Technical Director at Alfa Romeo Formula 1 Team (formerly Technical Director at McLaren Formula 1 Team)

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. 

James Key portrait improved

What's been your career journey?

After university I went on to work for the Formula 1 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, then moving to McLaren as Technical Director in 2019. In September 2023, I joined Alfa Romeo Formula 1 Team Stake as Technical Director.

What's it like working in Formula 1?

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. 

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 Formula 1 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.

What would your advice be for fellow UoN graduates?

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.

Have a plan of where you want to get to. I’ve seen a lot of graduates coming into Formula 1 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.



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