Frank Schaufelberger is an exciting and engaging young engineer who most recently has spent a year with Red Bull Racing in an Aerodynamic Student Placement. In this interview, Frank provides invaluable insights from his time with Red Bull whilst lending advice to those wishing to follow in his footsteps.
My name is Frank Schaufelberger. I’m 25 years old and I’m Swiss. I’m originally from a small village called Weesen but I am currently based around Zurich where I’ve been studying since 2015 (ETH Zurich).
I finished my BSc in Mechanical Engineering in the summer of 2019 after which I moved to Milton Keynes to work for 1 year in an Aerodynamic Development Student Placement with Red Bull Racing. In September 2020 I returned to Zurich where I am now doing my last two semesters of my MSc in Mechanical Engineering.
Although I didn’t know it by that time, the moment I decided to apply to our Formula Student team was where it all started.
From 2016 on I was involved in ETH’s Formula Student Team (AMZ Racing). In my first year, I was developing the car’s drag reduction system (DRS). In my second year, I took over a significant role in the aerodynamic development with two colleagues of the 2018 race car ‘eiger’ (Formula Student Germany overall winner). It involved developing CFD tools, designing aero geometry, manufacturing the package, and testing it for 5 days in a full-scale wind tunnel. In the 2019 season, I was leading the aerodynamics department (5 people) guiding the new students and overseeing the aero development. Since we were a rather small team at the time, I got a great insight into the whole development of the car (not only aerodynamics).
It was not until my time in Formula Student, specifically the event season (summer) of 2018 that I first became interested in working in Formula 1. Seeing all the teams compete and putting so much passion into one car really sparked my interest. Also seeing Formula Student Alumni doing 1-year internships in Formula 1 made me aware of this Student Placement programme many UK based companies have. Obviously living abroad for 1 year was also a great incentive and an opportunity to improve my English skills.
In the Engineering Design Event of the Formula Student competition, you get the chance to present the car (and your personal knowledge and skill) to professionals of the industry. I am incredibly grateful that I got the chance to be in the group of 10 people that participated in the Engineering Design Finals in FSG 2018 for our team. After the event, in the feedback session with the judges, I got offered an internship position in Motorsport on the spot (which I sadly couldn’t take at that time). In the following months, I applied to various Student Placement positions at different teams and was lucky to get an offer from Red Bull Racing after a tough application process.
Red Bull Racing
In my 14 months at Red Bull, I worked as part of an aerodynamic development team and was responsible for the generation and evaluation of geometry focusing on the front wing performance of the RB15 and RB16 race cars.
Development geometry was based on the results and analysis of data from CFD and the wind tunnel along with direction from the race track.
My responsibilities included:
- Design of new front wing geometry in CAD
- CFD mesh generation, case submission, and fault fixing
- Analysis of CFD post-processing and recommendation of further work
- Generation and management of wind tunnel development jobs including liaising with other areas of the department such as Mechanical Design and Manufacturing
- Performance analysis of wind tunnel data and recommendation of further work
- Technical presentation to the department management, both written and verbal, analysing CFD, and wind tunnel data.
Apart from the aerodynamic work I have also supported the strategy team on race weekends, working in a dedicated team from the factory based AT&T Operations Room.
Best memories with Red Bull
The one thing I enjoyed the most was that although I was a Student Placement, I was treated like a normal aerodynamicist in the team. I was allowed to come up with my own ideas, draw my own geometry, do the analysis, and report and present the results to the department. Seeing my designs race around a circuit on a Sunday is definitely also a great bonus and reading through technical news pages and forums to see people speculate about the aerodynamic effects it might have was always amusing.
As already mentioned above, being able to contribute to the technical development of the car was one of the best experiences I’ve had whilst at the team. However, being there in the Operations Room and following the last laps of the German GP or the Brazilian GP of 2019 was a memory like no other.
In moments like these, your heart rate is constantly above the 100bpm mark and the adrenaline is pumping through your body. The feeling of relief after crossing the finish line in first place and the celebration with a glass of bubbly outside the factory are unique memories that will stay with me for a long time.
The importance of education
Unfortunately, ETHZ has only a handful of applied Fluid Dynamics courses (let alone Aerodynamic). Most of them are very theoretical and a dedicated Aerospace or Aeronautical Engineering degree doesn’t exist (I’m doing a regular Mechanical Engineering degree although my curriculum is highly focusing on Fluid Dynamics).
However, I quickly picked up the classical Engineering skills of critical thinking, problem-solving, and persistence which formed my mindset during my time at University. Extracurricular projects such as Formula Student showed me the practical approach and opened the doors to Motorsport and Race Car Engineering and Aerodynamics. It was not until my time in Formula Student that I have used CFD software in practice (although I perfectly knew all the formulas and maths behind it.)
But still, the willpower and persistence to study all the basics for aerodynamics once the car was built (important for defending your designs at the Engineering Design Event) was something that I got during my time in the lecture halls.
Advice to Aspiring Engineers
I think Formula Student is the absolute best way to kickstart a career in Motorsport. You get insight into the entire field of Motorsport Engineering from creating ideas, designing, manufacturing, testing, and racing. At the competition, you also experience the highs and lows that everybody talks about in Motorsport. Furthermore, you get in contact with the industry and professionals (be it as sponsors or at the competition) which more often than not can get you into a business through a back door.
Don’t get me wrong, it is clearly not a prerequisite to get into a student placement with an F1 team (many students at RB have had no prior FS background). However, it is important to be passionate about the things you do. Do something and do it well. Be open to new challenges and open as many doors as possible. And when it comes to applying and interviews, always be yourself and be natural.