises in innovation and technology development.My work at PA inspired me to explore Life Sciences where I developed a diverse range of products and services for pharmaceutical drug delivery, diagnostics and surgical instruments with associated implants.

"PA also taught me that to specialise successfully you have to go very deep, very quickly. I was surrounded by brilliant people and amazing ideas and felt that the benefits were not being properly realised for society. So, I linked my BEng from Nottingham with an Executive MBA from LBS and began to translate technological solutions into market reality. This move meant that I was able to progress from Lead Engineer to Senior Partner and joint leader of the firms Health and Life Science business, with a turnover of nearly £100M.

"When McLaren offered me the job of CEO for McLaren Applied Technologies in 2014, it seemed Engineering had brought me full circle – from one great British Engineering brand ‘Rolls Royce’ to another: ‘McLaren’. Taking racing technology and capability, and commercialising it in other industry sectors to help create a better society is a wonderful way to win."

From the top of McLaren's finance team:

Andy Myers 
Production Engineering, 1986
Group Chief Financial Officer and Group Board Director
McLaren Technology Group 

“Firstly, find a way to align your passions with your work. For me, it has always been cars. 

"When I was at Rolls Royce PLC, I was offered a fantastic job as their investor relations director. But when I had a call from a head hunter working for McLaren, I told my boss at Rolls Royce I was leaving right then.

“Secondly, if you get the opportunity to go abroad and work – just do it. Don't think about friends; boyfriend; girlfriend; whatever. What you’ll get out of working abroad will stay with you for life and you’ll return home bigger, better and stronger because of it.” 

McLaren Group CFO - Andy Myers - 300x325

Andy's career

"I graduated from Nottingham University in 1986 with a BEng in Production Engineering and Production Management.  I then spent the next 7 years with KPMG qualifying as a Chartered Accountant working on Corporate Recovery projects as well as in Audit.

"After this, I joined Rover Group and moved to Bulgaria, working as Finance Director in a new joint venture, returning to the UK to focus on improving productivity at the Rover Oxford Plant. I moved to Rolls Royce Plc as Finance Director in 2000, and was promoted to CFO of the Energy Sector, based in Washington DC.

"I then joined McLaren Technology Group Ltd as Chief Financial Officer in 2004 and am responsible for Finance, IT and Strategic Procurement. I’ve been here 12 years – McLaren is a fast growing company that never stands still. Once you get on this rollercoaster, you don’t want to get off!”  

The McLaren Applied Technologies data scientist:

Principal data scientist at MAT - Karl Surmacz - 300x325

Karl Surmacz
Mathematical Physics, 2004
Principal Data Scientist
McLaren Applied Technologies 

Figure out exactly what it is you enjoy – what do you love most about your work or subject you’re studying? For me, it’s solving mathematical problems. That's what I've spent the last 10 years at McLaren doing – whether that’s as part of the race strategy team or within McLaren Applied Technology (MAT).

“There’s so much open source software and publicly available datasets out there for curious minds to play around with. You don’t need an internship to come up with an innovative solution to a problem – many companies post challenges online that they need help with. At McLaren, we want graduates who can show they have thought beyond their taught modules.” 

Karl's career:

"I studied Mathematical Physics as my undergraduate degree and then completed a PhD in Theoretical Physics, however I realised that a lifetime in academia was not the right path for me.

"I joined McLaren Racing in 2008 as a Race Strategist and a Control Systems Engineer - now I work at McLaren Applied Technologies, where I lead the data science capability. My technical interests are mathematical modelling and statistical machine learning, and I use this expertise to explore how cutting-edge technology developed outside McLaren could benefit us, and also how our automotive technology can be transformed to help others. It’s a great time to be an engineer – technical skills and intellectual curiosity are needed now more than ever.” 


From the world of McLaren Automotive:

“We all have a dream somewhere deep inside us. If your dream is to make the fastest, most amazing cars in the world then work out what steps you need to take to make that dream real. Stand out by getting as much work experience and knowledge as you can in the industry or related sectors. 

People rarely get what they want first time, so be persistent and resilient. If the doors don’t open, find other doors and new routes. Sometimes an unexpected opportunity will tap you on the shoulder – saying yes is usually a very good thing!

“I remember a colleague describing all the different jobs they did while building their career. Eventually they got the job they really wanted but only because of all the expertise and skills they had gathered through all their previous roles. It’s also true for me – the way that I’m able to work now is thanks to everything that I learnt as part of the race team and before.

“Finally, don’t be afraid to seek support. In a company like McLaren, as you move through roles you make connections for life. Be open to learning from the best and don’t be intimidated – it will push you to grow and develop.”

Marcus Waite 
Mechanical Engineering, 1996
Chief Engineer
McLaren Automotive Ltd 

Mclaren Automotive Chief Engineer - Marcus Waite - 300x325

Marcus's career

"After working for Ricardo automotive as a NVH (Noise, Vibration and Harshness) engineer, I joined McLaren in 1998 as a Vehicle Dynamics Engineer. From the first moment I arrived I was impressed with the facilities and investment McLaren put into development.” 

“I had always wanted to be a race engineer so was delighted to take up a technical role within the test team. I worked as part of the Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton eras, and was thrilled to help Lewis secure the world F1 title.”

“I then moved to work for McLaren Automotive, working my up to Chief Engineer of the new Vehicle Programme. Helping build McLaren Automotive up to the status it has today has been a massive but exceptionally rewarding challenge. We started as new entrants to the market in 2010 and had to develop our dealer network at the same time as a whole new car. I believe we build the best supercars in the world.“

The Technical Director at Scuderia Toro Rosso:

James Key

Mechanical Engineering, 1996
Technical Director
Scuderia Toro Rosso

Toro Rosso technical Director James Key - 300x325

“It’s important to love what you do. Formula 1 is a technical competition – it’s one engineer against another – and we’re all very self-motivated and highly competitive people.

"Race weekends are exhausting – you have restricted time to work in so it’s extremely intense. As an engineer, you have to stay focused for 18 hours a day, sometimes working three weeks without any break at all. If you are interested in working at the sharp end of racing – at the track – then you have to be prepared for this.

“Have a plan of where you want to get to. I’ve seen a lot of graduates coming into F1 full of enthusiasm but not really knowing what they want to do. If you don’t know what discipline you want to go into, there’s a chance you’ll get lost. Ideally knowing what engineering disciplines interests you most and then pursuing them would put you in a stronger position and give a clear idea of how you want to shape your career. I specialised in vehicle dynamics and data acquisition at University, which paved my way into the industry.

“Finally, be realistic. You’ll meet some very smart and competitive people within the sport, so take the time to develop your knowledge and skills before moving to the next step. Strong team work is also essential and forms an important aspect of developing a rounded view. Do come with a hunger to learn and listen.” 

James's career:

"According to my mum, I drew my first plan of a car when I was two years old! I always knew that I wanted to be involved in automotive engineering and Formula 1, so I built my degree and career around this goal. Before I started University, I completed work experience with Lotus Engineering, who sponsored me to do my degree.

“I went on to work for the F1 racing team Jordan Grand Prix (which is now Force India) in 1998, firstly as a data engineer, progressing to race engineer, Head of Vehicle Dynamics and finally Technical Director. I then joined Sauber in April 2010 before moving to Scuderia Toro Rosso as Technical Director in September 2012. I focus on the car's design and development, and also oversee the team's technical staff and operation.” 

“The engineering development that goes on behind closed doors with F1 is absolutely fascinating and is the untold story behind the media vision of glamour and big personalities. As an engineer, you’re always looking at new technologies and finding ways to adapt things that already seem to be at their most optimum state into something better.” 

The Head of Structures at Sahara Force India:

University taught me that if you have the right knowledge, anything is possible.

"I always enjoyed the technical aspect of engineering but what thrills me about motorsport is the number and pace of projects.

"You have to enjoy the pressures that come with the results of your labour being seen so immediately and visibly on TV. 

Formula Student (FS) provides an excellent introduction to future engineers interested in the industry. It’s a student engineering competition held annually in the UK, where student teams from around the world design, build, test, and race a small-scale formula style racing car. 

“To be successful, you need a positive mindset and goal-orientated attitude. When the pressure is on, it how you respond that matters.

"Keep a balance in life – time away will help you stay focused and help you thrive when it matters.

Simon Gardner 
Mechanical Engineering, 1993
Head of Structures
Sahara Force India 

Head of Structures at Sahara Force India - Simon Gardner - 300x325

Simon's career

"I have always enjoyed the technical aspect of engineering and Formula 1 has a frenetic pace, which makes for an exciting environment. After completing my PhD in Mechanical Engineering, I got my fist position within Formula 1 as a design analyst for Jordan F1, and now work as head of structural engineering at Force India (formally Jordan F1).”

“My motivation comes from putting the car out on the grid. We are always looking for the edge and I enjoy the challenge created by continuous technological development and regulation change within the industry. In Formula 1, you never stand still.”

Return to our Formula 1 homepage to read more articles in this collection.