Jonathan Block’s BEng in mechanical engineering included a placement year at Red Bull Racing Formula 1 team, which helped him achieve EngTech professional qualification. He recently began his first full-time job as a composite design engineer at the Marussia F1 team.
Did you always want to be an engineer and have your sights on the automotive industry?
My career started when I was around eight years old and my parents took me karting. From there I competed at British championship level with extremely good results for the budget that my parents were able to afford without gaining sponsorship. They didn't have any form of holiday while I competed until I was 14. After accepting that I was never going to become a racing driver as my parents were not millionaires, I decided to combine my interest in motorsport and engineering.
What better way to learn engineering than to build a car myself, so at the age of 14 my father and I built a rally cross car to compete in the junior British rally cross championship. To further my experience, I also managed to obtain a place working for a formula Renault race team as a mechanic. I worked as a race mechanic at weekends and holidays until I was 17 when it started to impede my A level education.
To enhance my engineering experiences further, my father and I designed and built a space frame race car from scratch. This achievement very much helped me succeed in tight circles by opening the door to my first job at Red Bull as a student placement composite design engineer.
What sort of work/projects did you get involved in at Red Bull that helped you work towards your EngTech professional qualification?
Once I had settled into the company and got used to using the team’s design software, I was quickly allowed to progress my skills and projects increased daily in both scale and level of technical challenges. Due to the nature of Formula 1 and the fast turnaround of components, I designed over 100 components while working there. These included front wing flaps, floor components, chassis design including engine mounts, bodywork, system and electrical components, kinetic energy recovery (KERS) and rear wing development pieces.
The largest project I was involved in was designing the new composite front and rear jacks. The design scope was enormous as I started with a complete blank piece of paper and was designing something that had not been done at the company before. It is nice to see the race jacks being used in pit stops this year. A lot of the other projects were on a smaller time scale but equally as involved. The parts I designed ensured that Red Bull became double world champions which was a great achievement for my first year in the sport.
What were the biggest challenges of obtaining EngTech professional registration?
It was ensuring that I had produced sufficiently detailed work to qualify. As I kept a logbook of all my involvement, it was easy to produce a document stating the projects and the detailed work undertaken to ensure they were completed successfully. I received a good final reference from the head of composite design, which further helped.
What is your current position and what does it entail?
I currently work for Marussia F1 team as a composite design engineer. Here I am responsible for designing composite race car components for the team. However, being a composite design engineer does not mean I only work with composites as much of the time I also design metallic parts.
As the design team is so fluid I see a large range of different components to engineer. It differs from the challenges at Red Bull due to the size of the company. A small design team means that my experience will increase dramatically as I will be open to many different design challenges especially when car build comes. There are over 10,000 components on a race car and with just 30 designers it is going to be an interesting and educational time.
How important was it to have your EngTech when applying for your first job?
Without a placement year, I would still be looking for a job. It allowed me to start at Marussia and hit the ground running as I was able to carry out design tasks in my first week. EngTech quickly showed the employer that I had experience in an industrial environment without even having to read my CV. This meant there was a far greater chance of my CV standing out.
What advice do you have for other students who are working towards professional qualifications such as you achieved?
Ensure that a logbook is kept and documented correctly so that it is easy to portray the engineering tasks that you have completed. When on placement, push yourself and try to ensure that management sees this. This will allow them to give you great projects that will technically challenge you and develop you as a young engineer. The bigger and more demanding the project undertaken, the more chance of succeeding when applying for EngTech status.
What are your longer-term career aspirations?
Long term, I will endeavour to become a chief design engineer for a Formula 1 or Le Mans team. My plan for achieving this is to gain experience in all areas of car design while working my way to this position. Therefore, after a few years in composite design, I wish to develop myself in gearbox, systems and suspension design.
However, at this time I am extremely happy to remain in the Formula 1 environment. I look back to when I was 14 working towards where I have ended up today. I would like to thank everyone that has helped me in my career with a special mention to my father who is still a far greater engineer than I will ever be and without his guidance and knowledge I would not be so successful today.