4 tips for winning Formula Student from the former chief judge

Formula Student is the premier university engineering competition, not just a must-compete for those interested in joining the motorsport industry but an invaluable experience for anyone considering an engineering career.

Over 100 teams from around 35 countries design, build and race their own cars over a six month-period leading up to a final event at Silverstone race track, this year taking place from 9 to 12 July.

The Student Engineer spoke to Richard Folkson, former chief judge of the competition and president-elect of its parent organisation the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), to get his advice on what teams can do to increase their chances of winning.

1. Target every category

Formula Student
It’s not just speed that counts in Formula Student.

If you’re going to win you have to get as many points as you can in every aspect of the competition. There are eight elements of design, cost, business presentation and then all the dynamic events covering speed, acceleration and endurance.

Some teams put all their effort into making the car go faster and not enough effort into the cost or giving a good presentation. And those marks are actually easier to achieve than knocking one tenth of a second off the acceleration time.

2. Set realistic targets

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No one wins first time around: pick specific goals to achieve each year.

Work out what you are going to do this year and use those targets to drive the design. Having set your technical targets, then use engineering tools and data to make your design decisions so it’s really an engineering, technically led project.

The very top teams have been doing it for many years and they absolutely learn from past experiences and set new targets for themselves each year of what they are going to do better that they didn’t do last year.

Weight, for example, is absolutely critical in this competition and the best cars are under 200kg. The best electric last year was around a 170kg, which is unbelievable for an electric car with batteries.

3. Panic early

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Don’t put off a problem you can fix now.

Treat every day as if the competition starts tomorrow. Don’t think you’ve got loads of time until July because later is much worse than now. Fix your problems, get on with it, don’t leave everything until the last minute.

It is difficult because you’re trying to balance the competition with your normal academic studies. But that’s partly of what differentiates the Formula Student participants because it shows they can deliver more than normal students – that’s why employers love them.

In particular, get the car finished well before the actual start date of the competition so you can get some testing done on the track, ideally at least four weeks before so run the car at Silverstone so you have some development time, you find the bugs, you break the throttle cables in testing not in the first event.

4. No secrets

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Share any problems with the rest of your team

Share all your problems with the other team members. Don’t be too proud to think you can’t solve something but you don’t want to tell anyone because it’s too embarrassing; it will let the team down later.

If you share your problems with the rest of them team they’ll rally round to get done the bit that you’re struggling with, in order to get the car to the finish. So don’t keep problems secret, share everything openly with the team. Open information exchange and problem sharing produces a better result.

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