Petrolhead’s paradise: a more practical approach to engineering education

Trinity’s Formula One society hears from Neill Anderson, the head design judge for Formula Student UK

The event was hosted in the Global Room by Formula Trinity, Trinity’s student-run Formula One society and its UCD counterpart, where they welcomed Neill Anderson, the head design judge for Formula Student UK. Formula Trinity are currently working on designing their own car to participate in races. Formula Student is an initiative that was set-up with the aim to give a more hands-on approach in educating students of engineering.

Neill Anderson began by briefly outlining his background and his experience working for TVR, the luxury sports car company, before joining Formula Student in 2001. In that time he has served as chief design judge for the past fifteen years, leading him to jokingly remark that “it’s clearly time for a change”.

He  gave a detailed description of the Student Formula programme, urging that contrary to the name, the programme is not all about racing but rather “improving engineering education”. Student Formula hosts an annual competition which sees students design and build a car. This car is then submitted to the judges and subject to rigorous tests to ensure its safety and reliability before its dynamics and design are scored.

Anderson informed the aspiring designers that they should neither be alarmed nor put off by the rules and regulations surrounding the submission of vehicles for competition. “Rules are your best friend, they exist for a reason, they are grounded in the evidence found in accidents and, in America’s case, lawsuits”. Rules, he continued, would serve as the parameter for their work in designing their cars.

Given that students are working with real materials, Anderson stressed that they should exercise serious caution when designing their cars. “In cases with electric vehicles, you are literally playing with fire”. In addition, he emphasized that things rarely go as planned, especially with tight deadlines, “people let you down, be they members of your team, suppliers not delivering in time, and the university delaying its delivery of materials or documents.”

Uniqueness and reliability were often overlooked factors by competition entrants, Anderson said when discussing what earns teams distinction in Formula Student. “Anyone can copy something, it’s about the understanding about how you got there and not the final product”. For Anderson, in his role as chief design judge, “it is all about justifying what you have”.

Audience members made sure to take the opportunity to pick Anderson’s brain and seek his advice on a wide range of areas from recommended hardware and techniques to seeking corporate sponsorship. All of which Anderson was more than happy to provide.  One piece of advice that Anderson emphasized was reliability over the vehicle’s presentation. “You’re never going to build the perfect vehicle, it’s just not possible, something that is reliable and built today is more important than something ‘perfect’ built tomorrow”.

Cian Mac Lochlainn

Cian Mac Lochlainn is an Economics and Politics student, and a staff writer at Trinity News.