Written By Gary Rosewell
Creative, highly intelligent, composed; just some of the words used to describe Alexandros Palaiologos when the judges came to make their final decision in 2016. The stakes were high, a life-changing introduction to Formula One and Automotive engineering in the UK, supported by leading Official Partners in the sport. But, under the watchful eyes of senior technical, business, political, and media representatives (and beating over 1,300 applicants), Alex prevailed.
Four years later, having gained invaluable foundational experience, we find him comfortably perched on a tyre at the McLaren Technology Centre and the rest, as they say, is history…
Alex, great talking to you again! Please introduce yourself for our Motorsport Engineer audience as well as the main tasks that you typically manage on a day-to-day basis.
My name is Alexandros Palaiologos, I am 28 years old and moved from Mexico almost 3 years ago. I’m currently living in London and working as a Mechanical Design Engineer for McLaren Racing. The main tasks I am involved on a day-to-day basis are the design and release of mechanical components, mechanisms, car setup equipment, cooling/heating equipment, electronic enclosures and ducts, as well as equipment used during pitstops.
“You must be ready to make decisions on your feet in case you need a contingency measure…”
How satisfying is it seeing the results of your work every race weekend? Can you briefly talk us through one mechanical design project that you have worked on?
One of the biggest satisfactions as a design engineer is to see your components fully manufactured and implemented on a race weekend, but you must be ready to make decisions on your feet in case you need a contingency measure or a re-design. This season I have been lucky to lead several freight optimization projects for example, stemming from the 2021 cost cap regulations. Essentially, these will help the team to reduce the cost of operations. To do this, I have had to open my mind to new ways of thinking about a problem and devise creative, unconventional solutions. Our adoption of bio-materials has helped the team to reduce costs AND work towards F1’s 2030 net-zero carbon target. The project requires extensive use of biocomposites, which we have tested on several components such as a fully bio composite driver seat.
Do you work across other projects outside of Formula One? What does this say about the impact of F1 teams on wider society?
With the new Mercedes power unit coming in 2021 and the roll-out of new F1 technical regulations in 2022, it is a remarkably busy and challenging period right now. I am therefore 100% F1 focused. McLaren is an extremely diverse and innovative business however and has worked on a variety of other projects during my time here. The Ventilator Challenge UK, for example, put our high-quality manufacturing and rapid prototype testing experience to work in the fight against Covid-19.
What first inspired you to get involved with motorsport? Are there many opportunities for aspiring motorsport engineers in South America?
I have been passionate about cars for as long as I remember. I wanted to be a driver at a very young age but, unfortunately, did not have the means to pursue it. The easiest way for me to keep going to the track every weekend was working as a mechanic for a garage that built racecars. That is where my passion for engineering and problem solving started. When I was about to start university, I knew I had to study automotive engineering to pursue a career in motorsport in the future. I firmly believe there are opportunities for aspiring motorsport engineers in South America – both Formula Student and Formula SAE are gaining a lot of momentum in the region and there is a fantastic pool of talented and passionate engineers there.
How has your education supported your career progress to date? To what extent is it important to gain practical experience as soon as you can?
I believe my degree has given me a good basis to execute and make decisions in my day-to-day role, which is very important. In motorsport though, gaining practical experience and specializing can make all the difference as you enter the world of work. Nowadays, F1 teams are massive organizations that require a very diverse and specialized pool of talent, therefore gaining practical experience can give you an edge in terms of knowing what to expect and how work will be in the motorsport industry.
“One of the biggest lessons is that you can never know enough – every day is a school day”
What lessons have you taken away personally from your time in Formula One so far? Has it been what you expected?
I think one of the biggest lessons is that you can never know enough and, as they say, every day is a school day. Not a second goes by where I do not learn about a new material, manufacturing technique or different way of doing something. I love that aspect of working in F1 and particularly at McLaren where people are always looking at better ways of doing things, with incredible attention to detail! Overall, I think working in F1 has exceeded my expectations; I have been lucky to go to the track multiple times and present projects to senior stakeholders like the Race Team Manager and Racing Director, as well as race engineers. On a personal level, I have made a lot of friends that share the same passion.
How has it been adjusting to UK life from Mexico? What are your two favorite things about living here?
Life in the UK has been great! Of course, being so far away from your family and friends back in Mexico makes it a bit challenging sometimes, but I try to go back as often as I can. I would say that one of my favorite things about UK life is living in London. It is such an amazing, multi-cultural city where you can find everything from around the world and is extremely well connected internationally too. Beyond that, I love the British automotive culture and how there are so many tracks, car shows, and activities for us petrol heads.
What advice would you give to aspiring engineers trying to make it in motorsport now?
My advice would be to always stay close to your passion and keep pushing. If you have the opportunity to join your Formula Student team, that will give you a solid appreciation for the world of motorsports. Beyond that, always keep learning and looking for those opportunities!
The thing that stood out for me with Alex on that fateful day in Aguascalientes, Mexico, 2016, was his calm and collected approach to any situation. Amid stiff competition and the presence of some intimidating senior figures, he remained cool under pressure and emerged as a natural leader. Early practical experience and people skills have clearly worked in his favor and are a strong reminder to young engineers of the importance of developing both your hard and soft professional/personal skills. For engineering as a whole, it is a reminder of the untapped talent that is available through non-traditional recruitment and promotional campaigns.
All of us at Motorsport Engineer look forward to seeing him progress in his career and wish everyone at McLaren Racing warm congratulations for their performance last year.