A massive inspiration to all, one of our regular drivers (and admins!) recently celebrated 25 years at a rather special engineering firm. The firm? Redbull Racing! Yes, the very same ones that have absolutely dominated this year's F1 calendar, those guys.
We took some time to sit down (virtually) with Mr Mark Cooper to get some insider knowledge and to see just what makes an F1 engineer tick! Read on…
PosPer : Mark, firstly, massive congratulations on your 25 years, but where did your engineering career start?
Mark Cooper : “I started my engineering career as an apprentice at an aircraft seat manufacturer, going to college one day a week for 2 years to get an HND then a further 3 years to turn that into a BEng degree.”
PP : How did you end up/get in to Stewart?
MC “After leaving the aircraft place, I was in a job I didn’t enjoy as a Production Engineer for a forklift manufacturing plant. I decided my dream job would be working in F1 so I started checking the jobs pages in Autosport every week. Within 6 weeks Stewart GP were advertising for a Composite Understudy and I got the job!”
PP : Were there any major differences when the teams rebranded, and if so, what was the biggest shift from one to another?
MC : “Stewart GP was a relatively small team and everyone knew everyone no matter what department they were in. The whole thing was housed in one industrial unit, including an F3 team. I liked that about it. When Ford took over and we became Jaguar there was a little more money and we expanded into two units. My overriding memory is that it was more chaotic. As well as a race team with two cars and a spare, there was a full time test team running with two cars and a spare. It was full on. It wasn’t a very stable time from the point of view of designers and senior management with something of a revolving door of management. The two biggest changes Red Bull brought along was stability and money. Christian turned up and got his design, aero and production management sorted and most of them are still here now. Plus we had the money to do whatever we wanted seemingly. That side of things has been reigned in with the budget cap though…”
PP : Tell us more about the first composite gearbox you had a hand in?
MC “The first composite gearbox! I can’t go into specifics or I’ll be giving some of our secrets away! Suffice to say, the gearbox in an F1 car is more than just a box containing the gears. It’s also a ‘stressed member’, that’s to say it isn’t itself bolted into any support frame. It’s bolted directly to the engine, then the rear suspension is bolted directly to the gearbox. As such it sees some significant loads. It also has to remain intact during the FIA rear crash test when the car is homologated before the start of a new season. Prior to composites the gearboxes were aluminium or magnesium, so to have achieved this in pure composites whilst being light enough for one person to easily pick up and run reliably race after race is something we were all very proud of.”
PP: What's a typical day for you?
MC “A typical day for me will depend on where we are in the calendar. Right now, coming to the end of the race season we’re beginning to look at crash test homologation for next season's car. Soon I’ll be trimming, bonding and assembling all the noses and rear crash structures that will be impact tested in the name of safety. Early in the actual race season I’m likely to be involved in any composite trimming and assembly jobs that are proving troublesome and causing potential reliability issues for the race cars. The rest of the year I’m constantly testing composite materials where I’ll be laminating the panels, cutting the specimens and testing them in tension/compression/bending and crack propagation. I’m often looking at ways to improve bonding through different bond preparation techniques by bonding test specimens and pulling them apart too.”
PP : What's the weirdest thing you've ever had the pleasure of engineering?
MC : ”I did the material testing for the Red Bull skate bowl that was hung under a hot air balloon while Kriss Kyle rode in it!”
PP: What would you recommend to someone wanting to get into the motorsport industry?
MC : “If you’re a wanna be designer or engineer you’re going to need a degree. But you also need to stand out. Look out for Formula Student or similar projects you can get involved with. You need to be able to demonstrate some extra initiative and motivation and passion for your subject. Most F1 teams have student placements for a year at a time so keep a look out for those. If you’re more hands on, firstly keep an eye out for apprenticeships at F1 teams or similar. Or look to start at an independent composites company for example to learn your trade before applying for F1. There are also motorsport colleges around these days that may be worth considering.”
PP : You've had a few epic liveries created by us at PosPer, but which has been your favourite?
MC : “I’ve loved all the liveries I’ve had from PP. There hasn’t been a bad one yet. I particularly liked the Red Bull Lexus I had and I’m enjoying a run of Red Bull tweaked classics like the Gulf livery I had last season. If I had to pick a favourite though it would be the Porsches I ran in both GT3 & GT4 with a digital themed livery. That was an interpretation of the Red Bull Esports Porsche Cup cars the team were running at the time but with the colours tweaked to include Dutch orange and the colours of the Mexican flag.”
PP: The big question, why Positive Perception for racing?
MC : “Several reasons really. First of all the standard of stewarding is high, they don’t tolerate any nonsense. Crucially though, they don’t just throw bans around, they offer advice and even training to help drivers improve. Secondly it’s very inclusive. Doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from or even your level of ability. Race clean and your welcome. Overall it’s just a nice place to be. Everyone is very friendly, there’s always someone to offer help and advice if you ask for it and the banter keeps me laughing.”
PP : And Finally, are you willing to give up any merch?!
MC : “We don’t even get caps. Best I can do is a couple of cans of Red Bull.”
We’d like to thank Mark Cooper for his time with giving this interview and who knows, maybe it inspired some of you out there who want to get involved with Motorsport at the materials end!