For students striving to reach Formula One, the pinnacle of Motorsport, applying for placements and internships can often be a tiring and disheartening process. However, the feature of today’s interview, Alex Bisbal, is proof that determination, perseverance and courage can help you overcome your setbacks and fulfil your motorsport dreams.
In this interview, Alex shares his incredible journey from the world of Formula Student to achieving his dream internship with Sauber Motorsport and Alfa Romeo (whilst revealing how Motorsport Engineer helped him along the way!)
“Formula Student is a quite demanding but totally recommendable activity”
Please introduce yourself to Motorsport Engineer. What is your history within the Motorsport industry?
My name is Àlex Bisbal and I am from Igualada, a city near Barcelona. I am a BSc Aerospace Engineering graudate, having studied at UPC ESEIAAT. In September 2020, I started studying for an MSc in Aerospace Engineering (with specialization in Aerodynamics) at TU Delft.
During my university studies (and for a total of five years), I have had the chance to be part of two Formula Student teams (UPC ecoRacing and Formula Student Team Delft), mainly working on the development of aerodynamic packages for the race car.
Recently, I have been accepted for an internship within the CFD group of Sauber Motorsport and the Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN Formula One Team.
What does your role entail?
This year I am enrolled within Formula Student Team Delft as an Aerodynamicist, mainly focused on the design of the diffuser of the car.
My work has mainly consisted of an iterative design loop creating CAD models, performing CFD simulations on these designs and analyzing their performance to continue optimizing this particular area of the car.
What is the best part of your role?
What I really like about the optimization process of aerodynamics design is its experimental nature.
I consider myself to be very curious, so I really enjoy thinking of a design that would fulfill a certain function and making a hypothesis on how it should work. Followed by, preparing a CAD model and finally analyzing the results to understand the phenomena that took place because of those modifications and coming up with new ideas to continue the optimization loop.
I also really like the amount of freedom that there is for aerodynamic design in Formula Student (we can even fit fans under the car!). This means that there are a lot of possibilities to consider for the design of the car and that the downforce levels that are achieved with these small Formula cars have nothing to envy from those of Formula One.
When did you realise that you wanted to work in the Motorsport Industry?
Formula One, and motorsport in general, is something I have been engaged with since I was incredibly young.
However, it was probably during the early 2010s when I realized how something apparently as meaningless as simply air could make such big performance differences.
I loved to see what aerodynamic updates the Formula One teams introduced from one race to another and tried to understand how those devices could work. So, I decided to study Aerospace Engineering, as Adrian Newey did, to learn about it.
How important was education in helping you achieve your professional goals?
Of course, education will provide you with the very solid technical base which is required to further develop and specialize in different engineering topics.
With this I mean both from a technical and theoretical point of view but also on how you are prepared to work on your own or how to deal with (although theoretical) problems.
I also think that aside from technical knowledge, my background in Aerospace Engineering also required learning in a competitive and demanding environment, with some clever people that help in pushing you to achieve more.
What sparked your interest in engineering?
As a child, I always liked creating things (say LEGO, sandcastles, or drawings), and I have always been a very curious person, both regarding how something could work but also discovering and finding out new things.
Afterwards, I got engaged in motorsports and the path became clearer towards engineering, but the seed probably comes from my childhood.
What are the benefits of Formula Student?
Formula Student is a quite demanding but totally recommendable activity to do during your university studies, even if you are not necessarily into motorsports.
There are a lot of things that you can learn from Formula Student: how to prove yourself in engineering, how to work with a team of different people with different backgrounds and perspectives working on different areas and aspects of the car as well as how the engineering design process is done. You also learn, how to work under tight deadlines or how to apply and combine different theoretical aspects that are taught in university.
Furthermore, Formula Student also provides you with your first contacts in the professional world of engineering.
I consider that my experience within Formula Student has allowed me to gain a more global perspective on how to stage a design process and how to approach engineering problems.
One of the ways I like to see my experience within Formula Student is that in university you learn how to answer questions but taking an active role in Formula Student can help you to do something I consider can be even more important, that is, learning how to ask yourself the right questions.
How did you achieve your placement with a Formula One team?
To complete my MSc studies, I am required to do an internship in a company. Therefore, I started looking for internship possibilities within motorsport aerodynamics and specially in Formula One.
For me, it was the first time I was applying for a professional position since the combination of my university studies and Formula Student participation has made my life rather hectic!
During the last year, I applied to a total of six Formula One teams and managed to make it through the interview stages of three of them, finally being successful with Sauber Motorsport and Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN.
It is quite typical for Formula One teams to offer internship opportunities within different working areas which usually take place during a whole academic year. To apply for it you will usually be asked to submit a copy of your CV and a Cover Letter presenting yourself and explaining why you want to get the desired position. Sometimes you will also be asked to do an online test about basic engineering knowledge related to the position you apply.
This is usually the first stage of the application process, if you clear this stage, you will get to the interview phase, which depending on the team may be multiple interview phases or simply one.
In my case, the interviews were performed online. During the interviews, you can expect a mix of theoretical questions (in my case, aerodynamics), background-related, situational and/or personal questions.
How has Motorsport Engineer helped you to achieve your goals?
I personally think that initiatives such as Motorsport Engineer are a particularly good way to complement your CV.
Nowadays, more and more people are doing extra-curricular activities such as Formula Student, so even if you are involved in your university team, you will need something that makes you stand out.
Therefore, the courses offered by Motorsport Engineer will help you to further expand your motorsport knowledge and will allow you to use them as an introduction to a topic you are new to.
In my case, I have done the courses; ‘Introduction to Race Car Aerodynamics’ and ‘Trackside Aerodynamics’. When I did both courses, I already had some experience on aerodynamics, so Introduction to Race Car Aerodynamics was useful to expand some concepts but specially to understand how what I did in Formula Student was performed in a professional world such as Formula One.
On the other hand, Trackside Aerodynamics is something entirely new to me, so learning from industry professionals is a genuinely nice way to get into it. This also means that the course content will be up-to-date and with industry insights difficult to find anywhere else.
Finally, you can also get in contact with professionals who have a direct relationship with Formula One. I think this fact helps bring a world like Formula One closer and more reachable to students hoping to get to the pinnacle of motorsport.
In this sense, I would like to personally thank Gerard Torres (Founder of Motorsport Engineer), for the support that I have received, which I really think has helped me achieve my internship with Sauber Motorsport.
What advice would you give to aspiring young motorsport engineers who find themselves in a similar situation to yourself?
My main advice is to try everything you can to get an opportunity in motorsport.
Keep track of all the different teams offering internship opportunities and even those that do not. For example, I have got the internship within Sauber Motorsport after a speculative application, so not only the teams publishing application processes should be considered.
I would also like point out that there are a lot of high-level motorsport opportunities outside Formula One. I am personally extremely excited about the upcoming Le Mans Hypercars and LMDh class. A lot of new prototypes will be designed and there may probably be some nice opportunities within WEC.
Always believe that your goals of reaching Formula One are possible and do everything you can to optimize your opportunities.
When I was younger, I knew some people who wanted to reach Formula One, but a lot of them shifted their attention away from it, either because they thought it was not possible, too tough, or not worth the effort. And it is indeed a long process that requires effort and commitment, but I do not think you have to be the smartest guy or girl in the class to fulfil these dreams.
Linking on to this, I would like to share some experiences that I personally think have been useful for me. To start, you should certainly pursue a BSc in Engineering (Physics could also work) and afterwards plan a MSc Engineering program where you can choose a specialization that suits best your career expectations (in my case, Aerospace Engineering specializing in Aerodynamics was the choice).
In this step, choosing a prestigious university should help, but you must know why you have chosen that university other than just because its renown. It should also help if you study far from home, so you get out of the comfort zone and do something new on your own, especially because Formula One will in most cases require working far from home.
During your studies, you should think about complementary activities or projects you can work on that allow you to gain extra skills, experience or knowledge aside from your degree itself.
During this pandemic, a lot of free webinars have arisen, for instance, those offered by Motorsport Engineer, which allow you to learn from industry leading professionals about a variety of topics within Motorsport.
Finally, if all of this comes together and you are successful in getting an interview, first, congratulations, prepare to enjoy it, stay calm and have fun. If you have a clear overview of the path you have taken to reach that point, why the path was that way and what you have learnt from it, I would say that your chances to get to Formula One are really high.
Although this is only my personal point of view, I hope this advice can be useful and encouraging.
Thank you Alex for sharing your journey with Motorsport Engineer, we wish you the best of luck in your F1 placement!
ave you been inspired by Alex’s story? Start your motorsport journey today with one of our courses!