Although I help to design Formula One race cars now, I started out studying Aerospace Engineering at the University of Bristol. It was only later that I got into aerodynamics and Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) that led me into motorsports. I went on to study for a Master’s degree in Aerodynamics at the University of Sheffield and have just finished my PhD at the University of Manchester.

A few years ago, I decided that what I want most is to work with race cars, and so I aimed straight for the world of Formula One. Designing Formula One race cars using CFD and aerodynamics means tackling some intricate technical challenges. Engineers must be self-motivated and creative, as well as adequately qualified of course.

Studying for my PhD gave me an exclusive insight into the industry and sharpened my problem-solving skills. In the fast-paced world of race car engineering, these will continue to prove crucial!

While I work in a very specialist field, it’s hard to label myself as particular type of engineer – I find it all fascinating. Growing up, I was interested in rockets, planes and fast cars; I think I even saw myself in the driving seat at one point! When it came to choosing my degree, “Aerospace Engineering” was the best choice. It suited my interests and there was a high chance of getting a good job afterwards. However, once I started university, it was difficult to know exactly what job I could end up doing.

An internship with Airbus in the UK showed me how to use my skills and knowledge in practise for the first time. It was here that I learned more about fluid dynamics and aerodynamics, and I saw how easy it is to transfer knowledge to a slightly different field. Aerodynamics is involved in aircraft design, but the same principles apply to motorsport. If you had told me then that I’d end up not only in motorsport, but working with the fastest race cars in the world, I wouldn’t have believed you!

Mid-way through my PhD, I successfully applied for an internship programme with McLaren-Honda working in CFD Methodology. This was my first exposure to the Formula One world. Aerodynamicists design the chassis, or body, of the car so that the airflow around it makes the car faster and better at handling in corners. To assess their designs, they use computer simulations, wind tunnel tests and race track testing.

My PhD looked at developing and improving these computer simulations. You may not think motorsports could save your life, however, these innovations reach far wider than just the track. Improved CFD tools are applicable across any discipline that models fluids. For example, they can accurately simulate blood flow inside the human body, helping doctors to identify aneurysms.

Engineering is great way to learn technical skills, work on a variety of  projects and make a difference around the world. Engineering is an international language and its multidisciplinary nature means your skills can be applied in almost every field.  If I could offer any advice to young people about to set out on their engineering career, it would be to get out and network. Whether you are meeting with people of a similar experience to you or senior engineers, these connections will prove vital as you progress through your career, even if sometimes the benefits are not immediate.

I have now been working for just over 2 months for Williams Martini Racing as a CFD methodology engineer. Here, I am learning about Formula One aerodynamic design, getting some wind tunnel experience and helping to further develop CFD tools and processes.

 

Alexandra Stefanescu

Alexandra Stefanescu

Alexandra is a CFD Methodology Engineer at Williams Martini Racing, having recently finished a PhD at the University of Manchester. She started her engineering career in 2008 at the University of Bristol studying Aerospace Engineering, then moving onto the University of Sheffield for her Masters in Aerodynamics. Whilst in between her Bachelor and Masters degrees, she worked as a Flight Physics Intern at Airbus in Filton UK and during her PhD she has worked with McLaren Racing Ltd in Woking, Surrey. Her side work consisted mainly of promoting engineering to pupils, students and young professionals.
Alexandra Stefanescu

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