In recent years Motorsport has witnessed a wave of inspiring and exceptional female trailblazers who have paved the way for future generations of young women in STEM.
Lincolnshire born Meghann Whattam is a shining example. From being a significant force within one of the UK’s most successful Formula Student Teams to achieving a highly competitive student placement with Honda F1, Meghann has secured her F1 future, accepting a graduate placement with McLaren Racing.
In this interview with Motorsport Engineer, Meghann shares her exceptional journey…and it’s only just begun!
“I really enjoyed watching a part that I had designed or modified go from a concept to a physical part on the race track”
Please introduce yourself to Motorsport Engineer, what is your history within the motorsport industry?
My name is Meghann and I’m originally from Lincolnshire, but currently based in Oxford. At the moment I am studying my Master’s degree in Motorsport Engineering at Oxford Brookes University, having just returned from a year in industry with Honda Racing.
At Honda I was an Energy Storage System Design Intern, working on the hybrid aspect of the F1 engine. Before this, I gained a lot of experience with my University’s Formula Student team, Oxford Brookes Racing (OBR). I was on the team for four years, and worked in several different sections before becoming the lead of the electronics system and the lead of the statics and logistics sections in my final two years.
Once I have finished my Master’s I will be joining McLaren Racing as a graduate Production engineer.
What did your most recent role entail?
At Honda, my role was to design parts for the Energy Storage System (ESS). Sometimes this meant designing parts from scratch, and other times it meant making modifications to existing parts.
As a design engineer you are also responsible for the engineering drawing that accompanies the part, which needs to contain precise and clear information to ensure that it can be assembled onto the car as you intend it to be. From there you also have to consider any testing that the part needs, and write up test orders so that you get the right information.
The role required me to work with several different departments within the company, and occasionally external suppliers too. It was a really good role for learning how an F1 team operates!
What was the best part of your role?
I really enjoyed watching a part that I had designed or modified go from a concept to a physical part on the race track. It introduced me to some of the highest level of engineering and I loved learning as much as I could about the design process, which included getting things wrong and learning what to do about it.
I also worked in an amazing design team who had a lot of experience and taught me so much!
What do you consider your breakthrough moment into Motorsport and how did it occur?
I consider getting my placement at Honda as a breakthrough moment for me. I had several interviews at different F1 teams before that but was struggling to turn these into job offers and was feeling quite disheartened.
I originally saw the job advert for the position at Honda and didn’t feel like I met the criteria, so didn’t apply. Luckily, I changed my mind and just applied anyway, which lead to an interview and eventually a job!
It was a big lesson for me in the importance of not giving up and not disregarding something just because I can’t do absolutely everything it says on the job advert – the worst that can happen is they say no, but you’ll never know if you don’t try.
How important was education in helping you achieve your professional goals?
I believe education is quite important, and certainly helped me achieve my career goals by introducing me to a wide range of subjects that most engineers will deal with every day.
University certainly taught me how to solve problems, both with and without all of the necessary information, and what to do when the information you need isn’t out there. I think it gives you a wide range of skills that you can then go and develop further in line with what you want to do and where you want to go.
However I also believe that education isn’t absolutely everything. I didn’t quite get the A-level grades that I needed so I had to take a slightly different route (starting on one degree and changing after a year) – but that never really hindered me.
Your drive and enthusiasm to put yourself out there and get experience is almost more valuable than your education, I believe. For me, that meant throwing myself into Formula Student, for others it may mean looking for work experience, and so forth!
So, whilst education is important, I don’t think it is the one thing that defines your value.
What sparked your interest in engineering?
I was mostly interested in Engineering due to the vast number of possibilities that are attached to it. In almost everything we do – Engineering plays some part in it. Engineering progresses your skills as a problem solver, and I was really interested in learning how to develop solutions to these problems.
I was drawn to Motorsport Engineering as I’d grown up watching F1 and was fascinated by the cars and they way that the teams worked together to be the fastest on the grid.
How has being a part of Oxford Brookes Racing (Formula Student Team) supported your development?
I think Formula Student was pivotal for me in developing my skills as an Engineer. Right from the get go I was introduced to the way a team operates and achieves the end goal of building a competitive race car. It enabled me to develop my technical skills and my operational ones, which was eventually where I felt the most comfortable. It offers a chance to throw yourself in and learn from both your successes and your mistakes, all whilst you’re still a student.
I think it also helped me to grow my confidence and overcome some of my fears to make sure that I delivered the best work that I could.
What are your best memories from your time with Honda?
My best memories from Honda mostly come from the time I spent with my colleagues, hearing all of their stories and learning about their journeys into F1. They had so much experience between them and were always happy to help me when I asked questions, and never made me feel silly for not knowing something.
Whilst I don’t think design is one of my stronger skills, being in that environment with such knowledgeable people helped me to learn the process behind design, which I think will help me in future roles.
Honda also hosted viewing events for the races, and I really enjoyed going in to watch them with my colleagues, knowing that we had contributed to those cars – that feeling never got old!
What advice would you give to students hoping to gain engineering placements within motorsport?
The world is very surreal right now, and we’re living through something that I think a lot of us never expected to experience within our life time! However, a very large aspect of motorsport is being able to react to challenges. It’s very common in motorsport to go into work in the morning and have to deal with something completely different to what you had prepared for, so being adaptable is a very important skill.
At the moment, we have no choice but to adapt, so naturally we are developing these skills. Whilst it may feel like everything is on hold, everyday we are learning new ways to manage and get through. Whilst placements in your area of interest may be harder to come by, I think it’s really important not to underestimate how much you can learn from a job that you might not have previously considered, so I’d definitely recommend casting yourself a large net and keeping an open mind!
Thank you Meghann for sharing your story with Motorsport Engineer, we wish you the very best of luck with McLaren!
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