Building a racing car in ten months is no easy achievement. Never mind the fact that the car is designed by a group of students. Formula Student is full of challenges and Queen’s Formula Racing’s Team Leader, Gavin White, has pushed the team to conquer them all.
This year Gavin has watched the team grow to 43 members, been responsible for the QFR18 build, while completing his own Formula Student based final year project. The majority of his work has gone under the radar but there is no doubt that any success QFR may have in July will be down to his passion and persistence this year.
Adam Hall: You took on the Team Leader role in September, did it compare to your expectations?
Gavin White: I thought it would have been much more technical than it has been. Instead, it has been around 95% project management. Half of my time goes unseen doing administration jobs like making detailed project plans, preparing training documents and updating the team’s SharePoint.
It has been good for putting the things I have learned in QUB’s Engineering Leadership Programme (ELP) into practice throughout the year. My presentation skills have definitely improved and I’ve gained plenty of experience coaching team members. It’s been important to find out each member’s strengths and weaknesses as well their variation in interest of the project.
AH: Roughly how many hours per week did you devote to Formula Student this year? Bearing in mind you were also completing your Master’s year.
GW: It changed every week but it was anything between 15 and 40+ hours a week. The time I put in was all voluntary but it was my responsibility to ensure the team moved forward week-by-week to stay within the project timing. This was of course while trying my best to make the most of the social life that university is famous for.
It was difficult managing the hours I put into Formula Student and my university degree. I found it next to impossible to walk away from Formula Student when I had to focus on exams and deadlines so time management was key.
The step up in numbers this year has resulted in much more work as the team leader. Even though there are more people completing projects it requires more management to ensure everyone is working to the same deadlines. Hopefully next year this will be resolved by setting up a stronger operational structure.
AH: What was most enjoyable about leading the team?
GW: The sense of achievement has been rewarding throughout especially seeing the progress through the year on CAD and now as the car is being built in the flesh. As well as watching the project progress, being able to see each team member develop has been very satisfying. It’s been brilliant to share moments with the team members like when they received their project designs for the first time.
AH: What experience did you have to help you in your role this year?
GW: My involvement in ELP at university definitely helped me prepare for this year. I did a placement year with Aston Martin which gave me an awareness of project management and I had a solid set of technical skills from Formula Student last year because I got heavily involved in different projects.
I was Front Chassis Team Leader last year and ended up doing all the extra body and floor panels. I swept up a lot of small jobs which actually gave me a lot of exposure to various elements of the car as I was only doing one thing for a day before moving onto something new.
AH: How did you find your own project?
GW: I loved it. I designed a drive system for an electric Formula Student car. I started by looking at different system architectures, selecting independent four-wheel drive as the most suitable because it allows for the development of torque vectoring. This system controls the motor in each wheel independently, improving vehicle stability. This is a big advantage of electric Formula Student cars over the Internal Combustion powered car that we currently run.
I selected the motors to be used and developed the transmission. A two-stage planetary transmission/gearbox was designed with a prototype manufactured. That all fits inside a ten inch wheel rim. It was designed so off-the-shelf gears could be used which significantly reduced the cost which I’m yet to see another Formula Student team do.
AH: What are your plans now ahead of the competition?
GW: I’ll now be focusing my efforts on the static events, which is a big opportunity for improvement from last year. Being ahead of schedule in terms of the car build should mean that I’ll have more time to ensure these areas are done to a higher level.
It’ll be interesting to test aerodynamic components such as the undertray and diffuser for the first time in QFR history and compare them to simulation results. It’s a good opportunity to verify the loading assumptions that were made at the start of the year. This type of data will be helpful to carry over onto next year’s team.
Hopefully we will do well at this year’s competition. It will be good to see the fruits of our labour being raced around Silverstone. Win or lose, I’ll still feel as if it has been a successful year as I believe we have all learned a lot throughout the team which we can carry forward into our careers.
AH: What are your plans now after you graduate?
GW: I plan to take a bit of a break next year by going to Australia. A working holiday you could say!
After that I want to get a job for an engineering design consultancy in the automotive or motorsport industry. I’d like to use that experience to start my own consultancy firm in five years.
I feel my technical skills are now much stronger to achieve these ambitions. Obviously my project management and business skills have been well developed through the past year as QFR team leader.
Queen’s Formula Racing hopes to give Gavin the perfect send off in July by getting some good results at Formula Student 2018. Stay tuned by following our website and social media platforms to see how Gavin and his team build their Formula Student challenger.