Infiniti, Renault F1 get technical boost from young U.S. engineering talent

When it comes to finding young technical talent for both the street car and Formula 1 programs, the Renault-Nissan-Infiniti alliance continues to blaze a trail all its own through the Infiniti Engineering Academy. The Academy, which is celebrating its fifth year, takes applications from all over the world for what can best be described as an internship on steroids. To make the grade, thousands of applicants — more than 12,000 this year — are screened for engineering prowess, and 10 finalists from each of seven regions worldwide compete head to head. This year's U.S. winner, who was selected following finals competition at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, the weekend of last month's Formula 1 Grand Prix, is 24-year-old Colorado School of Mines engineering student Sabre Cook. Cook is the second female winner from the U.S. in the five years of the competition, joining 2016 winner Caitlin Bunt.

Cook is a true dual threat. In addition to her engineering prowess, she's a racer. She even raced in the SCCA Formula 4 U.S. Championship events at COTA the weekend of the Infiniti competition. "When I met the other candidates, I was aware how smart they were and the passion they had for engineering," Cook said. "So I knew this was going to be very difficult to win. I'm really thankful to Infiniti for this opportunity." The seven region winners receive a six-month assignment at the Infiniti Technical Center in the U.K. working on automotive projects and six months with the Renault Sport Formula 1 team. "Even if the products are totally different from F1 to Infiniti, the engineering theories and approach are very similar. The competition is run in every single market where Infiniti operates, which are almost 50 markets in the world," says Tommaso Volpe, director Infiniti Global Motorsport and Performance Projects said. "We recruit seven engineering students from seven areas that cover all these markets — Mexico, U.S., Canada, Europe, Middle East, China and the Asia Pacific."

And anybody who thinks this is one of those get-me-coffee-and-make-the-food-run internships, think again.

"We're lucky because it's such a big pool and such a strong selection process that we get some very talented young engineers," said Nick Chester, Renault Sport Formula One Team chassis technical director. "We put them into six different departments, and they're thrown straight into projects with other engineers.

"It can be some very challenging projects — developing wings, electronic systems. That's great for us. We're getting some real input. It's nice to have young talented engineers who've maybe got fresh ideas, as well. Our engineers are very experienced, but it's good to be challenged by young engineers."

Evan Sloan, from the California Institute of Technology, was the 2017 U.S. winner who has spent the last year in the Infiniti Engineering Academy.

"It's incredible how quickly you get up to speed and start and getting involved with really high-level projects," Sloan said. "Some of my projects, I've had to hold meetings with just myself, my senior engineer and group manager. That's just crazy. I'm just a young engineer, but I've got this project that was a direct request from the head of the vehicle performance group. It's real work."

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