Learning and Adapting to Become a Well-rounded Engineer

© All photos (including featured cover) provided by INFINITI Engineering Academy

At the end of 2019, upon the completion of the INFINITI Engineering Academy China Final, we interviewed the winner Muyao (Nimo) Li. In 2020, the internship program was still carried out despite extreme circumstances, and now all seven winners have completed their internship at Renault F1 team and INFINITI Technical Centre. We caught up with Nimo to hear about her experiences during the year.

At both Renault F1 team and INFINITI, Nimo’s work was related to aerodynamics. At Renault F1 team, she was with Wind-tunnel Support, responsible for data analysis to improve efficiency and effectiveness of wind-tunnel testing. “There is a limit and cap on how much testing we can do, so to avoid wasting precious testing opportunities, one of the analysis I perform quite often is failed-run analysis. Whenever we experience a mistake or failure in the testing, I will perform an analysis to find the root cause and work out a solution together with other teams so we won’t run into the same problem again. Beyond failed-run analysis, I also help improve our testing process, to avoid overlap in our work and improve the efficiency of the wind-tunnel.”

As Nimo comes from a background of working at car manufacturers, the atmosphere and environment at Renault F1 team is almost an entirely new experience. It is certainly challenging, but also very enjoyable, according to Nimo. “My experience on the team is quite different from the one I had in Australia at an OEM. People work at a very high pace on an F1 team, everyone is rushing against the clock to be productive every day. Whether you are a full-time engineer, an intern, or management, you come in early and leave late. Everyone is highly motivated. We all have one common goal, we want to win races. I love the atmosphere. I love that everyone has a clear goal and can work at high productivity.”

Not only is the environment different, but also the requirement is different on an F1 team – you better be a well-rounded engineer who can learn fast and adapt fast. “On an F1 team, you wouldn’t only be responsible for mechanical stuff or electronic stuff. You will venture into a wide variety of things. I come from a mechanical background, but during my six months at Renault, my work also involves coding, data analysis, electric drawing, and so on. In addition, the software you use at an OEM is a lot of time generic software used across different corporations or even industries, but on an F1 team, they have their own bespoke software. You need to be able to adapt fast to keep up with everyone.”

At INFINITI, Nimo’s work was on model design and CFD simulation. It was a relatively familiar environment for Nimo, so she adapted even faster to the work. “Similar to my previous experience before this internship, things have a relatively fixed process at an OEM. The only difference is that the INFINITI (Nissan) European Technical Centre is not as big as the ones in APAC, so even interns can get involved in important tasks and get experience on different types of projects. In the six months, I was involved in works on different models and different parts, like mirrors, A-pillar, and so on.”

Fast learning is part of the job, and I really enjoyed it. This is how you grow as a young engineer. You learn things from different areas, you learn new concepts, this is a rare opportunity.

Besides the challenges of the work itself, the biggest challenge is perhaps the year 2020 itself. During the 2020 season, with no F1 Grands Prix in the first half of the year, Nimo wasn’t able to go trackside like some of the winners from previous years. At INFINITI, as people have been working from home for months, there were less one-on-one, face-to-face communications. “For me, the real challenge is working from home. You need to be able to maintain productivity at home. Your communications with others would be online, how you communicate is very important.”

Despite the difficulties of this year, Nimo was able to get an opportunity to go testing at INFINITI’s wind-tunnel in France, which is a great learning experience in and of itself.

To wrap up our conversation, we asked Nimo to give some advice to young engineers who aspire to work in motorsport. “There is of course fewer opportunities on a race team than other conventional engineering companies, and it’s dependent on where you are in the world. But whether or not you can see an opportunity arising for you in the near future, you need to focus on your own skills – technical skills and soft skills. You need to put yourself in an environment where you can grow, you need to be prepared so that you can actually seize the opportunity when it’s at your door-step. Students who aspire to be in motorsport can participate in projects similar to the work on a race team, for example, Formula SAE, or a feeder series, or other types of motorsport. Get to know more about volunteering and internship opportunities. These will prepare you for work at a higher level.”

Now Nimo has returned back to China and getting ready for her new journey. We hope to hear more about her amazing stories in the future. We also hope the INFINITI Engineering Academy program can resume its recruiting soon and continue the legacy of cultivating great engineers for motorsport and the auto industry.

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