Imagine you’re an engineering student presented with the opportunity to spend a year working for Infiniti and its Formula 1 racing partner, the Renault Sport team. It’s a deep immersion across vehicle platforms, the chance to learn from and work with veteran engineers on technical challenges facing production and competition vehicles.
That’s exactly what happened for seven fortunate students from around the world when they earned a spot at the 2016/17 Infiniti Engineering Academy.
In just its third year, the Academy fielded some 4000 applications from seven global regions: the US, Canada, Mexico, Europe, the Emirates, China, and Asia-Oceana. That mountain of entries was culled to 10 finalists from each region, who were then put through two intensive days of tests, team-building exercises and interviews to determine a winner from each region.
For Tommaso Volpe, Infiniti’s Director of Global Product Strategy and Motorsport, the Academy is as much about bringing diversity to Infiniti and its Formula 1 partner as it is about finding young engineering talent. “Formula 1 is a global sport, but not a global industry,” he said. “It’s a very Euro-centric industry, despite having races all over the world. We may be a drop in the ocean, but we are leading the conversation about how the sport should become much more diverse. There’s no other structured path for a student from, say, Saudi Arabia or Canada to access Formula 1.”
That diversity crosses gender lines, too. This year Caitlin Bunt, a 24-year-old engineering student from Rockford, Illinois, became the first woman to win a spot in the Academy. Two months later she was joined by Xuezi (Sally) Li, a 23-year-old mechanical engineering student from Chengdu, China.
Applicants can be undergraduates or doing graduate work, but must be students and not working professionally in the automotive or motorsports fields, Volpe said. Many of the first-year finalists were undergrads, he noted, so after their stint in the United Kingdom they returned to their home schools “as ambassadors of the program. We’ve kept in contact with them and are planning to make offers when they graduate. One has already accepted our offer to work at Infiniti; another will join Renault Sport in July of next year. This year all seven are almost all graduated, so at the end of the year we will be able to hire all of them.”