He was delivering pizzas and flipping Macdonalds burgers four years ago, but now Jacob Debono is working on the racetrack, building lightning-fast cars for the Renault Sport Formula One team.
Debono, who’s 24 and in his final year at Australian National University, scored the gig after winning a cutthroat worldwide competition held by Infiniti, Nissan’s luxury vehicle division.
Student winners are admitted to the Infiniti Engineering Academy (IEA), where they work as F1 engineers for six months in the UK, building Renault’s F1 cars — anything from engines to fins, brakes and wings. They then work another six months at Infiniti’s Technical Center.
They are paid a salary, given a car and housing. Some even go on to full time jobs with the companies. Debono himself will work at Renault after graduation.
Out of the 12,000 applicants last year, just seven winners were chosen, one for each region. This puts the five-year-old IEA’s acceptance rate at just 0.5 per cent.
The selection process is gruelling. The majority of applicants don’t pass the first round of CV screening; the shortlisted few then take an engineering exam, do team building exercises and interviews, and build and race a model car.
This year, the finalists were even tested by Harvard experts on their ability to make decisions under pressure in the face of complex data.
So how does one get to build an F1 car while still in school? Business Insider spoke to Debono at this year’s IEA finals in Singapore to get tips on acing the competition.
#1: A science or data degree will give you an edge.
The IEA judges are looking for talent beyond engineers – people who can bring in fresh perspectives and emerging technologies that can be applied to making faster and better racecars.
Infiniti’s Head of Technical Partnerships, Ian Goddard, added that fields like math, materials science, data analytics and programming are of particular interest.
Debono himself has a double degree in engineering and physics. Both fields complement one another, he says. He also advises applicants to do a thesis by working with an F1 team, or teams from other F series’.
#2. Non-engineering internships and experience are very important.
The IEA favours applicants who have done internships in industries or companies that Renault has an interest in. University grades are important, says Debono, but experience is an even bigger factor.
Even if there’s no opportunity to intern for the F1 itself, Debono suggests doing projects related to racing, automotive engineering, and getting in experience with Formula Student – an engineering competition that’s the school-level equivalent of F1.
#3. Look hard for opportunities.
Debono said he would regularly check through the jobs page of every F1 team, and email HR departments introducing himself and asking for internships. (He seldom heard back.) He designed his entire university experience around getting into F1, despite opposition from his parents.
He advises applicants outside of Europe and “far from the motorsport scene” to write out a plan on how they want to break into the field, whether through Stem (Science, Tech, Engineering and Math) projects, racing projects, or choosing a university course that F1 teams are likely to hire from in the future.