Have you always been interested in aerospace technology?

My route through university was born out of a love of aviation and the inspiration of the Apollo space programme. I ended up doing a degree in aeronautical engineering at Queen's University in Belfast. Short Brothers as the local aircraft manufacturer was the obvious choice for employment.

What got you involved in Formula 1 engineering?

My sights changed when I realised the size of the companies involved in the aerospace industry and the timescales they worked to. I wanted to be involved in a high-tech industry, but one that used smaller numbers of people with a shorter lead-time from idea to product. I'd always been interested in motor sport, so it was a natural place to look.

I started work in 1982 at McLaren, primarily as the "company" aerodynamicist. Nowadays a typical Formula 1 team's aero department is 100-people strong.

Bob Bell Renault F1
 © Renault F1

What qualifications/skills does one need for a career in Formula 1 design engineering?

We look for graduates with strong degrees in any of the sciences - aeronautical, mechanical or one of the specialised motor sport or automotive engineering degrees now available. We also look for a person who can work to tight timescales and be committed to seeing us succeed. The financial rewards are better for Formula 1 engineers [compared with the aerospace industry] because we expect more of them - to be more flexible and to work longer hours. But the difference is not what it used to be.

What does your job entail?

I'm responsible for a number of engineers and technicians, and my working day revolves around co-ordinated meetings to make sure I get a good solid overview of the organisation and understand what the individual parts of the company are doing. I attend about a third of the races every year so I can make sure we're properly resourced and that the race team is communicating properly with the other bits of the organisation.

What are the best parts of the job?

For me, the most satisfying thing is seeing the results of our team's efforts deliver success on the track. There is also healthy competitiveness between rival engineers. This business is small and competitive enough that people know the individual involved on the other side of the fence. And every two weeks you get a public demonstration of who was right or wrong.

What are the challenges?

To always try to meet very compressed timescales with a moveable deadline. Trying to make sure all the engineering functions in our organisation are properly tasked, resourced and communicating is rewarding, and at times painful - especially with Formula 1 reacting to the economic crisis and starting to downsize.

Does Formula 1 still excite you?

I get a buzz out of the technical competition. But as an engineer who wants to try to design a better car than the next guy, the drive to take costs out can be quite frustrating, although we understand why it's being done.

Have the 2009 rule changes put pressure on engineering resources?

The regulation changes are quite substantial - from revised aerodynamic rules to different tyres, the kinetic energy recovery systems and adjustable front wing flaps - and were all new territory for us, which put a higher demand on resources. This, combined with the cost savings, has made the last six months or so very pressured.

Source: Flight International