News Details

05 March 2013 20:49

Formula Student – Education or Motorsport?

Category: Pat´s Corner

In my life before Formula Student I was responsible for the technical area of CIK Karting, so I still maintain a passing interest in that sport. So last night I was reading the local Karting News.

A couple of recent news items caught my attention...




Mawson, 16, will fly out of his home city of Sydney tomorrow before joining his new team in Bagnolo, Italy later in the week. Life won’t stand still for Mawson when he arrives with him making his debut with the factory outfit this weekend at the La Conca circuit in round one of the WSK Masters Series.

Joey Mawson from his Facebook page

Australia driver Joseph Burton-Harris has confirmed he will be competing in the entire Euro Max Series throughout 2013 in an RK Kart. The 15 year-old will join the Kalman Motorsport team for his campaign with the full support of RK Karts parent company, Birel Motorsport.

JBH from his facebook page

This was the very stuff that alienated me from Karting and brought me to FS in the first place! Sure, it is great that these kids get a chance to develop a motorsport career in Europe, a long way from home in Australia. But what happens to their education? From bitter experience I know it gets neglected, despite the best intentions of all concerned.

This troubled me during my karting involvement, and a chance visit to FSAE in Michigan in 1996 caused me to cease my association with the sport and become involved with FSAE/FS. It was the educational aspect of the Formula that attracted me.

So, is FS Motorsport or an Educational exercise? Well, it is partly both, of course, but which is the more important?

Initially, FSAE was founded to give graduating students a practical exercise to prepare them for industry. Industry was dissatisfied with the lack of practical skills demonstrated by the new engineers they were hiring. What they were getting were very highly skilled technical clerks that would take years of internal training to convert into true ‘engineers’.

FSAE and later FS were formed to address this issue. A motorsport theme was chosen for the competition. Sure, ‘Formula Sewing Machine’ or ‘Formula Cement Mixer’ would have achieved the same end, but the competition would never attract competitors. Originally it was called ‘Mini Indy’, but then with the involvement of the SAE and later the IMechE and VDI, it became Formula SAE or Formula Student.

Initially, it was very much an educational exercise. The late Dr. Dick Golembiewski was involved from the very early days, mentoring a very successful team from Wisconsin. If the GPA of any of the students in his team slipped, Dick immediately removed them from the team. Education came first, Formula was an ‘add on’. That’s how it should be!

Over the years, slowly but surely, the ‘motorsport’ aspect of FS has overwhelmed the educational aspect. Sure, this is not in every case, but certainly has become a dominant trend. I see this as the biggest threat to FS as we know it!

A threat? Why?

Well, I repeatedly see university boards questioning why they should be involved. Design, Cost, Marketing etc can be considered educational, but racing around a track cannot, and the very idea often flies in the face of the conservative personalities that can make up University management.

Over the past few years, several Universities have removed all support and access to facilities from their FS team! I have been asked to address a Uni Board meeting to help defend the position of the FS team. Did I talk about motorsport? Not on your life, I spoke about preparing the students for life in the real world!

I have had many parents approach me, worried their son was wasting his expensive education ‘playing around with racing cars’. Remember, in many places, university is very expensive and parents have sacrificed a lot in order to give their child a good education. Imagine what they think when he walks around wearing T shirts that read ‘University of Somewhere Racing Team’ and lives, eats and breathes slip angles and turbochargers and aerodynamic undertrays?

Sponsors, all over the world, get overwhelmed by requests to ‘Please give me money to spend on my racecar’ and 99.38% of those requests just go straight in the trashcan! By the way, 46.3% of all statistics are made up on the spot! ;-)

Would a request to a sponsor gain more traction if it asked for help for a University team to take part in an International Design Competition?
Teams should never forget that, fundamentally, FS is a Design Competition, with the on track dynamic events being ‘proof of concept’ exercises. I expect some flack from this statement, along the lines of ‘Why then, are there only 150 points for Design from a total of 1000’? Well, that’s a discussion for another day, but looking in my crystal ball, I see scoring changes in the future!

What I call the ‘motorsport virus’ has infected the competition! It has become more important to ‘win the competition’ than to learn along the way... but those things need not be mutually exclusive!

Time and again I am told in Design that the original designer of some aspect of the car has graduated long ago and they are now just ‘refining’ the concept, without fully understanding what it was all about in the first place. When I point out that will cost them points in Design they shrug and say, ‘We’ll make it up on the racetrack’!

Racetrack? There is no racing going on in FS! All dynamic events are against the clock. FS cars are generally unattractive, narrow focus vehicles that are not particularly exciting to watch on track. If you want to see exciting motorsport, try find a short dirt oval where they are running winged sprint cars, or possible the purest and most intense motorsport of all, speedway motorcycles. 4 laps, 4 riders, balls out and all over in about 60 seconds! That’s exciting!

Photo credit Sebastian Stankiewicz

So, in closing, make sure you come talk to me at Pat’s Corner at Hockenheim in August!

Pats Design Error of the Month

A few months ago, I talked about the folly of using tapered wheel nuts directly on aluminium wheel centres, see examples below.

The tapered nut works into the centre, raising stress around the bolt hole. Failure comes soon afterwards!

Then a few days ago an unnamed team proudly announced their new wheels for the 2013 season.

I hope they don’t fail!

And I thought everyone read my blog ;-)










Until next time

Partners of FSG 2024