This post explores studying Henry Fidler’s experience of studying Mechanical Engineering (ME) at the University of Bath and gives an idea of what it is like to join McLaren Racing, a top F1 team, as a graduate engineer.
He originally wanted to study Economics, but after visiting open days in Year 12 Henry realised that actually, he didn’t like it. He continued Economics until completing his AS level in it, dropping it after that. Now that Economics was out of the question, Henry had to decide what he wanted to do and he became set on ME due to his interest in F1.
Lots of students taking four A-Levels have concerns over whether dropping one will affect their chances of getting in to the course they have chosen. Henry’s advice is to do what you can manage whilst still achieving the top grades. He said that he felt at no disadvantage at uni being a student who ‘only’ took three A-Levels, as there was probably a 50:50 split of people with three and four A-Levels.
His main advice for applying to university is to focus on getting good grades. Although a lot of universities make a big deal of extra-curricular activities and wider reading to enrich your personal statement, you instantly become a much more appealing student if you have an outstanding set of A-Levels. However, once we are out of lockdown, it is definitely worth still trying to get some work experience as it could come in useful in any interviews you have.
Lots of students taking ME tend to have taken maths and further maths. The main reason that maths skills are so important is simply the amount of maths in the course. In each semester at Bath there are five modules, with one being a maths module and one a mechanics module. The maths module is completely pure maths, and the mechanics is more similar to the mechanics modules of A-Level maths. It is also worth noting that almost all modules have some form of calculus in them. However, there is usually one module per semester which is practical and as such doesn’t have any complex maths in it.
No matter if you choose Automotive, Aerospace, Robotics or any of the other disciplines, Bath put you in the Mechanical Engineering stream for the first 2 years. After these 2 years, you choose a stream to specialise in – Henry chose Automotive Engineering.
He found that the most valuable thing in his degree was his year placement at Toro Rosso. This allowed him to develop his professional skills and confidence, as well as giving him motivation to complete the last two years of his course – he now knew what was waiting for him at the end. Employers really appreciate the effort shown in securing and completing a competitive placement, so persevering in your search for a placement will likely help you get a job after graduation. This is one of the reasons he chose to study at Bath – they take much more of an active approach in helping their students secure a placement, and as such he thinks that he got a better placement being at Bath than he may have done at another uni.
The other major extra-curricular thing he did at university was becoming part of the Formula Student team. Bath has six teams: Racing, Drones, Racing Electric, Marine Drones, Green Racing and Zero Emission Motorcycles. Henry said that he highly recommends getting involved in one of these teams. They give valuable experience in following a project from its conception to completion, which will really help you to stand out when applying to graduate schemes.
After leaving Bath, Henry began the graduate scheme at McLaren Racing. This is a two year program and is designed to give you a broad experience of lots of areas of operation at the company. He found that there is a 50:50 split in the knowledge used at work. Half of it you have learnt at uni and apply directly to your work, and the other half is learnt on the job – things like supply chain interactions and costing.
This section goes into more depth on the day to day of an ME graduate. Henry still works at McLaren, as he really enjoys his work there and feels a valued employee due to the time and resources invested in him. His job role is a ‘performance engineer’. He takes a broad view of the car and focusses on combining multiple aspects of it to make it go faster. This provides very good motivation to work as you can see the direct impact of your work in the lap times.
One of the things he spends his time doing is simulations using McLaren’s bespoke simulation programs. Lots of data is compared to help the engineers decide which small adjustments need to be made before running the simulation again and seeing what impact the changes made have had.
On race day, Henry normally works behind the scenes analysing the data received from the car in real time. This is then fed back to the trackside engineers who will do what they can do make the times faster.
The highlight of his career was being flown on short notice to Spain, where the cars were being tested on a track. He had the opportunity to influence decisions on what modifications needed to be made to gather important testing data. His main career ambition is to move to the trackside team at races, whilst remaining at McLaren Racing.
Thanks very much to Henry for doing this interview with me! To allow it to help as many young and aspiring engineers as possible, make sure to share this article with anyone you think would find it interesting.