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Canadian engineering student finds dream job in Formula One

McGill student gets once-in-a-lifetime opportunity at Infiniti’s Engineering Academy

Published: February 19, 2017, 9:50 AM
Updated: February 22, 2017, 4:43 AM

McGill student Felix Lamy - Canadian student at Infiniti Engineering Academy and Renault Sport F1 team

ENSTONE, U.K.—Felix Lamy knows this is the opportunity of his lifetime, and he’s not about to waste it.

The 21-year-old McGill University student from Gatineau, Quebec, is several months into a year-long engineering internship here in the U.K. – the first half is spent with Renault Sport’s F1 team, and then he’ll move up the road to Infiniti’s production car research division. He’s the first Canadian intern awarded a place in the Infiniti Engineering Academy, and he knows it will be a challenge.

“I expected complexity in an F1 team, but I didn’t expect this level of complexity,” he admits. “It must be five times what I thought, at least. We are 500 people all working to a deadline to get a car ready. This isn’t just about having smart people on a team – this is about having smart people who can work well together.”

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Last summer, 10 students were accepted from more than 400 Canadian applicants to be considered for the Academy. After two days of practical tests and interviews, Lamy was named the winner and he began the paid internship in November. He’s one of seven international interns, each from a region where Infiniti sells cars. Others are from the United States, Mexico, Italy, Australia, China, and the Middle East.

Lamy doesn’t let his youth hold him back. He taught himself to weld and built his first racing go kart at 13 years old, after drawing up plans for it three years earlier; in recent summers, he’s worked in the Montreal area as a Formula 1600 race mechanic for Exclusive Autosport.

There’s no racing history in his family though – his father is an economist for the federal government and his mother a primary school teacher. His older brother Justin is a botanist. Lamy started playing the violin at three years old, but it fell out of favour when he discovered cars.

“We were pushed to follow our passion, and do it well,” he explains. “I found my passion in racing, and in being the engineer behind the car.”

The Academy training is very specialized and focussed, and some of the students admit they’re not good at basic mechanics. “If I broke down beside the road,” says Daniel Sanham, an Academy graduate from last year’s program, “I could fix the CPU but that’s about it.”

Engineering design at this level has little in common with the basic maintenance most drivers find familiar, but the interns get few breaks. Like it or not, they’re members of an elite design team.

Lamy expected to learn about vehicle dynamics, which was his specialty at McGill and which he wants to pursue as the focus of his career. On arrival at the Renault Sport research facility here near Oxford, however, he was assigned to the Composites team.

“It’s a big shift in area, but you’ve got to be a well-rounded engineer,” he says. “I think that’s one of my assets – I have pretty broad skills.

“Everything on the car, besides the engine, goes through the design office, and 80% of it goes through the composite department. Seeing as you need to work in a team to get those parts out, get them made, make sure they’re good, I think that’s a very good learning experience.”

There are three interns at Renault Sport now, including Lamy, and the other four are helping to design Infinitis and Nissans at the maker’s European Technical Centre in Cranfield, near Birmingham. In June, the two teams will swap over and Lamy will leave the racing to work on production car engineering.

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“I’m looking forward to that,” he says. “It’s a whole new way to working, and a different culture. Working on the road car engineering side is probably, in 2016, more exciting than ever, because it’s changing so quickly. We’re talking about autonomous cars, electric cars, cars that can communicate together; cars that are not just about going from A to B but becoming sort of like your iPhone, more of a part of your life.”

The interns are provided with a shared house to live in at each location, and a shared Q30 car for getting around. They pay rent and for groceries, and they’re taught to budget. They’re also taught basic communications skills, to make sure they can get their message across.

This is the third year for the Infiniti Engineering Academy. There were only three interns in 2014 and five in 2015, and it’s possible there’ll be greater numbers in future years. In just a short time, the interns have made a large contribution to the company, helping it as much to diversify its international base as to discover new ways to make things work.

“Nissan and Infiniti is a global corporation, and diversity is at the core of our business,” says Tommaso Volpe, director for Infiniti Global Motorsport. “We always stress diversity – understanding different cultures, working with different cultures. For us, this is very important.”

“Our products from this design centre go to 130 countries globally,” adds Andy Todd, Infiniti’s director of body and external engineering, “and an engineer needs to know what matters to a customer in Canada or a customer in Mexico, because they’re fundamentally different. This is an opportunity to live with different cultures and share their experiences, and it’s a great learning curve for everybody. It’s not about reading it in a book, or teaching it. It’s actually living it.”

The selection process for the 2017 Academy will begin in a few months, and interested applicants can go online to academy.infiniti.com for more information.

Lamy stresses that preparation is everything. “If you want to achieve something, then plan for it,” he says. “When I turned up at the Academy for the judging, I felt like all the boxes were ticked – all the boxes I could do were ticked.

“I feel I’ve only got one life, and I want to make an impact. I want to do something big. If you work hard and you’re passionate about what you do, why would you not go far? Why would you not achieve big things?”

McGill student Felix Lamy - Canadian student at Infiniti Engineering Academy and Renault Sport F1 team

McGill student Felix Lamy - Canadian student at Infiniti Engineering Academy and Renault Sport F1 team

McGill student Felix Lamy - Canadian student at Infiniti Engineering Academy and Renault Sport F1 team

McGill student Felix Lamy - Canadian student at Infiniti Engineering Academy and Renault Sport F1 team

McGill student Felix Lamy - Canadian student at Infiniti Engineering Academy and Renault Sport F1 team

McGill student Felix Lamy - Canadian student at Infiniti Engineering Academy and Renault Sport F1 team