From Aerospace to the Racetrack: Massimiliano Marrazzo’s Journey as an F1 Engineer

Photo courtesy of Massimiliano Marrazzo

Welcome to our latest blog, where we dive into an engaging conversation with Massimiliano Marrazzo. From his early interest in vintage cars and motorsport through his family in Italy to his advanced studies and dynamic career in aerospace and Formula 1 engineering, Massimiliano’s journey is a compelling tale of passion and persistence. Join us as we explore his experiences, from his foundational education at the University of Salerno to his technical role at Mercedes AMG High Performance Powertrains, and discover how these experiences have fuelled his ascent in the world of high-performance engineering.

Background

Massimiliano, can you recall the moment or experience that ignited your passion for F1, and automotive engineering?

Yes, since I was a child, I grew up surrounded by vintage cars and motorcycles. This is a family passion and hobby that was passed down from my father to my brother and me. I still remember watching Formula One on the weekends during the early 2000s. I was born in 1994, so my earliest dreams of motor racing began around that time. It all started with seeing car parts at home and then watching Formula One on TV.

Photo courtesy of Massimiliano Marrazzo

What were your initial steps toward a career in motorsport and aerospace engineering, and how did those roles shape your career trajectory? 

I earned both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering at the University of Salerno, located in southern Italy near Naples. As I neared the end of my Bachelor’s degree and began my Master’s, I became involved in Formula Student. Surprised by the absence of a prominent team at our university, unlike other Italian universities, I discovered that although we had a team, it was relatively unknown and struggled to gather a strong group of students. In 2017, I officially joined Formula Student as the chief of suspension and steering systems, where I designed the front and rear suspensions and performed static and dynamic simulations to analyse the vehicle’s handling characteristics during cornering, acceleration, and braking. By 2018, I was the team leader, and by 2019, we had completed the car’s design and had manufactured and assembled the vehicle.

We debuted in the combustion class of Formula Student in Italy for the first time, an event held in northern Italy near Parma, where Dallara, a leader in designing and manufacturing racing cars for Formula 3, Formula 2, Indy cars, and also Formula 1, is based. This marked a significant start for our passionate team of engineering students, and within two years, we became active competitors.

Following the pandemic, I had the opportunity to serve as a technical inspector, a role I embraced both in Italy and the UK, where I relocated to pursue my PhD.

Photo courtesy of Massimiliano Marrazzo

Speaking about your PhD, how have your studies, especially your PhD in Aeronautics and MSc in Mechanical Engineering, complemented your practical experience in performance development and dyno testing in F1?

During my PhD, I improved both my soft and hard skills. For example, I learned how to complete a difficult task on my own, knowing only the end goal. In my first meetings, it was essentially, “Okay, we want this.” It was then up to me to figure out how to get from point A to point B. The ability to strengthen my weaknesses and enhance my strengths was crucial in the fast-paced environment of Formula 1.

Working independently yet collaboratively during my PhD highlighted areas for improvement—while we may not have solutions for every engineering problem, with study and effort, we can find answers. Earning a PhD was transformative; it instilled a daily commitment to improvement. University life is generally more relaxed with greater freedom, but I maintained a strict adherence to deadlines, which has been invaluable in my Formula 1 career where time is tightly constrained. This experience was invaluable, but so was the technical knowledge I gained during my master’s and PhD.

I learned about various materials, their properties, manufacturing processes, and how to design parts and develop software from scratch. These skills proved essential during my time in Formula 1.

Photo courtesy of Massimiliano Marrazzo

You’ve moved from participating in the Karman Space Programme at Imperial College London to a technical role at Mercedes AMG High Performance Powertrains. How did these experiences converge to support your career in high-performance engineering?

Every role I’ve held has been crucial in shaping who I am today. My focus has always been on daily improvement and learning. For example, designing and manufacturing a rocket as a solo student project has improved my collaborative skills, ability to interact with diverse individuals, and optimisation of team contributions. In engineering, completing a project alone is challenging; you inevitably need help from others, whether due to physical limitations, lack of technical knowledge, or both.

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My involvement in a university society focused on rocket design and manufacturing has been incredibly rewarding. This team setting enabled us to share knowledge and experiences. I often found that while I understood some details well, another team member might excel in a different area. This kind of exchange is not only helpful but also inspiring, as it allows us to see things from various viewpoints. Realising that we can combine our diverse perspectives to achieve a common goal is especially motivating.

Additionally, working with people from different backgrounds and skill sets brings a unique dynamic, helping us tackle challenges from multiple angles. This diversity fosters respect for different views and pushes us to improve.

Photo courtesy of Massimiliano Marrazzo

Moving Abroad

You’ve lived in Italy, in Germany In the UK, and you’ve worked in completely different industries. Can you tell us about your educational journey and why you decided to move abroad?

Studying in Italy was great at first. Living with my parents made me feel comfortable since I was around people with similar backgrounds. However, I realised that to achieve my dreams, I needed to step out of my comfort zone. This led me to pursue my master’s thesis and an internship in Germany. I spent six months in Munich, a beautiful city that offered great learning opportunities. I interned at a fantastic company, met people from various backgrounds, and experienced different cultures and philosophies, which was very enriching.

My ultimate goal was to work in Formula One, but Germany wasn’t the best place for that. After my master’s, I tried to get into Formula One but didn’t succeed. Luckily, I found a job in aerospace in London, which was closer to most Formula One teams.

While doing my PhD, I also took courses related to Formula One, which helped me get closer to my dream. After finishing my PhD, I was finally ready to enter Formula One. I achieved my dream and continue to look for new challenges and ways to improve.

Photo courtesy of Massimiliano Marrazzo

In terms of efforts toward improved sustainability, are there any innovations or technologies you find exciting for the future?

In aerospace and Formula 1, innovation is ongoing to make things more efficient and cheaper. Aerospace is shifting to sustainable fuels like biofuels and hydrogen. Formula 1 is also changing, with plans for more biofuel and stronger electric motors by 2026.

Efforts are being made to reduce carbon footprints, like planning more efficient routes for cargo planes and condensing race calendars to cut down on travel. The aim is to balance sustainability and costs in both industries.

Studies

How do the learnings from your MSc thesis help you in your work in F1 PU performance development?

Both aerospace and motorsport are fields that are alike yet different. They share a focus on cutting-edge technology and constant innovation in design, materials, and solutions. However, their timelines for introducing new parts differ greatly. In Formula 1, there’s a constant push to deliver updates nearly every race weekend, while aerospace operates on much longer timelines. Today’s aircraft were developed and tested years ago to meet strict safety standards.

Additionally, my Master’s thesis and internship at MTU Aero Engines AG  were crucial, allowing me to dive into the professional world and learn deeply at a young age. The skills and insights I gained then, which go beyond academic knowledge, are still relevant five years later. This experience gave me a practical understanding of workplace dynamics and time management, all of which continue to enhance my career.

Check out our blog article: 5 Things Every Aspiring Formula 1 Engineer Should Know!

What are the biggest leadership, cross-cultural, and team lessons you’ve learned at Mercedes AMG HPP?

Here at Mercedes, we uphold a cultural value that emphasises collaborative problem-solving over personal blame. Everyone has responsibilities tied to their roles, but when issues arise, the focus is on analysis and resolution to prevent recurrence. Instead of pointing fingers, we aim to understand the root cause of a problem and support each other in fixing it. This approach not only prevents the issue from happening again but also maintains a supportive work environment.

I believe that without failure there is no space for learning. It’s easy to perform well when everything goes smoothly, but true learning occurs through overcoming failures. The real test is how we bounce back from setbacks and improve as individuals.

Photo courtesy of Massimiliano Marrazzo

Throughout my career, from being an engineer to working in Formula Student and now in my current role, the ability to tackle diverse problems has been crucial. I’ve found that problem-solving is not just a technical skill but a creative one. It demands a thorough understanding of the situation and a combination of organisation and creativity to find solutions. This blend of skills makes problem-solving one of the most essential and innovative abilities in any profession.

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What are your secrets to problem-solving from a technical standpoint in project-based settings?

 I think that the secret is to have, first of all, strong background knowledge about the topic or the task you are facing. Being humble is key, not only in life but also in work, because humility makes you hungry for knowledge. This means you want to learn every single day, and you are never satisfied. You are always committed to learning because you have not yet mastered the topic.

I would also say that nowadays it is essential to be independent, able to work alone, but at the same time capable of working as part of a team. As projects and problems become increasingly difficult, working alone is not always the right choice. Therefore, being intellectually flexible is crucial. I believe the three keys are strong background knowledge, humility, and intellectual flexibility.

Photo courtesy of Massimiliano Marrazzo

Chasing Motorsport Dreams

What advice would you give to young engineers looking to enter the motorsport industry, especially those interested in the technical aspects of engineering?

I would encourage them not to give up. I know it might sound cliché, but it truly isn’t. I still remember receiving many rejections when I applied for university positions and industry jobs. Learn as much as you can, be curious, and identify the key soft and hard skills required for the role you want. Continuously improve yourself. Consult with colleagues or professionals in the field you’re interested in; gather as much information as possible. Volunteering at racetracks or in junior categories, as well as participating in hands-on student competitions like Global Student or University Societies projects, is very beneficial.

So, this is my advice: don’t give up. Try to learn as much as you can. If you don’t know something, ask people in the industry or your peers. And remember, it’s important to balance theory with practice.

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Throughout your diverse career and academic journey, what keeps you driven and passionate in the highly competitive fields of motorsport engineering?

I’m just a normal person, like everyone else, and I have my share of bad days. When feeling down, focus on the positives and enjoy small moments. Life gets busy, but taking time to appreciate it is key. Tough days happen, but they pass, and we can overcome challenges. Reflecting on experiences helps us stay positive.

Photo courtesy of Massimiliano Marrazzo

Thank you so much for your time.

 It was my pleasure!

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